Psychology of injury:An injury is a traumatic experience for anyone who has devoted a lot of time and energy to fitness and recreational achievements.
Physical pain is awful, but the psychological sense of loss associated with injury can be even worse.
A pain in the brain...
Why Injury is Psychologically Tough.
- Identity: Many athletes identify themselves through sport. Social relationships develop around athletic commitments, and athletes imagine that friends also see them through this lens. Losing a part of one’s identity is traumatic.
- Daily Routine: Competitive athletes spend a big chunk of their free time at workouts. Injury will leave them with a void in their schedule. Without routine workouts, it may be harder to maintain structure and social life. Lack of participation can lead to feelings of isolation.
- Self-Esteem: Athletes typically derive a great deal of positive self-esteem from success in sport, as well as the training itself. Training provides daily positive reinforcement and feedback. No matter what else happens in your day, workouts deliver a reliable level of satisfaction and make you feel good about yourself. A successful race can make an athlete feel recognized, accomplished and confident. The injured athlete may struggle to find new areas of life that reinforce self-esteem.
- Physical Health: With injury comes a loss of the physical sense of strength and resilience that athletes feel when they are healthy. Injury challenges an athlete’s confidence in his body. For someone who is used to having her body respond in a predictable way, this rankles. It can force the athlete to confront issues of vulnerability and dependence.
- Stress Management: Athletes use workouts as a constructive form of stress management. There is plenty of research to support the notion that exercise is an effective stress management tool, and when an athlete no longer has this tool available, life can start to feel more challenging and chaotic.
Many athletes will go through similar stages in coping with injury associated loss. Denial commonly manifests as continuing to train despite the injury. Anger can be directed at others or inward. Athletes may bargain with themselves or coaches about injuries, taking a myopic view of the future. When depression sets in, the athlete may neglect to take care of herself or find himself engaged in unhealthy behavior rather than coping constructively.
Successful Coping Strategies.
There are constructive steps an athlete facing injury can take:
- Grieve: First, allow yourself to be sad. People will usually encourage you to be positive and strong. There will come a time for that, but first it is important to allow yourself time to mourn the loss and express feelings. Grieving will allow you to move on to the next steps of coping.
- Acceptance: It is important to come to terms with what has happened and not live with constant regret, wishing things were different. People just want things to return to normal, but until you accept where you are, you can’t adopt and embrace the new goals involved in healing.
- Resetting Goals: Giving up goals is not easy, but healing requires setting new benchmarks that may seem minuscule compared to previous goals. It may be tempting to give up goals completely, but establishing a new routine, and new realistic goals are key to a healthy healing approach.
- Maintain a Routine: Continue to workout in one way or another, safely maintaining some portion of your exercise routine. If you can’t participate, then rehearse mentally. Mental rehearsal of movement helps maintain neuro-muscular connections, even without movement itself.
- Take Responsibility: Athletes who see the healing process as within their control will cope more successfully. Take charge rather than feeling helpless, and take as active a role as possible in your rehabilitation. Practice healing visualization exercises by imagining blood flow to injuries or the bones and tissues knitting themselves together again.
- Go Slow to Go Fast: Patience will usually pay off. Faster return to normal intensity workouts will not necessarily translate into faster recovery. Take the indicated time to ease back into full training in order to avoid re-injury.
- Seek Support: Support from friends, family, a coach, or even a mental health professional will help mitigate feelings of isolation and depression. Nurture yourself.
Injury can give you a chance to reconnect with other aspects of your life that you may have neglected during training. And the rehabilitation process can make you stronger than ever by rebuilding weaker muscles and giving overused muscles some enforced rest.
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