When we talk about the suffering associated with an injury it is usually the physical health aspects that come to mind. The word injury is synonymous with pain, and it is the pain in the area of the injury that is given the most thought and attention. However, the psychological impacts of a serious injury can be just as important, but are often overlooked.
The Impact of Injury
It is especially important to consider the psychological impact if you are an athlete suffering with an injury that is keeping you from doing what you love for an extended period of time, or even preventing you from ever competing again! The change in routine, combined with doubts about the future and the experience of dealing with the physical pain, can lead to a potentially psychologically damaging state of mind.
Resting after an injury is imperative to aiding the healing process, but this period of almost complete inactivity can fuel feelings of helplessness and loss, which can then continue to develop into something more debilitating.
Stages of Grief
If you have experienced a life changing injury then there are several stages of grief that you are likely to go through. These stages generally have to take place before you are then able to reach a place where you can begin to find peace, happiness and fulfilment again. These stages are of course not the same for everyone and will range in severity. However, allowing each stage to manifest as its own separate emotional state is an important step on the road to psychological recovery.
Refusal to accept the situation is normally the first stage of grief in this scenario. This denial can often present as anger as a decreased state of physical ability can obviously be quite frustrating. Once the denial stage has passed it is likely that a period of desperation will set in. This desperation may lead you to seek alternative treatments that you believe might get you back to full health quickly, or at all. In some instances this causes people to try to return to sports too early and actually end up doing more harm than good.
Once the desperation stage has run its course, depression is likely to set in. During this time it is important not to give up on yourself and to keep your future goals and ambitions in mind. Depression can be a long battle but once you work through it to a point of acceptance then you will know that you are ready to move forwards. Whether this means attempting to return to your sport or accepting that your future has different plans for you is dependant on your injury and the healing process.
How Can You Help Yourself?
When you are recovering from a serious injury, it is important to pay close attention to monitoring and maintaining your mental health. This can be done in a number of ways, and it is a great idea to try to incorporate several different self-care practices into your day.
Self-care can manifest in many different ways, and can vary from person to person depending on what each individual finds helpful.
Sometimes the simple act of having a routine can be a self-care activity. For example, you can create a morning routine for yourself that involves some physical acts of caring for yourself - washing, dressing, light exercise - and some emotional aspects - expressing gratitude, utilising positive affirmations, journalling.
Making time for scheduled light exercise can also be interpreted as a self-care act, as you are doing something that you know is going to benefit you. This should always be approached with caution when you are injured, and shouldn’t involve anything that is likely to cause further injury or harm. You may try things like yoga, Tai Chi or walking to get started. Remember, consulting your doctor first before trying any form of exercise is always a good idea!
Rehabilitation from a serious injury can take an incredibly long time and a great deal of both physical and mental effort. In many cases even this isn’t enough to return an athlete to the level of ability they previously enjoyed. However, it is essential to remember that you are more than your sport and to take comfort in the other positive aspects of your life!
Pursuing a new hobby or passion is a great way to move on from your injury, and to create something new for your mind to focus on. You may even find that this is helpful to do whilst you are still in the recovery period. Initially the idea behind this is to concentrate your energy and attention on something new to prevent yourself from dwelling on what has happened, but as time passes this new hobby or passion could become a much more significant part of your life!