How Sports Injuries Affect Mental Health

“Nobody plays sports expecting to get injured, but unfortunately, injuries are part of sports” Melissa Christiano. Defining myself in terms of my sport activity – it is my identity. The fact of being who I am. When injury crushed my leg and I was unable to do what I was supposed to do, my identity torn away from my physical being. I was miserable and depressed. I wanted desperately to escape this sadness that overwhelmed every day. How could I escape this feeling if all I was, was running, swimming, dancing, etc.? I couldn’t stay active. Something deeper, something that would truly make me whole was missing during this process of physical healing. 

Research reinforced the fact that injury and healing involve both the mind and body. Certain psychological responses can complicate the healing process, particularly when an injury requires surgery or is extensive. Yet other psychological reactions can actually boost recovery and help an athlete return to sports strong and healthy.

“My body could stand the crutches but my mind couldn’t stand the sideline” Michael Jordan

Personally, I cannot imagine my life without sports. I love the way that sport doesn’t just benefit physical health but it also improves our overall well-being. Since I was able to walk, I have always stayed active. Sport has created limitless possibilities for me and if I could give any piece of advice, I would say to value all the time you have playing sport before you no longer can. An injury that takes an athlete out of play for a long period can be traumatizing for someone who has structured their life around sports. I understand how integral sports can be to athlete’s life. When I heard that I can’t play sports, even for a limited time, I felt devastated. However, injury taught me how to face challenges. We can take steps to overcome the mental barriers we experience alongside an injury.

  1. Accept reality – injuries are not discriminating, they do not care about who you are, how hard you train. It can happen to anyone. Past is past and now you should focus on what you can do with it.
  2. Stay involved – even when you’re injured it is crucial to be part of the team. Participate during training sessions and hang out with friends. Most people in your network are willing to be a support system and can often offer words of encouragement
  3. Focus on the things you can control – when you focus on what you can control, your thoughts empower you and then trigger positive emotions. It also helps save a lot of energy.
  4. Treat recovery like a training – replace your physical trainings with mental trainings. One way to deal with the depression is to start treating the rehabilitation process just like training.
  5. Use mental training skills – studies have shown practicing “mind over muscle” techniques can help with recovery. Using visualization techniques, self-talk and relaxation training during the recovery process. These strategies can help reduce stress and increase positive thinking.

In the end, I want to highlight importance of different purposes. Finding a purpose or identity away from your sport is important, especially when injured. Explore something that might be meaningful for you. Your sport does not have to define who you are.

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