Athletes can spend hours upon hours improving their skills. Whether it’s baseball, basketball, football, golf, tennis, or something else, many athletes spend years working on each individual talent and becoming the best they can possibly be.
Yet with all of those hours of preparation, the one thing that athletes often cannot prepare for is an injury. No one knows when an injury is going to occur, what triggers it, or how severe it will be. But when athletes do get injured, it can be a devastating experience.
The Effects of Injury
Most people are aware that injuries can affect your physical abilities. They can take a long time to heal, preventing you from practicing and maintaining the skills you need to thrive in your particular sport. They can linger, potentially leading to bad habits or re-injury. In some cases, the injury can be severe, and your body may struggle to recover.
These are all the physical problems that are associated with injuries. But what many people forget is that there are often mental blocks as well. Post-injury anxiety is common, and caused by a host of different factors including:
- Fear of Injury or Re-injury
- Fear of Recovery
- Loss of Coping Strategy
Many people use sports as their way of dealing with stress and anxiety, since they are essentially enveloped in their sport every day of the week. When injury takes them out of their sport, they experience some of the anxiety that comes with too much free time and not enough to do – the same type of anxiety that affects people who are laid off or retire.
There’s no quick fix for reducing post-injury anxiety, and there is nothing wrong with seeking help. Both sports therapists and cognitive behavioral therapists can help you get back in the game and reduce the way that the injury affects you. But there are a few ways you can reduce the amount of anxiety you experience post-injury. Here are some important tips for reducing post-injury anxiety.
- Find Ways to Stay Active – Athletes are used to physical activity, and injury takes away the opportunity to continue exercising. If you’re physically capable, find ways to stay active that won’t cause re-injury. For example, if you badly injured your arm, make sure you’re still walking often. Your body is used to exercise, and exercise is an important coping strategy for anxiety.
- Don’t Rush Back – Pushing yourself is important, but rushing back will cause a considerable amount of anxiety if you aren’t at full strength right away – and no one is at full strength right away. Even professional athletes finds that it takes months to get back to 100%, including long after the injury as healed. Rushing back puts unnecessary pressure on yourself, and any setbacks will cause anxiety flare ups.
- Avoid Unhealthy Coping – Once you get back to the game, you’ll find that your anxiety decreases. Until then, make sure you’re not doing anything that teaches your mind and body unhealthy coping strategies. Don’t drink to cope with stress, don’t become reckless, don’t overdo painkillers – don’t do anything that prevents you from simply learning to control the anxiety you experience.
- Learn the Sport from Scratch – Anxiety can cause you to make mistakes in your sport. Mistakes are okay – natural even. But mistakes can also lead to injury and anxiety, such as avoiding anything that puts pressure on your previously injured left foot, only to put too much pressure on your right foot while compensating. Treat your sport like it’s brand new when you get back to get into the groove again before you jump in.
- Find Other Healthy Hobbies – Finally, injuries can be scary, and in some cases it is possible that you don’t fully recover. For athletes that have dedicated themselves to their sports, this can be devastating. Still, the reality is that most people do recover, so the key is to prevent your mind from focusing on the idea that you have to get back to your sport. Find new hobbies and activities (productive and healthy, of course) so that you have other fallback options if the injury lingers. Then you won’t experience as much of the “what if” anxiety that comes from waiting to find out how well your injury has healed.
It would be great if there was a quick fix for your anxiety, but there isn’t. Your sport is important to you, and it’s natural for the injury to cause some anxiety. The key is to find ways to not let that anxiety become a permanent part of your life, and then figure out better ways to cope with it until you’re back and playing your game.
About the Author: Ryan Rivera is an anxiety specialist, with thousands of articles and columns related to dealing with anxiety. He has an information website available at www.calmclinic.com.