Coping with the Psychological Effects of Injuries

Therapy is key to overcoming the psychological effects of injuries. It isn't just about completing the physical rehabilitation steps, but also about being able to manage your emotions.
Coping with the Psychological Effects of Injuries

Last update: 10 September, 2021

The psychological effects of injuries must also be addressed in any physical rehabilitation program. This means a person must learn to manage anxiety, fears, and insecurity in addition to doing physiotherapy programs aimed at strengthening muscles, maintaining endurance, and other objectives.

Health is integral. Although you might be physically fit and prepared for the race of your life, your head can play tricks on you and it all ends there. As you can see, sports psychology is essential in any approach to recovery.

Psychological effects of injuries on mental health

It’s important to understand that an injury will affect a person both physically and psychologically. Hence, some emotions are typical of the case and shouldn’t be alarming. For instance, it’s normal to experience concern, anguish, and even fear. These states can even motivate and engage in recovery in many cases.

However, you must be attentive to those emotional states that interfere with daily life. Insomnia, permanent listlessness, depression, anxiety, ruminative, negative, and dramatic thoughts about the event, among others, for example.

Regardless of whether it occurs in amateur or competitive practice, an injury doesn’t only mean a pause in the sporting activity but also causes changes in personal, relational, and work areas. The sadness or anger about the injury will manifest in one way or another in the behavior of the person who had it.

A person undergoing physical rehabilitation.
One must consider the mental process that follows a sports-related injury along with the physical rehabilitation.

Mentality and recovery

For one, acceptance of the injury is key to manage emotions and achieve a transition to a more positive state, oriented to rehabilitation. All so as not to stagnate with defeatist ideas.

Emotional management is key to recovery. Thus, it’s necessary to deal with anger, fear, sadness, and any other state the athlete might be going through.

Psychoeducation is also key to recovery and coping with the psychological effects of an injury. For instance, providing information to the injured person about the impact of mental health on their progress. This is so they understand the importance of addressing it instead of neglect it.

Many psychologists offer knowledge about sports indirectly. For example, they might recommend videos or documentaries about a given activity to engage the patient. Mainly to help them stay in touch with their area of interest. Furthermore, it’s also helpful to get them to talk to people who once overcame a bad injury.

Optimism and visualization of positive scenes are also crucial. Therefore, it’s important to encourage those thoughts in which you envision yourself in desirable situations. All to be able to recognize daily progress without feeling overwhelmed about what’s missing.

Tips for overcoming the psychological effects of injury

You must know the patient with whom you’re working to approach recovery. Do so beyond identifying the injury itself, its trigger, or even the background. Was the athlete going through a burnout? Did they feel pressured or pushed to the limit?

The personality and life circumstances surrounding the athlete will be a major influence on the actions to take. For example, the support resources available to them, their stress-coping strategies, and the meaning of sport in their life, among others.

This is just how sports psychology can personalize the intervention and offer what the injured person needs to deal with the psychological effects of an injury. Continue reading for some general recommendations.

1. Work on acceptance

It’s important to focus on accepting the injury and that’s important to take a break and focus on recovery. Denial works as a defense but failing to acknowledge what’s happening can impact, not only recovery but also motivation. In fact, it can easily lead to risky behaviors.

Emotions of anger and sadness will also arise as these are part of the grief process. The injured person must go through every one of these stages until they reach the acceptance one. Then they’ll get to negotiating the different strategies they’d like to apply.

2. Encourage patience

This might just be one of the most difficult aspects of recovery. Especially when there’s no clear timeline on the horizon. When it mainly depends on the evolution of the injury.

Patience goes hand in hand with frustration. Thus, it’ll be important to continually reinforce the idea that something is being done. Sometimes, posing recovery as a challenge is motivating.

In addition, the patient must set short-term goals to demonstrate achievement and not see recovery as distant or impossible.

3. Addressing negative beliefs about the injury

Was it because of poor athletic abilities? Was it bad luck? Stress? Was it the opponent’s fault?

It’s important to explore their beliefs about what happened. That is to try to identify an overview of influencing factors, to work on those that are dysfunctional.

In addition, it’s also important to know what their coping strategies are. It isn’t the same for a person who looks forward to the future and knows the injury is temporary, as it is for someone who realizes it’s the end of their career.

Cognitive psychology has a lot to contribute in this regard. It’s about cognitive restructuring and thought suspending, among other techniques and exercises.

Also, it’s always positive to address the reason for their choice of sport as part of the work on the mental sequelae of an injury. It’s a matter of recovering the motivation to go on, even if there’s discouragement.

A distressed man.
People must learn to manage that anger, sadness, and frustration at not being able to continue practicing an activity.

4. Psychological effects of injuries require practicing relaxation

Relaxation is key, both to ease the anxiety of recovery and fears once a person goes back to doing physical activity. It’s necessary to incorporate it as a resource to relieve stress and also as a means to prevent relapses.

Going back to physical activity from a biopsychosocial perspective

The key to returning to physical activity is progression. You have to set small goals and gradually move forward. It’s also important to balance it with proper rest.

Also, don’t put pressure on yourself, respect the recovery times and determine the best chance to resume training. Working on the registration of the body and pain is a resource to keep in mind to take breaks when necessary. Of course, being able to ask for help is key.

Demands have two sides in the sports environment. On the one hand, they stimulate growth and continuous improvement. On the other, they’re also detrimental and can have physical and mental consequences. Nowadays, the value given to sport can either generate pleasure and enjoyment or pressure and stress in a short amount of time.

It doesn’t matter to what level of professionalism a person practices a given sport when it comes to facing the psychological effects of injuries. Thus, all of them must be considered from an integral perspective, a biopsychosocial that transcends the medical. At this point, sports psychology can provide resources for better practice and experience.

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