Overcoming an injury. I could probably write about this topic every week and it would resonate with someone who reads it. For people who use their bodies for exercise and sport, whether you are doing so for your health or your profession, sustaining an injury can be devastating.
I was recently catching up with a good cyclist friend of mine. He asked me what I would be writing about next and I told him that a FB fan wanted to hear about overcoming an injury. He is still dealing with issues from a major injury so I asked him what he would want to read about and he said; “the psychological wreckage that happens after an injury”. I couldn’t have said it better. How do you deal with a body that isn’t working the way you want it to? I could write a whole book on this topic, but for this post I am going to focus on two main “mental skills” you can embrace in order to deal with overcoming an injury.
One of the most difficult and yet most important mental skills to focus on when you are injured is focusing on what you CAN do versus focusing on what you CAN’T do. When you are injured you can become consumed with all of the things you can no longer do. As one FB fan so aptly put it, she wanted to know; “how to ‘be’ a runner while injured and not running.” When you are injured, you are still an athlete. It feels like you aren’t because you feel like a piece of your identity has been taken away. You are no longer able to do what you are passionate about. Once you are injured, your “sport” is now your rehab and recovery and you need to shift your focus to that “performance”.
What can you do now to both ease your transition back into your sport and even help improve your performance when you return to your sport? I remember during one of my knee injuries (torn MCL) I developed this attitude. I was going to be an elite athlete when it came to recovering from my injury. I was in grad school at the time and knee deep (ha! ha!) in my sport psychology studies. I applied everything I knew to my recovery, from staying positive and setting goals, to using imagery and sticking to my rehab. Physically, there wasn’t much I could do outside of my rehab exercises, but my husband had given me a Pilate’s book so I checked it out and figured out a few core exercises I could do. Coming back into my first snowboarding season after that injury, I had one of my strongest seasons yet. Not only did I stick to my rehab and listened to my body and rested when I needed to so my knee would be fully recovered for the upcoming snowboarding season, but I also came back with a stronger mental game and a stronger core as well.
During that process, I put the control back into my hands. This ties into the second most difficult yet most important mental skill when it comes to overcoming an injury – managing your stress. Long-term psychological stress, (like what you might experience while sustaining an injury), suppresses your immune system. Several research studies have proven that psychological stress slows down your body’s ability to heal wounds. Higher stress = longer recovery. Stress hits us hardest when we feel like we have no control over a situation. Sustaining an injury falls right into this category. Focusing on what you CAN do helps you feel more in control and feeling in control can lower your psychological stress. Decide to be the best you can be at your recovery. Be the ideal patient. Stick to your rehab, rest when you need to, stay positive, keep moving forward, and most important – reach out for support when you need it.