Emotional Reactions to Injury

Emotional Reactions to Injury

“I’ll be back!”

No doubt about it, injuries suck. Injuries are hard enough to manage without the additional suffering of judging your emotions. Here are some normal reactions:

I’M SAD. Feelings of sadness and hopelessness are common with injuries. The losses from injury feel like grief. About 20% of athletes with severe injuries develop clinical depression, a syndrome that’s different from the normal ups and downs of life. Depression involves changes in sleep and appetite, blue mood, lack of interest in formerly pleasurable activities, low energy, poor concentration, and/or suicidal thoughts.

I’M WORRIED / STRESSED. “Will I ever get better?” “What if I don’t perform well when I return?” “Do my teammates think I’m faking?” Injured athletes often ruminate over fears like these. Anxiety, depression, and decreased exercise may lead to difficulty sleeping.

I’M ANGRY. Feelings of anger and frustration are totally normal. Your amazing body is hurt. You may snap at your trainer or want to throw your crutches into the wall.

I’M ISOLATED. Athletes often feel lonely and left out when injured. Your coaches may focus more on healthy athletes, and you might miss out on impromptu social plans made at practice. You may withdraw from others if you’re feeling down.

I’M STRONG. Not all emotional reactions to injury are negative, especially as athletes heal. Injuries might provide needed rest for over-trained athletes. It’s a time to receive help from others, and grow closer to them. When you’ve recovered from injury, you often appreciate your sport even more, knowing what it’s like to miss it. You may feel proud of overcoming a tough injury.


So how can you cope with these feelings?

Talk to someone. Talk to your family, coaches, teammates, dietitian, psychologist, and/or academic advisor. Check out your worries. (For example, it’s rare for teammates to believe that you’re faking your injury, especially if you’re typically a hard worker.) Express anger assertively (“I’m frustrated!”) instead of acting out aggressively, which will cause regret.

Improve your mental game. Injuries are a great time to improve mental skills like energy management, self-talk, goal-setting, imagery, focus, and team-building. You can schedule with Jen Carter, PhD or Steve Graef, PhD by calling (614)293-3600.

Hone your nutrition. Meet with a sports dietitian for a meal plan that heals your injury quickly!

Set goals. Approach recovery like training, setting small goals and noticing your progress. Write in a journal.

Reach out for support. It’s hard for athletes to ask for help, but it’s an important skill. Ask questions to your trainer and physician. Update your team about your progress in recovery. Invite a friend to go out.

Hopefully soon you’ll return to playing the sport you love.

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