Ten Mental Health Strategies to Rebound from Injuries

Ten Mental Health Strategies to Rebound from Injuries

By Dr. Alan Goldberg//competitivedge.com  | Wednesday, May 30, 2018

In any sport, dealing with an injury is a realistic possibility. Regardless of how severe the physical part of an injury and rehab process may be, what is often over-looked is the mental “pain” that almost always accompanies these setbacks.

If you want to speed up your healing as much as possible and get yourself back in the pool, then you need to EXPECT certain feelings and behaviors to emerge as a result of your injury. These feelings and behaviors are absolutely NORMAL and a natural part of successfully coping with the disruptions that injuries can cause. These may include denial, (downplaying the severity of your injury by trying to “train through” it), feelings of anger, depression, (from the loss of your health and a blow to your self-esteem), “identity confusion,” (“If I can't swim, then who am I and what am I worth?”) and a crisis of confidence.

To rebound, follow these 10 strategies:

1. Be sad. Allow yourself to mourn and feel whatever loss you are experiencing. Being "strong" by hiding your feelings will interfere with you effectively coping and recovering. Your emotions are an important part of the healing process. Feeling is part of healing, so allow yourself to talk about your emotions with the “safe” people in your life!

2. Deal with what is. Injured swimmers have a tendency to focus on what could have been if only they hadn't gotten hurt. Spending time and energy on this will take you away from successfully moving through the recovery process. While your injury may have put a temporary halt to your dreams, this is your reality right now and you have to deal with what is. Stay away from comparing yourself to how you “used to be” and what you “used to do!”

3. Set new, more realistic goals for yourself. As you begin the recovery process, you may have to learn to measure your successes in smaller increments than before. It may mean that you also have to start all over again to build up arm, leg or core strength, as well as endurance. Keep focused on these NEW goals of recovery and healing, and for now, leave your times and outcome goals in the PAST.

4. Do not compare yourself with others. Stay away from comparing yourself with teammates or other competitors. Worrying about how much further they may be getting ahead of you will do nothing for your healing except make you anxious and more discouraged.

5. Maintain a positive attitude, no matter what. As difficult as this will be, try to stay as positive as possible. In other words, your attitude and outlook is ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING! When positive, your attitude can speed up the healing process and lessen the emotional pain you have to go through. Being negative will only slow the rehab process down.

6. Take an active part in your healing. Follow the doctor's advice closely. Be conscientious about your physical therapy and listen to your PT!  Don’t cut corners. Work as hard with your rehab as you did in your training. In addition, practice using healing imagery on a daily basis. If you're recovering from a broken bone or a shoulder injury, spend at least 5-10 minutes imagining that bone or shoulder beginning to heal. "See" in your mind's eye a healthy supply of red blood cells surrounding that area and facilitating the mending process. I can't scientifically guarantee this will speed up your healing. However, I can promise that this will make you feel less helpless, more in control and much more positive.

7. Continue to practice and work out. If your injury allows you to still continue any part of your training, then do so. If all you can do is kick, then take this “opportunity” to make your kick one of your major strengths. If you can't be in the pool, then use mental rehearsal on a daily basis (5 -10 minutes at a time) to see, hear and feel yourself racing in your events. Take this time to also mentally work on your weaknesses. For example, if you were the kind of swimmer who would get too nervous pre-race, then learn techniques to calm yourself down.

8. Seek out the support of your teammates. Injured athletes naturally feel isolated, like they no longer belong. FIGHT this urge! You may feel worthless and suddenly different, but chances are good that you're probably the ONLY one on the team who shares that opinion. The worst thing for you to do when you’re in a vulnerable state is to separate yourself from your group. Make a serious effort to reach out to others rather than pull in.

9. If necessary, seek out a counselor. If you are really depressed for an extended period of time, have lost interest in things that used to excite you, have noticed that your sleep and eating patterns have changed and/or you're having suicidal thoughts, seek professional help immediately. If you’re having these kinds of symptoms, this means you are in need of some qualified, outside support. Seeking out the help of a professional therapist or counselor is NOT a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it’s a sign of strength.

10. Be patient. If your injury is temporary, then allow yourself enough time to heal properly. If you're over anxious to get back into the pool and rush the healing process, then you may set yourself up for another, more serious injury. Rushing the healing process so that you can get back a week or two earlier is “penny wise, and pound foolish.” While you might get back a few days earlier, you may end up developing a chronic injury that could keep you out for extra weeks and even longer. Remember, sometimes the fastest way of coming back is the slowest. Go slower, arrive sooner!



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