One day, the looming cloud of doom will hover over you and everything will line up juuust right for you to get hurt. You can’t predict when and maybe you can dance around it, but most of the time if you rough it up you’ll get roughed up in return someday.
Injury takes you to a heightened state of arousal and stress whether you like it or not! It shines a spotlight on every part of you that is weak and what you thought was indestructible. You’re not just getting old, either. While you may feel pain physically, it takes a larger toll mentally. Insidious onset or traumatic, an injury creates stress, heartache, pain, fear, anxiety, and depression. It is an all out war in your mind. So, what can you do?
First Things First: Get Out of Pain
Pain is different for everyone. Someone else may be able to easily cope with pain that you are disabled by. It is simply a different experience. Intense pain may feel like it will never end, but you have to believe that it will. The good news is that there is usually a projected timeline for returning to play. If you are normally a stubborn person, it may be time to adopt a new outlook. Do I speak from experience? Maybe. Anyway, discuss said timeline with your medical professionals, but play a role in your recovery. Do your research, meet with your doctors and physical therapists, and form a game plan. It can possibly evolve based on your response to treatment. Make sure that research you do includes finding a good provider. I’ve been to Physical Therapists who were too afraid to touch me and those who were too aggressive. You have to understand your pain and then learn how to communicate it to those helping you. If you are apathetic, you will get the same response from your body. Put in effort and recover faster, plain and simple.
Loss of Identity & Coping
Your identity can easily become wrapped up in your sport. It’s going to suffer a bit if you’re out. Realize that you are going to experience some of the stages of grief depending on how long you are sidelined. Once the initial trauma is over, things will begin to settle down and you can plan your recovery. Physical activity might allow you a place to work through challenges in your life. When that is taken away at the level that you are used to, you’ll be forced to deal with life’s stress in a different and new way. Contrary to popular belief, there are other healthy ways to deal with difficult emotions. Don’t get caught up in self-medicating or isolation. The desire to find something to drown out or mask your feelings will hit you like a bulldozer and run you over leaving you in a pancake shape. Imagine recovering from that! This is the time to remember who you are and how temporary this is. Try to keep a normal schedule with teammates, training partners, friends and family. People care about you even if they don’t fully relate or understand.
What You Can Do for Your Mind
The following skills have not been tested on animals. Only humans…
Relaxation & Breathing
Your energy may feel low and you’re going to need mucho rest. Learning how to relax will be key for your mind. Check-in with yourself and notice how you’re breathing. Shallow upper chest breathing is a stress response to injury. This can lead to a lot of anxiety, as well. In response, diaphragmatic breathing can provide a ton of health benefits for your nervous system. When everything is tightened up from inflammation, your body will welcome your deep breath like a warm hug.
Goals & Overcoming Fear
Set goals for your return. This can be a return to health, a return to sport, or return to a specific race/game/meet. Having something positive to focus on is going to shift you into a positive mindset. It will feel good when you start to see small progress in your well-being. You can measure your progress in numbers and photos so that you can actually see how far you’ve come.
You may be fearful of re-injury or losing ground. Let’s get one things straight: you wouldn’t be human if you weren’t concerned about this. If all you know is balls to the wall, let this injury teach you that it’s not the only way. Work from the inside out. Your coach will understand, but your communication with them is crucial. Maybe you’ll always be the one to sacrifice everything, but let yourself heal first.
Visualization & Imagery
Your body doesn’t forget how to ride a bike, so you’re not going to forget how to play your sport. In the meantime, if you just had ACL surgery and you need to regain strength in your leg, you can use vivid imagery skills in order to help your body get there more quickly. How does this work? Visualization is not just sitting on your couch, closing your eyes, and seeing yourself throwin’ down on the court. This is a skill that needs attention as you would practice a layup drill. It is a skill that requires all of your senses and will strengthen over time the more you practice it. If you work on imagery techniques, your body will start to respond as your mind starts to believe you are healing. Your mind is a powerful tool, so don’t downplay or dismiss what it can do for you.
Human & Athlete
Many injuries aren’t that severe, and you may be upset because you have to be out a few weeks. Remember that pain is a warning sign, and if something isn’t right then you need to take a step back and get it looked at. Use the support available to you. Hiding an injury from coaches might seem like the only way to keep your job. In some cases, I’ll let that slide. In many others, you’re just going to fuck yourself up for the worse. Why would any sane person do that to themselves?
The spectrum of the life of an athlete ranges from extreme lows to the ultimate highs. Injury is going to be on that spectrum, and everything you experience is normal. Even the “I’m not okay” part. It’s okay that it’s hard, but if you know that you will overcome it then focus on learning from it. My intent is to make sense of what injured athletes go through, and spark discussion about how we can make the recovery process positive and more manageable. You are a human being with needs. You are also an athlete. Human, first. Athlete, second.
I’d love to hear from you if you’re dealing with an injury. Send me a message with what you’re going through and the biggest challenges you are facing. Have you tried any of the methods above? What works for you, and what doesn’t?