Q&A: How to Stay Mentally Strong Through an Injury
What can I do to keep myself mentally strong if I’m dealing with an injury in the middle of a training cycle? I have time to make it to race day okay, but I might not be 100%.
Being sidelined by an injury is extremely frustrating. Knowing that you will be back for race day is helpful; however, managing the anxiety while you are rehabbing can be extremely taxing on one's psyche. To help stay calm and focused during this time, I suggest a few strategies to help athletes manage this stress.
First, we focus on using the mental skill of visualization. There are various uses for visualization when one is injured. One use is to imagine yourself successfully engaging in and returning to your sport. Another is using it for relaxation or anxiety management when you feel overwhelmed by the injury or the new timeline you have. Studies have shown that using imagery can help athletes rehabilitate more effectively and have greater confidence when they return to play.
Second, while it is disappointing, the athlete may need to adjust the original goals for this race. Depending upon how significant the injury is and how impacted training is, the amount that an athlete may need to adjust his or her goals can vary.
I encourage athletes to focus on what is reasonable to accomplish given the current timeline. If the goals are unattainable, it interferes with motivation to stick to the training program because you are not experiencing success. However, if the goals are adjusted, it allows the athlete to gain confidence in his/her progress and appreciate that improvement is possible.
One question I encourage athletes to consider when this happens is: “What is the best I can do today?” This allows room for athletes to recognize that the body may not be where they hoped and honestly consider various factors (stress, injury, sleep, etc.), and then set goals based on this evaluation.
Finally, I try to help athletes recognize that some injuries are our body's way of telling us we need time off. Often, an injury occurs from overtraining and not allowing our body enough time to recover between workouts. The time off for recovery gives our body a chance to heal, which will ultimately lead to better competition outcomes.
About the Author
Dr. Deborah Roche is a Sport Psychologist at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS).