5 key points: Rebound (aka. how to mentally deal with injuries)

Even though we’d rather it wasn’t the case, the reality is that most people doing sport will get injured at some point in their life.

While there is a big focus on the ways you can physically recover from injury, I’ve always found it odd that there isn’t much out there on the mental side of recovering from injuries. Even in my MSc in Sports and Exercise Psychology this isn’t an area which is really covered which seems odd to me given that injuries effect nearly every athlete at some point. And given that the lack of confidence about returning to sport, the anxiety about if/ when you will recover from injury and all the other thoughts that can go through your head when you are injured can seem so debilitating it seems strange not to have ways to deal with this.

Which is why when I saw the book Rebound by Carrie Jackson Cheadle and Cindy Kuzma, (published by Bloomsbury, 2019) I knew I had to read it. This is an excellent book which has definitely given me ways to cope with my long term injury and I’m hoping that it can help you as well. Although lots of the examples given in the book are focused on elite athletes with very serious, career changing injuries, there is lots that the average person doing sport can take away from it.

Here are the five key points I took away from this book.

Set goals around recovery

I know I talk about goal setting a lot but that is for a good reason: it is an extremely important way to stay on track with your training. The same goes for injuries. Even when you are injured and the goals you may have set are on hold, that doesn’t mean you have to drift around without setting any goals. You just need to set different goals, ones which are focused on your recovery from injury. And you need to stay accountable to these goals, which will help you recover sooner.

For example you could set yourself the goal of spending 20 minutes a day doing your rehabilitation exercises, and make sure that whoever you live with checks in with you that you have actually done this.

As with all goals the key is to make them specific so that you know if you have achieved them. This will not only make it easier to stick to them but will also make you feel more confident and in control of your recovery.

Acknowledge the stress that injury causes

If you’ve ever been injured (and who hasn’t?!) you will know that being injured can make you feel stressed and upset. This is totally understandable: after all, we generally participate in sport and exercise because we enjoy it and it helps us switch off from other stressors in our lives, so it makes sense that without this we will feel stressed. Add to that worries about recover and it is no wonder that injures are stressful.

The thing to remember here is that being stressed won’t actually help you to recover from your injury. In fact, it can slow down the recovery process in a number of ways, including slowing the repair of muscle tissues.

So clearly it is important to manage the stress you are feeling about your injury to stop it becoming such a problem. There are lots of ways you could manage this stress but a few ideas are listed below:

  • Take control of the situation by seeing a physiotherapist or other specialist. Often the unknown-ness of injuries can cause lots of stress so getting some answers and ways to move forward might be helpful.
  • Find other ways to relax. For example you might try another form of exercise if you are able to, use an app like Headspace, start reading a good book, or listen to calming music when you are feeling stressed.
  • Get social support from those around you. Sometimes just talking through your worries with a close friend (especially if they have been in a similar situation can help) can make things seem a lot better.

Get rid of the monster in your head

This book refers to the negative thoughts and self-talk you might experience when you are injured as a ‘monster’. However, we also have an athlete in our heads, and feeding the athlete not the monster will help you to cope with injury. To feed the athlete you can do things such as:

  • Using positive self-talk when thinking/ talking about your injury.
  • Visualising yourself performing well in the future, or successfully carrying out your rehabilitation exercises.

By helping yourself feel more confident and positive about your recovery you will feel more in control and will probably be more likely to engage in the necessary rehabilitation. So as hard as it can be, don’t let the monster in your head grow by feeding it negative thoughts. Instead try to be positive and let the athlete in your head grow.

Use mental drills throughout your recovery

This book has lots of really helpful drills throughout it to help you cope with the mental side of injury recovery, making it almost like a workbook in places. Two of my favourite drills are below:

The bad news is… The good news is…

This drill helps you to put your injury into perspective and focus on the unexpected positives that may have arisen from it.

For example even if the bad news is that you are injured and might need to put your training and goals on hold for a bit the good news could be that you have more time to spend learning about your sport and training to become a coach, or that you have more time to catch up with friends, or complete projects around the house you’ve been putting off.

So while being injured is obviously disappointing there are always positive things you can be doing in the time you would normally be exercising. And especially if you normally dedicate a lot of time to your sport and training, an injury might be a welcome opportunity to do some of the things you don’t normally have time for.

The Funhouse Mirror

This drill is a good way to challenge any distorted thinking you might be experiencing while you are injured.

Whenever you catch yourself having negative thoughts about your injury ask yourself if you are looking in a normal mirror or one of those funny ones you get at the fair that make you look wavy and out of proportion.

If you decide you are experiencing distorted thinking try to challenge this (get someone to help you if needed) and think in a more rational way about your injury. This will stop you from feeling too negative about your injury and help you feel more in control of your recovery.

Have a Plan B

And finally, as we all know with injuries, things don’t always go to plan. You might find out that the injury is more severe than you initially thought, or that rehabilitation is going to take longer than planned, or any number of other obstacles.

Rather than being overwhelmed and upset if something doesn’t go perfectly, prepare for this. Try and think of various things that could go wrong during your recovery (be realistic here so you don’t scare yourself into thinking that you will always be injured), and cope up with a Plan B of how you will cope with this. By doing this, if something doesn’t go to plan you don’t need to panic, you can simply adopt your Plan B and get to work on fixing whatever problem you have encountered.

For example if you realise that rehabilitation is going to take longer than planned, instead of getting upset and frustrated you could book another physio appointment, get a second (or third or fourth) opinion, and set yourself some more goals surrounding doing rehab exercises.

I hope this blog post has given you some tips for dealing with injuries in a more positive and constructive way. For more information and tips you can buy Rebound here.

Leave a comment to let me know which of these strategies you will use when you are injured, or which you will recommend to your friends if they are injured.

Happy exercising (and rehabilitating!) 🙂

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