Contributed by Kurt Young
Injuries are an inextricable part of elite sport. Athletes can spend their entire careers working towards a goal of competing in a grand final or Olympic games, only to have their hopes dashed with the presence of an injury.
Consider Bob Murphy, Captain of the Western Bulldogs, who had to tearfully watch on as his team broke a 60-year drought to win the 2016 AFL Grand Final, whilst he sat on the sidelines with a knee injury.
Not surprisingly, injuries can be experienced as a significant loss, commonly linked to depression, anger, frustration and anxiety. Knowledge of adaptive coping mechanisms is a crucial way to prevent these emotional reactions from transitioning into clinical levels of emotional disturbance.
Here are five adaptive emotional management strategies to help you cope with an injury:
1. Acknowledge the presence of your injury rather than actively avoiding your injury and its related pain.
Coping by means of avoidance is a commonly utilised strategy by athletes. Yet, alarmingly, avoidance coping is the strongest predictor of future emotional distress and depressive symptoms.
2. Set aside a specific time to write down your worries linked to your injury.
Set aside a specific time-frame (e.g., 30 minutes) to problem solve and acknowledge worries related to your injury, but have a clear end-point when you will figuratively shut the door on these matters.
3. Practice present moment awareness.
When worries linked to your injury start to come up during the day, acknowledge the thought with a simple “Thank you mind,” then make a conscious decision to bring your awareness into the present moment and the task at hand.
4. Schedule pleasant events during the week.
Often when feeling low, people tend to withdraw from previously enjoyable activities, which can keep them stuck in a negative cycle of experiencing low mood. To break this cycle, prioritise and schedule an enjoyable activity during the week and make a commitment to engage in the activity despite how you are feeling at the time.
5. Social connectedness is key.
If you are part of a sporting club or team, continue to attend trainings and match days. Not only can you learn a lot from viewing training from the sidelines, but you will avoid the social isolation that can become one of the most emotionally damaging aspects of experiencing an injury.
Bob Murphy from the Western Bulldogs, exemplifies this point beautifully, and he was awarded a grand final medallion for the crucial role he played in passing on his knowledge to his younger teammates, despite being injured since Round 3 of the premiership season.
If you would like to know more about adaptive emotional management strategies or are currently injured and would like support, call or email us here.