How to keep your head in the game when an injury has you sidelined.
Whether you are a runner, cyclist, or tri-athlete you share a passion for your sport with fellow athletes. So when an injury prevents you from your passion, it’s hard to stay headstrong.
As an athlete, you may not understand the chemistry of your endorphin high but you sure know how it feels. So when that high is taken away for a week, two weeks, a month or more…it can be challenging to keep your head in the game.
Let’s start by hearing why we feel the way we do:
Endorphins are chemically related to morphine. Morphine is extremely addicting as we all know. When you exercise for extended periods of time, during endurance sports, your pituitary gland releases substantial amounts of endorphins. They are released when you put your body under stress. These endorphins create a state of athletic
euphoria. A state in which an athlete “feels no pain” and surges through
discomforts and possible injury. Recent studies have shown that the more physically fit an athlete is, the more receptive he is to endorphins. As intensity and duration of an athlete’s sport increases, so does the release of endorphins. The downside is that increased exposure to endorphins makes an athlete more addicted to their sport and it
allows an athlete to train harder because of their higher pain threshold and increased energy enabled by the endorphins. Unfortunately, this athletic euphoria can sometimes push athletes beyond their physical limits causing them injury. Suddenly sidelined athletes are susceptible to depression, anxiety, moodiness, irritability, weight-gain, insomnia and low self-esteem.
How to cope with an injury:
Athletes react to injuries with a multitude of emotion – anger, denial, frustration, sadness and sometimes depression. Here are a few psychological strategies to help any athlete keep their head strong and in the game.
First, learn about your injury. The more you know, the better you will feel. You will have less anxiety and feel a greater sense of control over your injury. Remember, your injury is not you. It is merely a part of your whole. Ask questions about the cause, treatment and prevention of your injury to your doctor, coach, or trainer.
Next, set appropriate goals for yourself based on your doctor’s diagnosis.
Keeping a positive attitude is going to be your biggest asset in your recovery. Remember back to a race when you had to dig deep…find that courage and remember how it feels. Once you’ve set your goals, stay focused on getting better. Your goals are no longer about performance. Your goals should be about your recovery. Athletes tend to try to speed up recovery by doing too much too soon. Know your limits.
Depending upon the type of injury you have, you may be able to modify your training. Many athletes have secondary sports they use on typical cross training day. Work with your doctor or trainer to create an exercise plan that will help maintain your cardiovascular conditioning and strength. Perhaps you can cycle or swim.
Most importantly, maintain a positive attitude by staying connected.
It is sometimes more natural or comfortable to retreat when an injury has occurred. An athlete may no longer feel a part of his sport community, because he cannot train or compete. DO NOT isolate yourself. Go hang out at the track. Go volunteer at an aid station or call your buddies to vent your frustrations. You may find comfort in knowing you don’t have to face your injury alone. Sign up at Runner’sWorld.com and receive daily inspirational quotes. Pickup a copy of an inspirational read like It’s Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong or Running On Empty by Marshall Ulrich. Whatever you do, stay connected while remaining focused on your rehabilitation.
Armed with the right knowledge and attitude, an athlete’s world does not need to be upside down. The injury is not the athlete’s identity.
Stay headstrong and keep your heart in the game…
even when your body can’t be.