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Gustav Restau - Independent Lifeplus Associate


The mental side of sports recovery

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Sports injuries are common for most people who regularly take part in any form of movement workout.

Hopefully, any injuries you sustain will be minor, but the more you do something, the more likely it is that will experience a more serious injury at some point. From sprains, strains and breaks to sports-specific injuries such as runners knee and tennis elbow, there could be a time when you are forced to take a break to recover.

What happens when your body is healed though? You might be okay to physically return, but how is your mental or physiological health? After time-out you might struggle to get your mind ‘back in the game.’ A loss of physical fitness will no doubt impact your confidence to return to what you once enjoyed doing – particularly if you are doing it at a competitive level where your abilities will be judged. Studies have shown that injured athletes experience simultaneous mood disturbance and low self-esteem,1 which can make returning your sport or movement workout of choice more difficult.

From battling with self-doubt to fear, anxiety and low self-confidence, what can you do to heal the mental scars that can linger long after the physical ones have faded?

Establish clear, sensible goals

Not being perfect is not the same thing as failing. You might have to accept that your performance has been knocked back a bit, so now is the time to revaluate your goals and make sure you are clear with them. Be specific, make sure you can measure your progress and be sure that, with time, they will be attainable. Setting yourself up to succeed will no doubt lead to a more healthy mental state.

Practice mindfulness and visualisation

Studies have shown that when we visualise ourselves doing something, it stimulates the same region of our brains that would be activated if we were actually doing it.2 Don’t worry about what you can’t currently do or are not sure if you can return to yet, but focus – quite literally – on what you want to achieve. Picture yourself enjoying your movement workout again and allow your inner voice to translate the image to your mind.

Acknowledge your frustrations

While it’s important not to dwell on negative feelings, it’s also important to recognise that you have a right to be sad or frustrated. Grief is not just something experienced by those who lose a loved one – the commonly accepted stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are applicable to anyone who has ever lost something they held close. If you are missing your sport, your team or the feelings of achievement you used to have, that’s absolutely fine. Own them but allow yourself to move on and through them so that you can come out the other side.

Seek help if you need to

There’s nothing wrong with admitting you are struggling. No professional athlete gets where they do without the help and support of a good coach at the very least, so there’s no reason to feel like you need to struggle on your own either. Whether it’s a coach, a therapist or even a friend, having someone to talk to can help you voice your concerns with someone and gain perspective and clarity on them too.

Injuries will happen, but knowing how to deal with your recovery can make things easier from a mental standpoint as well as a physical one, ensuring you are able to get back to doing what you love as soon as possible.

  1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-199009060-00004 []
  2. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0068910 []