Managing Anxiety After Personal Injury in Athletics

by Ryan Rivera

 After a Major Injury

Athletes take a lot of physical abuse on their way to achieving greatness. They deal with nicks, cuts, aches and pains every day, and in general it’s easy to overcome those bumps and bruises and keep active.

But when you suffer from a major injury, it can drastically change the way you look at your sport. For a while you felt invincible, but major injuries throw the rhythm and safety you felt out of whack. Many athletes start to feel anxious again when they play the sport, and as most athletes know, the sport has to feel natural – if you’re thinking too much about what you’re doing, it becomes harder and harder to play the sport with the skill and confidence you had previously.

Anxiety with Athletes After Injuries

Feeling anxious after an injury is surprisingly common. This anxiety may be fueled by a whole host of different reasons, including:

  • Fear – It’s not uncommon for those that suffer from a major sports injury to start experiencing greater levels of fear when they participate in the sport. Injuries are painful, and once you know that you can be injured it’s easy to worry that you may get injured again in the future. This fear can also be exacerbated by the natural anxiety you have any time you participate in a competitive or daring sport (because of the natural adrenaline rush), which is why fear is often the most common cause of anxiety after an injury.
  • Long Term Health – Many athletes are worried that they can’t get to where they once were before the injury. For example, if a runner breaks their leg on a fall, that runner may worry that their leg isn’t going to heal correctly or that they will be unable to get the same speed out of their legs that they used to manage.
  • Embarrassment – For a lot of athletes, their abilities in the sport (including avoiding injury) are a source of pride. So when an injury occurs, these same athletes start to feel embarrassed or worried in public, anxious over their own abilities and how they’re viewed by others. Even in non-competitive sports (like jogging) there is a feeling that others around you are judging your ability, and that feeling is amplified when you are concerned about your injury and future abilities.

Anxiety can be caused by a host of different issues, which is why it is such a common experience when someone suffers from an injury from the sport they love. Reducing your anxiety is important if you want to get back into the game.

How to Cope with Sports Anxiety After an Injury

The most important thing is to not rush back. If you’re feeling anxiety about getting into your sport again, wait to make sure that your injury is completely healed. The last thing you need is to re-injure yourself and cause the anxiety, and your injury, to get worse. Make sure you’re completely healed and ready for any physical activities again. You should also:

  • Start in Parts

Don’t get right back to your sport right away. Give yourself time to get used to every aspect of the sport again. If you’re a competitive freestyle skier, for example, just gently ski in a park instead of performing tricks and getting right back onto a course. If you play soccer, kick the ball around a while by yourself but stay out of the game. Then go for a jog, but stay away from the soccer ball. The “all or nothing” approach that some athletes take is very risky, and could easily fuel your anxiety further.

  • See a Sports Psychologist

Sports psychologists are trained to help athletes overcome their fears. If you feel you have anxiety or score highly on a test we use to assess anxiety (take the test), a sport psychologist can teach you how to change your behaviors and overcome your fears, so that you can get back into your chosen sport and worry less about getting injured or your abilities.

  • Regain Your Instinct

Often the reason that you were able to avoid injury in the past is because you were instinctively able to avoid it. Baseball players are used to ducking from stray pitches. Basketball players are confident they know how to land while taking a charge.  After an injury, however, concern over those same events could cause fear. Baseball players start to fear that any ball coming inside is going to injure them again. Basketball players become afraid to take a hit much less take a charge.

You need to stare fear in the eye.  Using the right protection and safe procedures, perform the same behaviors you used to perform to avoid injury. For example, a basketball player might take a special training so they practice being pushed over learning to fall again safely.  Consider a special training for yourself with an instructor in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  By specifically learning how to roll through the fall, protecting your body during the charge – and exercising multiple repetitions so that the process becomes routine – anxiety no longer factors into the mix.  While you need to make sure you stay safe during these activities, over time you get used to them again, and avoiding injury once again becomes instinctive for you.

Regaining Your Confidence

Athletes thrive on confidence. It keeps them playing their sport and enjoying the process focusing on what they need to do to succeed. After an injury, it’s possible that your confidence and rhythm have been challenged. The above tips can help you regain that confidence again, and manage the anxiety holding you back.  For additional information: Check out this article by Dr. Eddie O’Connor on how to assess and understand injury properly – and – Rebecca Symes review of how ‘athletic identity’ factors into an elevated risk of injury.  Finally, it may be useful to understand those factors that enter into suffering in sport – this research by Phil Moore of the UK on cyclist’s experience of suffering is very informative.

About the Author: Ryan Rivera

Meet Calm Clinic Editors


Publisher & Founder of the Calm Clinic:

Ryan Rivera has spent 7 years of his life suffering from, as he calls it, the “whole package” – panic attacks, severe anxiety, agoraphobia, social anxiety, unbearable physical symptoms, headaches, neck pains, constant tension, diarrhea, palpitations, pounding heart.  After trying numerous different treatments for his anxiety (including various medication) a tipping-point in his life made him overcome his emotional problems.  As an athlete and person his personal experience provides some valuable insights toward overcoming the anxiety associated with injury and useful tips for recovery.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *