On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness news for all Oklahomans.

Mental Health Tips for Recovering from an Injury

08 June 2021

Posted in

If you’ve been injured it’s likely that, in addition to the physical pain, you’ve also experienced some mental duress. It’s a common challenge faced by people who have experienced an injury. Being injured, and working through the recovery process, can be exhausting, frightening and frustrating. It can also trigger feelings of isolation, depression, anger, fear, sadness and shame. Feeling out of control or numb are also possible. Recovering mentally can be equally, or more, difficult than recovering physically but the two go hand in hand.

Here are some tips for maintaining your mental health while recovering from injury.

Accept and acknowledge your feelings. Your injury may mean you’ll be unable to participate in a sport or everyday activities while you heal. You may experience the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages don’t necessarily happen in order and moving back and forth between them is a normal part of processing.

Control what you can. Most people will experience some sort of injury requiring recovery. Whether it’s a sports injury, recovering from surgery or childbirth, or something catastrophic like sustaining an injury in a car accident, your routine will likely be disrupted and you may feel frustrated, powerless or both. Owning your situation can help. You know your body. For example, if your recovery requires physical therapy or rest, you alone can gauge when to push yourself a bit harder and when to ease up. 

Adding structure to your days can help you feel more in control. If your injury has made you unable to work or engage in a ‘normal’ routine, create a new normal. Get up at the same time each day, schedule your physical therapy and rest, set aside time to engage in calming activities like journaling or meditation, plan healthy meals and make time for plenty of rest. 

Set clear goals. This may come more naturally to injured athletes, but it’s a good tool for anyone facing a lengthy healing process. Setting goals can help guide your behavior, create focus and sustain your momentum. It also helps us feel more in control. Hitting our goals builds self-esteem and keeps our purpose clear. Use the SMART goal strategy. Create goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.  Some examples:

  • Specific goals: I will walk three miles in 45 minutes.
  • Measurable goal: I will track my walking distance and speed with an app each time I walk.
  • Attainable goal: I was able to walk three miles in 45 minutes before my injury, so when I have healed I will be able to do it again.
  • Relevant goal: I love a good walk. Strolling through my neighborhood gives me great joy, and it’s good for my fitness and mental health.
  • Time bound: I’ll be sure to take the time my doctor recommends to heal. I’ll increase my mile pace and distance each week and in six weeks I’ll hit my goal.

Focus on the present. It’s hard not to get ahead of things. When we are injured, we want to be healed up and back to normal NOW. But it takes time for our bodies to repair themselves. Reminding ourselves that right now, in this moment, we are actively healing can help. 

Accept or ask for help. Many types of injuries can cause serious mental duress, including PTSD. Injuries from car or motorcycle accidents, gunshot wounds, vehicle-pedestrian accidents, accidents sustained at high speeds and other types of musculoskeletal injuries resulting from significant trauma may be associated with PTSD. An injury of any kind can be traumatic. If left untreated, PTSD can slow mental, functional and physical recovery. It can make daily activities like bathing, eating, paying bills, household chores and shopping feel difficult or insurmountable. 

Some indicators that the expected mental hurdles associated from healing have moved into more dangerous territory include: frequently re-experiencing the event that caused your injury through nightmares, flashbacks or memories you cannot seem to control; an increased startle response; feeling emotionally numb about the injury event; insomnia, irritability, difficulty concentrating; anger; or finding yourself unwilling to think about the injury event. INTEGRIS Health’s department of mental health and psychiatry can help. Learn more and access our confidential, anonymous mental health screening here.

Use visualization as a tool. Studies have shown that when we imagine an action and then actually perform that action, the same region of our brain is stimulated. So, for example, if you are recovering from a broken femur, imagine yourself walking briskly around the block or running along a beach with two strong, healthy legs propelling you easily along. Some find it helpful to visualize the healing itself. Examples of healing imagery include imaging a broken bone knitting itself back together or torn muscles being glued back together. Another way is to imagine warm, healing colors to promote a feeling of warmth on a specific body part.

Cultivate optimism. It’s easy to sink into negative thoughts and moods when injury has brought a big challenge into our lives. Developing a healing phrase or sentence you can repeat to yourself when the going gets tough can really help. It could be as simple as “I give myself permission to heal,” or “I put my health and healing above everything else.” Other ways to boost your optimism include keeping a gratitude diary or doing something that makes you feel good, like reading a good book or watching a funny movie. 

INTEGRIS Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation offers the most comprehensive range of inpatient and outpatient services in the region. Our interdisciplinary team is dedicated to recovery not just of physical deficits, but of the whole person – emotionally, physically, mentally and socially.

For more mental health and wellness resources, visit the INTEGRIS Health blog.


The Science of Helmets

Ways You May Not Have Realized Stress Affects Your Body

What To Know About CBD