Athletes depend on a strong and resilient body in order to do their best on the field, court, and rink. Unfortunately, injuries are a common problem in sports at all levels and can affect athletes on both a physical and mental level.

For athletes, athletic activities are a part of their identity. Since being at their physical peak is key for their participation in these activities, injured athletes may suffer from loss of identity, stress, or depression when recovering from an injury.

Athletes of all ages regularly become injured while participating in athletic activities. Over one in eight teenagers who participate in sports are injured every year. That’s over a million student-athletes, many of whom suffer from the additional burden of emotional distress after they are injured.

Young athletes who are recovering from an injury need to prioritize their mental health along with their physical well-being. Here are 5 tips for improving mental health following a sports-related injury.

1. Get Things in Perspective

A sports injury might seem like the end of the world, but in most cases, it’s just a setback. Don’t beat yourself up about what you could have done differently and try not to get mad about someone else’s involvement in your injury. What’s done is done and it’s important to get some perspective on the situation.

Wondering what could have been and feeling like your athletic career is over aren’t productive and certainly won’t help you recover and get back in the game. It’s best to just deal with the situation as it is and work toward recovery without dwelling on the “what ifs.”

2. Establish Realistic Goals

Injuries are frustrating because they can set you back in your training. When you’re working your way back to health, it’s important to think about your goals differently than you did before your injury. Pushing yourself to the limit and expecting too much from your body only leads to more frustration and risk.

Setting realistic goals will require you to realize that your body will need some time to get back to where it was. You will need to adjust your expectations after an injury and take things slow to ensure that you don’t make things worse or re-injure yourself.

3. Just Say No!

Vaping is becoming more and more common at schools around the country, and joining in with your classmates might seem like a good way to deal with stress or depression after an injury. However, these products are extremely dangerous and have lasting consequences like addiction, memory and attention issues, and health problems from the chemicals found in e-cigarettes.

In addition to the health implications of using e-cigarettes, vaping can even have an impact on future athletic performance. Student-athletes who vape have noticed respiratory problems, trouble feeling motivated, and other problems that limit their athletic opportunities, even dashing their dreams of a professional career.

Even if you’re feeling sad and hopeless because of your injury, it’s important to just say no. You don’t want vaping to take away your ability to participate in your sport in the future.

4. Stick With the Program

After an injury, you’ll be given a specific rehabilitation program to help you get better. It’s important that you stick with the program exactly as directed, even if don’t feel like doing your exercises or if you think you can speed things up by doing even more than the doctor orders.

Remember, doctors and physical therapists know what works best for treating a wide range of sports injuries. Trust their judgment and keep up with your rehab program as directed, no more and no less.  

5. Just Because You’re Down Doesn’t Mean That Your Out

Being an athlete is part of your identity and an injury doesn’t have to change that. Most people recover after an injury and continue to successfully participate in sports. While you recover, you can still stay involved in your sport.

Going to practices and events to cheer on your team, helping to coach, reading up on the trends and new superstars in your sport, and watching plays to improve your skills and knowledge are all great ways to stay engaged and to help you remember that you’re still an athlete, even with an injury.

Injuries Happen

Athletes get injured all the time. It’s okay to be sad that you’ll be missing out on some activities for a while, but it’s important to keep that sadness from taking over. With the right rehabilitation plan and the right attitude, you’ll be back in the game in no time.