Grieving a Lost Sport: Injuries and their Impact on Mental Health

As a teenager, I was a big fan of badminton. Though I was not particularly talented, I enjoyed taking weekly lessons, participating in a badminton ladder during the school year, and I generally enjoyed hitting the birdie around with my sister and various interested friends. When I was thirteen, however, I injured my knee in a bicycle accident and was not able to play badminton for almost a year.

Though I was not aware of it at the time, losing a sport I enjoyed had quite an impact on me. I was irritable, my temper was quicker, and I had more down time but was unsure what to do with it so I ended up watching more television. A year later when I was cleared to play again, I was relieved. I felt better when I was playing again, I was sleeping better, and I returned to being able to regulate my emotions better. It was this change that highlighted for me how much I loved badminton and how important it was to me in more ways than one.

sports play multiple roles in our lifeSports Play Multiple Roles in Our Lives
Participating in sports can be more than a good way to get your body moving. For some people, sports are also a great way to manage stress, a way to connect with friends to be social, a challenge/hobby that involves goals and achievements, and a source of pleasure. So what happens when we face an injury that removes us from our sport either temporarily or permanently?

sports and injuriesSport and Injuries
If you’ve had an injury that has interfered in your sport of choice, you may notice an associated impact on your mood. Oftentimes, people who participate in sports in the long-term gain both physical and emotional benefit from it. If sport is all of a sudden missing in your life, you could notice the following:

  • Irritability or anger
  • Trouble sleeping (getting to sleep or staying asleep)
  • Low appetite or increased appetite
  • Changes in interest in social activity
  • Low motivation/energy
  • Feelings of sadness and/or hopelessness
  • Feeling stressed or anxious
  • Changes in self-esteem or self-worth

What to do

If you notice these changes in your life following the change in your ability to participate in sports, remember that it is not unusual. Managing the symptoms can be a highly individualized process but here are some options to consider:

  • Identify the needs that sports were meeting in your life (e.g. need for competition, achievement, physical activity, social activity, stress management, leisure, etc.)
  • Make plans to meet these needs in new and/or different ways. For example, if you would typically meet your friends for a weekly game of squash but can no longer participate in activities with running, make plans to go for a walk or have a movie night each week. If you’re missing the opportunity to challenge yourself, try picking a challenging hobby or goal for yourself to work on (e.g. organizing the garage, learning a new language, creating a budget). If you’re missing the physical activity, consider other options that are available that would not aggravate or be limited by your injury. It may be useful to discuss options with your doctor, osteopath, physiotherapist, etc.
  • Consider your mental health. Losing a sport can be an incredibly challenging experience and can redirect long-term goals, self-care, and identity. Consider talking about how this is impacting you with a trusted friend or family member. It would also be a very appropriate reason to book a counselling appointment.

sports affect mental health

We often forget that participating in sports serves many roles in our lives and so the inability to participate in them the way we have in the past can have wide-reaching consequences.

Jennifer McCormick

About Jennifer McCormick

I’m a Counselling Psychologist working in Calgary. I excel in individual counselling, helping people with trauma, PTSD, and other psychological challenges.

Learn more about me here.

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