How an Injury Can Affect Your Mental Health (And How You Can Manage It)

Mental Health

Dr. Happy

Despite our best intentions, we will on occasions experience physical injuries. It might be a significant one such as a broken limb (or worse); or it might be less serious such as a cut finger or a bruised muscle.

Regardless of the nature or even the severity, any injury has the potential to derail our smooth functioning. They can be disruptive and distressing. Here’s how, and notably also what we can do about it.

Shakespeare once wrote that “’tis nothing either good or bad ‘cept thinking makes it so”. What he meant by this is that an event is neither positive or negative in and of itself; but rather, the extent to which something is distressing or not depends at least in part on the way we interpret it.

Many, many years after Shakespeare penned these and other wise words, Cognitive Therapy (CT) essentially built its remarkable success on much the same concept. According to the most effective therapeutic approach of the modern era, CT is based on the notion that the way we think about what happens to us is just as, if not more important than what actually happens.

Accordingly, when it comes to dealing with a physical injury (or, for that matter, any other stressor), the way we think about the injury is vitally important. I’m not necessarily talking here about “positive thinking”; but I am inviting you to think about your thoughts and to question whether or not they’re realistic and helpful.

One of the most common “mistakes” we might make in this situation is to think that the injury we’ve experienced is permanent, pervasive and even personal. That is, something like “this is terrible, it will last forever, affect everything and it’s all my fault!”

These overgeneralised and catastrophic thoughts are indubitably not helpful, as they’ll cause significant distress which will then make it harder to cope with whatever’s really going on. And further, they’re almost certainly not realistic (for the vast majority of us in the vast majority of instances).

Much more likely is the scenario that the injury, even if it is bad in some way, “won’t last forever, won’t affect every aspect of your life and probably wasn’t your fault (accidents happen)”.

Another way of saying this is that if you have an injury…

  • By all means, be realistic
  • But try to reassure yourself that “this too shall pass”
  • Focus on what you can still do
  • And don’t excessively blame yourself for something you didn’t intentionally do or for something that now can’t be changed

Now it’s important to note that helpful and constructive thinking won’t make the injury magically go away! What it will do, however, is make it more likely you’ll be in the right frame of mind to do what you need to do and to get on with life as best you can, thereby making it far more likely you’ll recover more effectively and in a timelier manner.

Which brings to mind yet another way of thinking which I personally, and many others, have found useful in all manner of situations – do what you can do; accept what you can’t do; and be wise enough to know the difference.

There’s no doubt that injuries can contribute to pain – both physical and emotional. But there’s also no doubt that how we interpret these injuries, or how we think about what they mean (and don’t mean), will markedly determine the extent to which we cope well or not. We make mistakes be we are not mistakes; we experience injuries, but we need not see ourselves as fundamentally broken. Focus on what’s good and on what works, and you’ll find more contentment and confidence which will then give you more motivation to engage in healthy behaviours that will take you towards recovery.

Dr Happy

Please note: Dr Happy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic, please consult your healthcare professional.

Category:Mental Health

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