We all know the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” But have you heard “lowering stress levels keeps injuries at bay”? Of course this isn’t a commonly heard phrase. Still, three decades of research “shows that a combination of conditions puts athletes at a greater risk of injury: negative life stresses, an increase in daily hassles, previous injuries, and poor coping responses,” says The Sport Psych Handbook (edited by Shane Murphy).
Stress, inadequate coping skills, and personality traits doesn’t just make for a bad mood; these factors create an elevated stress response. What does this mean for a player? Athletes who have elevated stress responses suffer from more muscle tension, are more easily distracted, and a have smaller attention span, meaning you might not notice you are not holding your body in the proper form as you take that jump shot on the basketball court. Being under stress for long periods of time actually changes your “body’s endocrine system, making a person more susceptible to illness and slowing down the healing process,” says The Sport Psych Handbook.
We all know stress in unavoidable, but how do we manage life stresses and lower our injury risk? We need to learn coping skills to deal with stress. And, when life hits us with a big stressor — such as death of a loved one, a move across country, or the end of an important personal relationship —seeking professional help is a good idea if our coping skills are not up to speed. A sport psychologist can both teach you every day coping skills and help you deal with a big life loss. Taking deliberate steps to try and reduce stress can help lower the chance of incurring more stress through suffering an injury.