How to mentally deal with an Irish dancing injury
Injury management is an unfortunate fact of life for Irish dancers – this is a highly athletic sport with lots of jumping, fast movement, and pounding the ground. The body takes a real beating when an injury occurs, but the mind also takes a beating. While a muscle or a tendon might heal, the mental scars can hold a dancer back much more than any physical injury ever does.
According to Sport Psychologist and Mental Performance Coach Talese Fernbach, “When an athlete is injured, the injury can consume their thoughts and threaten their athletic identity.” If you spend all your time focusing on the injury then you can’t focus on getting past it. “It’s incredibly important that athletes realize that there’s a mind-body connection that influences their healing process,” Fernbach explains. “The physiological process of healing and the psychological outlook of an injured athlete are interdependent of each other. It’s well known that cognitive thoughts (mental) affect our physiological behavior and actions. It makes sense that our mental outlook influences our physical healing. What an athlete believes and thinks about their injury is crucial to their physical recovery.”
It’s not just physical pain
So what happens once you are injured? Fernbach describes, “It’s important for an athlete to recognize the mental and emotional components that they are experiencing in relation to their injury. If not addressed, these mental and emotional components can become barriers to the athlete’s healing. Some mental and emotional components to an injury might include:
• Unrealistic expectations of recovery
• Lack of motivation
• No control over healing
• Victim role
• Loss of identity and/or value
“In order to promote mental healing and rehab, it’s important that the athlete have faith and trust in their body’s ability to heal and in the purpose and importance of the steps for their rehabilitation, even if their rehab involves something as simple as ice and rest.” Rest might seem like a foreign concept to many Irish dancers, but Fernbach explains why going through the process is important for healing. “The idea of having faith in your physical rehab makes the athlete feel mentally strong and positive that their body has been healed and is as good, if not better, than before. An athlete believing in their rehab and seeing that others have successfully come back from the same injury, can help them to build confidence, promote healing, and foster adherence to their rehab.”
The best way to get past fear is to reframe it in your mind. “One thing that’s important to remember about fear is that fear lies in the past and the future. In other words, when a person experiences fear and they realize what they’re thinking about, what they’re thinking about is usually something that occurred in their past or they think will occur in their future,” says Fernbach. “The mind is not in the present moment. In the present moment, fear doesn’t exist. For example, if you’re sitting at practice and you keep re-playing your injury before doing your dance routine, the mind is in the past. Fear is fed. If you’re going into a competition and all you think about is being up on stage and your body falling apart or potentially feeling pain from a healed injury, the mind is in the future, thinking about something that hasn’t even occurred. Fear is again fed. The key is to realize that you are in the present moment and in that moment, all is well. The body is healed and stronger than ever. A dancer can also use imagery to see themselves in the present moment and their injured body part as being stronger than it was originally.”
Have you ever had an injury that you struggled to get over? Do you have any coping strategies for getting back to class and competition?