The Psychological Effects of Physical Injuries

woman in pain on couch after being injured

Think about the last time you were physically injured. Maybe you’ve gone through a surgery that had a long recovery time. Maybe some of you need to think back to when you were a kid, when you may have broken a bone or two.

How did you feel mentally and emotionally during that time? If you’re like most people, you probably had emotions like disappointment, frustration, anger, and despair. You may have even started to become depressed.

That’s because being physically injured disrupts our lives in serious ways, and can make our usual coping skills suddenly unavailable to us. But there are ways to cope with these feelings to take care of both your body and your mind while you’re recovering from an injury.

Why is this important?

  • Being physically injured could be especially difficult for people who use physical exercise as a way to lower stress levels. Physical exercise has been linked to lower stress and more happiness in numerous studies, and having that taken away can be challenging.
  • Stress can affect how quickly you recover from injuries — it can physically get in the way of your body’s ability to heal wounds. When your usual stress management skills are taken away from you, you might find that your stress levels rise — which can get you locked in a vicious cycle.
  • Our physical and mental health are deeply interconnected. This means that mental illness and physical illness often occur together. For example, almost half of people with coronary heart disease also report having symptoms of depression.
  • On top of affecting your stress management skills, injuries can get in the way in other areas of your life — like work. Especially if this leads to financial worries, it could make you feel even more stressed.

How to cope emotionally when you’re physically injured

  • Practice positive self-talk. It’s easy to become frustrated with yourself when your body doesn’t work like it usually does. Remind yourself that this is temporary, and that it’s important to stay calm to help your body heal.
  • Practice radical acceptance. This is an unfortunate situation, but it’s the reality right now — and fighting it won’t change it. In fact, it’ll only make you feel worse. Acceptance doesn’t mean that what happened to you is okay. It just means that you’re letting go of fighting reality.
  • Find other coping skills. On top of physical activity, other ways to manage your stress include deep breathing exercises, laughter, and journaling.
  • Surround yourself with positive support people. Try not to let feelings of embarrassment get in the way of spending time with the people you love. Invite people to engage in activities together that are easy on your body.
  • Keep up with your rehab plan. The sooner your body recovers, the sooner you can get back to your life.


Click here to download this tip sheet in PDF format.


Davidson, K. W., Alcántara, C., & Miller, G. E. (2018). Selected psychological comorbidities in coronary heart disease: Challenges and grand opportunities. The American Psychologist, 73(8), 1019–1030.

Giménez-Meseguer, J., Tortosa-Martínez, J., & Cortell-Tormo, J. M. (2020). The benefits of physical exercise on mental disorders and quality of life in substance use disorders patients. Systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(10), 3680.

Gouin, J.-P., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2011). The impact of psychological stress on wound healing: Methods and mechanisms. Immunology and Allergy Clinics of North America, 31(1), 81–93.

LaChapelle, D. L., Lavoie, S., & Boudreau, A. (2008). The meaning and process of pain acceptance. Perceptions of women living with arthritis and fibromyalgia. Pain Research & Management : The Journal of the Canadian Pain Society, 13(3), 201–210.

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