Why Injured Athletes need to actively manage the dangers of Social Media in their recovery

The power and privacy lapses of social media are big news at the moment, with regulators and Governments looking closely at issues such as Facebook’s deal with Cambridge Analytica. But leaving that bigger picture to them, how about the micro-picture of how social media fits into the lives of injured athletes, and how to manage the pressures and harness positives for recovery?

Most athletes will have Facebook, Instagram & Twitter friends and groups, Strava & Garmin groups and WhatsApp messenger groups that all rotate around the next training session and race. For some these will support the agreements with their sponsors. But for all they will be an important source of information and connection. The whole identity of athletes is often wrapped up in the exercise-driven world – this is their tribe. And every time they open any of these apps (which they probably did many times per day prior to their injury), it is a stark reminder of all that they have lost.

As I say on the opening page of this Injured Athlete website – this hits hard at the level of our human need of belonging, as well as our identity of who we perceive ourselves to be and how we achieve our physical and mental balance. Fighting all of those at once is pretty overwhelming, so you need some coping strategies!

Can you stay a part of your tribes?

Is there any way that you can stay a part of your tribe? Can coaching or supporting fill the gap for you? Can you be a social member? Is there anything behind-the-scenes that you can get involved in?

If not, then much like Jonathan Livingston-Seagull in the beautiful fiction book, you probably need to accept that you do not fit in the tribe any longer and find a new tribe… hopefully just for a little while, whilst you get better.

Form new groups

Can you make the walking group? Or the book group? Or the Friday or Saturday coffee group? Or even the injured athletes’ group!

Remember that the Facebook echo-chamber is not the real world

When it is very hard to get out and see people, social media can become the way that you keep in touch with what people are up to. But it gives a very fake view.

For most people, their Facebook status is an update more of the life that they would like to be living than the one that they are actually living. So you can get the impression that the world is having a brilliant time whilst you are not. And it can bring you all of the updates of where you want to be, but are not.

You need to decide what kind of content, on what kind of frequency is helpful to you. Then you can choose what platforms you want to visit, and via which devices.

Be careful about getting hooked on Social Media responses

Then there is the question of what you post yourself (or someone else on your behalf) and when.

I have seen some people who have gone beyond giving recovery updates on Facebook, into comments many times per day on their latest problem or mood. Maybe this works for them, but I sense their need to get even more comments and likes for each one of these comments, which I know don’t translate into real support or a good two-way conversation with someone who cares. And in order to keep getting comments and likes (which can become a focal point for people), there is often an escalation in the magnitude of the problem.

This addiction to likes and comments from others can happen to even the most unlikely of people when they are at the top of their game and do not look like they need the validation – so anyone can succumb to it when they are down and vulnerable!

It reminds me of the strategies that companies use when marketing a product – in order to be in the minds of the shopper the brand often increases the frequency and drama of their communications. This builds so-called top-of-mind awareness, even in ‘light buyers’ (infrequent purchasers of the product – or distant friends in the case of Facebook). But sustaining that level of exposure becomes a constant workload. I rebel against the thought that we have to keep marketing ourselves like this.

Maybe it is a reflection of my own vulnerability, but I would rather have many fewer friends and know that there was a meaningful bond in our friendship than measure myself in clicks, likes, and comments.

Finally – stating the obvious

To come full circle on the start, the reality of everything in the social media space is that whatever privacy you think that you have baked into your settings – this is not guaranteed.

Asking for the support that you need from your friends is so important, but this level of disclosure on a social platform with privacy lapses and making money from profiling you (including your vulnerabilities) may have consequences for you that are not easy to see right now. So I would suggest that the old-fashioned principle of ‘would you be comfortable with this being on the front page of the newspaper’ is a sensible one.

In summary

Overall, what I am trying to say is that I suggest that you approach social media to make it a tool in your recovery and rehabilitation. Unpick what it is about it that works for you and what does not.  Then put your plan into action and feel good about it.

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