In week 12 of the NFL season, there were no high profile injuries in to note, however Eagles player, Brandon Brooks did miss the team’s game against the Seahawks this week for another reason. Brooks has openly spoken about anxiety he faces before most games.  On Twitter he mentioned how nausea and throwing up before games are normal for him and how he has been dealing with anxiety for several years since signing a long term contract with the Eagles. The feelings of nausea are something he has gotten used to, but this past Sunday, his anxiety got the better of him and he was unable to push through to play. It may seem odd to see someone as accomplished as Brooks to miss a game because of mental issues, but anxiety can be as intense as a physical injury but hard to spot from afar.

Most people can relate to some degree of feeling anxious.   Whether it is nerves before a public speaking event or even just going out to new places, anxiety can affect anyone.  Yet while most people experience it, talking about anxiety is not as common. There is a stigma in our culture associated with anxiety that is only now starting to change.   Brandon Brooks is not alone when it comes to his anxiety disorder. Over the past couple of years many professional athletes, particularly in the NFL and NBA, have opened up about their anxiety.  Additionally, many Olympic athletes struggle with anxiety. Since most Olympic events are individual sports, the athlete is the center of attention, and with high expectations of performance, which can be difficult for anyone especially for someone who does not want to be in the spotlight.  3DPT’s Ken Guzzardo spent time at the Olympic training facility in Colorado and noted that the training center has four sports psychologists and counselors on site to help athletes perform under immense internal and external pressure.

In physical therapy, it is common for patients to be anxious not only about their treatment, but throughout the recovery process. People in PT are experiencing pain that may be affecting their life and it is not something that goes away overnight. There have been studies done on patients with low back pain and various other conditions showing that even when the site of injury has fully healed, the patient still feels pain due to the brain tissue being affected. A good physical therapist will focus not only on the tissue affected, but help with the mind recovery as well.

Mental health is important in the recovery process.  David Leibovitz of Hopewell Springs Counseling Center says, “It doesn’t take a psychologist to know that your body and mind are very closely linked. Often times when people are dealing with an injury or illness, it affects many facets of their lives including their emotional functioning.  Many professionals in our field believe that people who actively cope with physical injuries report faster recovery and lower levels of both physical pain and emotional suffering.”

Anxiety is as real as any physical issue that an athlete faces.  Just as physical therapy helps to get athletes back on track physically, the right support system can help athletes with anxiety handle the pressure of performing at their best level.