Ask LH: How Can I Overcome My Fear Of Injury?

Dear Lifehacker, I have what I would consider an abnormal anxiety when it comes to injury. Even with sports I enjoy — namely snowboarding and skateboarding — I'm unable to push past the fear of even the smallest injury. It seems to be my mind unable to get past my fear of a loss of control.

I don't want to go totally the other way and become completely oblivious to the dangers things pose. However, as I'm an anxious person to begin with, I need to find ways to address this crippling fear, as I can't progress past even a basic level. Does Lifehacker have any tips on overcoming anxiety in this scenario? Thanks, Scaredy Cat

Picture by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Dear SC,

We ran a detailed post last year on how to overcome your worst fears, and many of the strategies discussed in that post apply to your scenario. In particular, you need to educate yourself about the risks involved and how to minimise them.

One seemingly obvious but very relevant point: make sure you have the right safety gear. A 2008 study of snowsport injuries in the Snowy Mountains suggests that 73 per cent of those hurt were not wearing any protective equipment. Get padded and helmeted up and there will be far less to fear.

Having pointed that out, my advice in this case is blunter: if your fear is already at such unpleasant levels, the chances of your actually enjoying the activity aren't good. Snowboarding and skating aren't essential life skills; you're not going to lose your job or be a lesser contributor to society if you don't take part. While there's a lot to be said for attempting to face your fears, life is short and you have limited choices. Spending a lot of time forcing yourself into a scenario that terrifies you is not a particularly sensible idea.

Sometimes we have to accept that an activity we enjoy at a conceptual level just isn't for us. This happened to me earlier this year when I got the chance to try out scuba diving. I wasn't scared, but it turned out I was spectacularly incompetent. It's possible that with repeated training I might be able to overcome some of the issues I experienced, but to my mind the effort involved would be better spent on an activity that (for me) is more obviously rewarding and enjoyable. I can't recommend wallowing in self-loathing as I did when I wrote up the experience, but realising that some things are not for you is part of being human.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    I used to do a lot of white water kayaking back in the UK and had a very similar problem to you. I tended to play it safe and reached a point where I was comfortable but didn't push myself to do some of the harder rapids (grades 5 & 6). That changed on one trip I was on where there was a very positive, reassuring and, most importantly, experienced kayaker who persuaded me that I should give this particular grade 6 fall a go. Even if I stuffed up there were 6 or 7 people set up to rescue swimmers and the consequences weren't any worse than what I'd already experienced. So I tried the fall, I stuffed up BIG TIME, the force of the water almost tore my helmet off and I got battered about then hauled out by one of the rescuers. Battered but safe, I felt on top of the world! After that, I pushed myself a little bit more and did harder and harder trips and had broken out of my rather wimpy comfort zone.

    So how does this help you? Maybe it doesn't, but if you can find a way of pushing yourself beyond your current abilities in a situation where the consequences could be painful but not terrible, that may be enough to help you move on to bigger and scarier things.

    Last edited 18/12/12 12:35 pm

    I'm in much the same boat. I was learning to skateboard, but fell and landed pretty hard on my tailbone. Didn't break it, but there was pain for a while after. That kind of threw me off, but looking back, I realised a few things:

    1) I was still alive
    2) I was in an area that was frequented by other skaters and people walking by, so I would be found if I got knocked out somehow (worst case scenario!)
    3) The pride I would feel from getting back on there / demonstrating to others that I could skate far outweighed the embarrassment / pain I felt from falling.

    I guess the take away is: You'll be fine. It may hurt, or you may require a trip to the doctor / hospital, but as Captain Lance Murdoch said:

    "Bones heal. Chicks dig scars. And the United States of America [Australia] has the best doctor-to-daredevil ratio in the world!"

    Do not google image search for 'compound fracture.' Hope this helps with your crippling fear.

    I've found (with snowboarding, i don't skate parks any more in my old age) that pushing yourself in very short bursts really helps overall confidence.

    What i mean by this is say, going down a blue run, push your speed out on your heel a bit further than you normally would for a few seconds, slow down, make your transition, try the same on your toes. Small steps is the key, remember you're doing this for yourself, you don't have to go all out all the time.

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