Injury is something that happens to us all at some point or, unless you’re incredibly lucky or superhuman! Unfortunately, I was involved in an accident last year which left me a bit battered and facing a long period of rehab. There is no denying it – injury sucks. Whether you just can’t do you regular training or you have to postpone/cancel races and adventures that you have spent many hours training and planning for, it’s hugely disappointing. Not to mention frustrating and depressing.
I am a very active person. Sport and adventure is my thing (read about my cycling adventure in Mongolia). So, recovering from injury hasn’t just been about getting back to functioning well doing everyday tasks. It’s also been about coping without my passions, altering my focusses and pushing hard to get back my adventure-ready body, and mind.
How I stayed sane through injury rehab
It’s been a tough learning curve, but thankfully, there are some things you can do to make dealing with an injury more bearable. Here are my top tips:
01Structure your day
This is particularly important if you are off work but also if your usual structure outside of work is not possible because of injury. Being in work naturally gives your day a structure in terms of getting up and out the door and coming home. If you are still in work and your evenings are usually spent being active then don’t just come home and do nothing as this may impact your mood and send you in a downward spiral.
If you’re at a point where you are doing rehab work then make this your focus. Often rehab can feel like you aren’t making any changes but this is often because the changes are so small that you cannot see them. But they are happening.
If your injury is at the rest phase then find something else that interests you (see sections below).
If you are off work then structure is incredible important. For me it felt like I had all day to do things and I ended up doing none of them. This then had a negative impact on my mood and I had less and less motivation to do anything at all. As you will see in a later section, negative thoughts do impact your recovery in a number of ways. Just making a few small changes had enough of an impact on my mood to motivate me to do more things and soon my recovery gained momentum.
Give yourself a set wake up and bedtime, and then do it! Again, if you are at a point where you have rehab/physio exercises then make this the first ‘job’ you do. Then find tasks that you enjoy and motivate you (see sections below).
02Focus on the things you can do
Concentrate on what you can do rather than what you can’t. It’s very easy to get frustrated with what you can’t do when injured. I can’t run, I can’t walk, I can’t go hiking, I can’t ride. The list goes on. However, there will be many things that you can do. Even with the worst injuries there are things that you can do. Check out The Big Little Things by Henry Fraser.
This is an important shift in mindset as it helps to have a positive impact on mood and enables you to see that there are still many things you are able to do.
For example, depending on the nature of your injury, you may still be able to get to the gym and focus on a training a different area of the body. This doesn’t have to cost a fortune either. I am a member of a council gym (£26 per month or £5 pay as you go). The staff provided a personal trainer as part of the membership, so I explained my injuries and they devised a program that I was able to do without causing further damage. If getting to the gym is difficult, the Nike Training App is good (and free) just choose selected workouts which you can do in your own home.
One of the biggest struggles I had was not being able to get outdoors. But as with most things, a bit of problem solving and ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’ attitude will help you find an appropriate alternative. After some Google searching and I found Tarn Hows (The Lake District). A flat short walk, that is crutch-friendly and where mobility scooters are also available for hire! Patient friends who don’t mind walking slowly also helped. Would I rather have been climbing a mountain? Of course. But was this a good substitute? Totally!
03Do the things you never got time for before injury
Do stuff you always said you would. We all have things we say we want to do but life has a habit of getting in the way! Whether this is learning a language, reading more, cooking, learning an instrument, visiting a particular city. Use the time to focus on that (non-active) thing that’s been on your mind for years.
- Moocs (Massive Open Online Courses) are a great resource of free university courses which cover every topic under the sun.
- Groupon also offer a variety of discounted courses.
- Duolingo is a great free language learning app.
- YouTube is a valuable source of tuition, cooking, yoga whatever it is you want to do, just get searching!
04Get planning future fun
Organise your next adventure. While it may feel like you will never be fit again, you will. What places or races have you not discovered yet? What or where have you always said you wanted to do/visit? Start planning and researching, read blogs, get your maps out, figure out when the best time to go is and how to get there. Your next adventure is waiting. And what better way to keep you motivated through your rehab?
05Work sensibly towards your recovery
Do what your physio and doctors tell you, but don’t over do it! Concentrate on the activities that are evidenced as promoting recovery. The healing powers of sleep, diet, hydration and stress management are well documented.
It is very easy to get down when you are injured, so actively seek out things that can help you either guard against this or to manage it if you are experiencing it. Research shows negative psychological states, low levels of life satisfaction and high levels of stress are linked to athletic injury. Mindfulness meditation and mindfulness are becoming increasingly popular and can help you to become more aware of your thoughts. They assist you to recognise your own thought patterns as well as teaching you not be consumed by your thoughts — more akin to an observer of them going through your mind. This is useful in identifying negative thought patterns when they kick in or if they are there already but you haven’t been that aware of them.
I would highly recommend practising mindfulness meditation, even if you aren’t injured. It’s such a useful and beneficial tool for life in general and there is robust evidence supporting the positive effects. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World comes with a CD and provides a good introduction in the form of an 8 week course.
The Headspace app also provides an introduction to mindfulness. It’s a free app with access to a number of free meditation sessions. There is also the option to subscribe for a fee, which provides access to a much wider selection of meditations including one that focuses on injury rehab.
Whether this be TED Talks, books, podcasts, or your friends, find things that get you excited, give you motivation, see things from a different perspective. A few of my suggestions:
- Podcast: #037 Extreme Survival with Ed Stafford – Is The Toughest Terrain Your Own Mind?
- Book: Find a Way by Diana Nyad
Do this in whatever guise you fancy, but do it. If you’re a Park Runner (or even if you’re not), why not try volunteering at your local run. Seeing people run when you can’t isn’t as depressing as you might think! Even if it’s impossible to get out the house, get people round to see you/speak on the phone/Skype/FaceTime.
Come back stronger!
There is evidence out there that shows athletes can come back both physically and mentally stronger following an injury and working through the recovery process. So stay positive, and never let your injuries define you. Your body is only the vessel of your spirit.