How to Mentally Recover From Injury
Beyond any pain a runner may experience during a hard workout or race is the mental anguish that is experienced during injury. From grief to denial to depression, times of injury can be emotional whirlwinds. Do not let what is going in your running life affect the many other aspects of your well-being. Using the mental tips detailed below you can make it through an injury with minimal sadness.
It is easy for an injured athlete to feel like the world is ending due to an injury. Without an outlet for pent up energy combined the mind spiral that tends to occur (i.e. thoughts of upcoming races, weight gain, decreased fitness, etc.) it is easy to become depressed about the situation. Instead, use a reframing technique to keep your injury in perspective. For instance, if you have shin splints and are in the midst of taking a few days off, remind yourself that it could be worse and you could have a stress fracture that requires weeks off. If you have a stress fracture and are immobile, reframe the situation by reminding yourself that you are fortunate: you are only restricted in your movement for a few weeks while some people are rendered immobile for an entire lifetime.
Set goals outside of running
Times of injury are a perfect excuse to focus on other areas in your life or take up a new hobby. Set goals for yourself, such as to read a new book or cook a new recipe. During your time away from running explore different aspects of your life. It may feel like you are “cheating” on running, but when you re-approach the sport you will have a greater awareness that running is not (and should not be) the only activity that defines who you are. A good strategy is to divide your life into four quadrants: who you are as a runner, who you are as an employee, who you are as a person, and who you want to be as a person. Set goals in each of those four quadrants and focus on achieving them.
Injuries give us more time to think, which inevitably can lead to worry. If the injury occurred during a training cycle, worry trends towards whether you will be able to finish the race or even show up on the starting line. When you find yourself beginning to fret, remind yourself that worrying has never made an injury heal quicker or change the outcome of the race. On the contrary, worrying can slow healing because it signals additional stress to the brain.
Find inspiration elsewhere
It can be easy to give up on goals because you have sustained an injury. Find renewed hope by reading inspirational stories of athletes who overcame obstacles, injuries, or tragedies to still succeed. A personal favorite is the story of Joan Benoit Samuelson who had knee surgery 17 days before the 1984 Olympic Marathon Trials, yet still went on to win the race.
Look for the silver lining
Part of being human is adaption to bad situations. When you are laid up because of an injury make the most of it and look for the silver lining. For instance, spending less time running or exercising may give you more time to spend with your family or to work on a side project. You may have a chance to discover new activities, such as yoga, that you have been meaning to try but haven’t gotten around to. It’s okay to enjoy other hobbies just as much, if not more, than you enjoy running. This is a healthy part of your growth as an athlete and puts your involvement in the sport into perspective.
Log your progress
As you get over your injury it can be easy to lose track of how far you have come in your recovery. Keep a log to not only track the steps you are taking to get better (i.e. getting a massage, seeing a doctor, performing rehab activities, cross training, etc.) but also keep track of your symptoms in order to quantify how far you have come. This will help you maintain motivation when the going gets tough.
Develop good habits
Times of injury are great for developing the habits you know you should have but don’t. Have you been meaning to take up weight lifting? Now would be a great time to start working those activities into your routine.
Use your time away from running to give back to the running community. Volunteer at a local race, cheer on a fellow runner, help another injured colleague through the process, or organize a donation drive to a local charity. Helping others in need will help you have a better perspective on your injury.
Look at the big picture
Remember to take a step back periodically and look at the big picture. Sure, the few weeks or months that you are injured are not ideal, but in the grand scheme of running as a lifelong activity, what does this small period of time matter? One injury will not make or break your running career, but the attitude with which you approach your injury can have implications for your success.
Develop a mantra
No matter how positive you try to remain during your injury there will be days that are tougher than others. Perhaps an unseasonably nice day will make you wish you were out running, or watching a group of runners trotting down the street will make you jealous. Develop a mantra to remind yourself that things will get better. Mantras can include, “this too shall pass,” “everything happens for a reason,” or “tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”
Remind yourself that running is not your identity
Many runners suffer anxiety during injury because they feel that running is a major component of who they are. However, runners should remember that there is much more to life than running and to always have a backup plan for other life areas when setbacks arise.
Let us know if you have some mental tips that you like to use. Comment below or join us on Facebook.