No doubt most of you reading this enjoy physical activity. It’s great, right? It’s social, fun, gets the endorphins flowing, and keeps us looking and feeling good. It’s a guilt-free hobby too; we’re doing ourselves good!
Physical activity reduces our chances of having physical ailments such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke, as well as mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. It even gives us an excuse to wear Lycra in public.
...Which is why being injured ain’t fun! Unfortunately, I’m quite well versed on this topic; I’ve had my fair share of stress fractures and other injuries. Most recently I've undergone Achilles surgery that I’m rehabbing from at the moment.
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Physically, there’s a range of different presentations that may affect you, and a range of different rehabs and interventions appropriate for each. Psychologically, there’s also a number of ways that being injured can affect you. It’s not surprising that when your season's goals, plans and aspirations are affected by injury that you feel disappointed. Studies have found increased depressive symptomology among injured athletes compared to their healthy counterparts.
The following is a few points on what I’ve experienced, and what has helped me when an injury has interrupted my training and racing plans. Perhaps they may help you when you are hamstrung by an unfortunate injury.
Allow Yourself to be Disappointed
It’s ok to be disappointed! You’ve lost the ability to do something you enjoy, and may have had your goals and plans for racing and training either hindered or completely lost. The fact that you feel a bit disappointed and down is a normal response when something that is important to you is taken away.
I’ve found that letting myself feel down and disappointed for a short period of time allows me to experience these feelings, accept them, and move on more quickly. Berating myself for feeling down, trying to eliminate such emotions, or telling myself it’s not a big problem in the big scheme of things, or that other people have it much worse (despite the truth to such thoughts!) has rarely helped me.
Eliminate the Uncertainty
The uncertainty around injury is one of the things with which I find hardest to deal.
“What is the injury?”
“How long am I out for?”
“What can I and can’t I do?”
Anything that removes any unknowns usually benefits my mood – I, like most, struggle to deal with the unknown. The injuries I have struggled with mentally the most have been those which haven't delivered a diagnosis. I find it’s better to know what you're up against, and how to fight it!
Finding a concrete diagnosis can be important for you mentally, as well as ensuring you are undergoing the appropriate rehab and not doing further damage. Doctors and physiotherapists can assist with this.
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Have a Plan
I love a plan. It gives me a path to follow and steps to take. You may even need a couple, given that injuries can be a little unpredictable.
For example if I have a knee injury, I like to know how long I expect to be out for, what the re-introduction to training will be like, and what I can do in the meantime. I’ll have backup plans in case the injury needs longer to recover, but it will give me direction, guidance and motivation on what I can do in the meantime.
Short Term Goals
When I’ve lost fitness and conditioning and I’m at the very start of my rehab, the journey back to the fitness and form I once enjoyed can seem like an overwhelmingly long way off!
When I started back from one of my stress fractures my first session was 6 x 60m jogs. Getting back to the type of shape required to run 30-31 minutes for 10kms at the end of a triathlon seemed like it was an impossible task. I found that setting little markers for myself kept me from getting disheartened, and allowed me to have many little victories by setting small, short-term goals.
Full Application To What You Are Able To Do
This has been a saviour for me. I love to work hard, so directing all of my energy into the areas that I can makes me feel like I am making some progress, and not completely wasting my time when I am injured.
As a triathlete, there are usually options available to me. If I can’t ride or run, I switch to a full swimming program, and start doing the same program as Olympic swimmers. If I can ride, then I treat myself like a cyclist. I’ve even had periods of being purely a gym junkie (although those who have seen my arms may doubt this claim…).
Anything I can find that will benefit me to perform later on or help my rehab has been beneficial in giving me an outlet for my energy and work ethic, and allows me to gain some positives from the situation.
Dan Wilson is a professional triathlete.