Maintaining a Positive Mental Attitude in the Face of a Physical Injury

Physical activity has always been a saving grace for me. As a teenager I loved swimming in the summers and running along the beach with my dog whenever I could.

One day while meandering through the Brooklyn College bookstore I discovered a book on the practice of yoga. As I read that book, gleaning various breathing techniques and dynamic postures, something clicked. I learned to stretch and move through space while deepening my breath and gradually becoming more skilled at slowing down.

Dr Randy Kamen  hiking in the Red Mountains of Utah
Dr. Randy Kamen hiking in the Red Mountains of Utah

Growing up in NYC I knew that I needed to acquire some tools in harnessing my energy and exercising in a purposeful way. My yoga practice seemed to bridge the gap between exercise and mindfulness.

Over time, I alternated brisk walking with the occasional run. My body, in time, rebelled against anything but modest running but I remained faithful to walking. During the kinder New England weather I continue to swim and bike. Even when I skip days or occasionally weeks, I always manage my way back to exercising. I am grateful for having incorporated these physical activities into my life, as they have always served me well psychologically and physically.

The dilemma for me is not how do I motivate myself to work out, but rather what to do to boost my spirits if I cannot break a sweat and feel the multitude of benefits that I derive from movement.

Facing an injury has an emotional impact

Recently I suffered an injury for which I ended up needing surgery. Several months have elapsed since I have been able to do my usual routine, which I’ve come to rely upon for stabilizing my moods, energy, concentration and, dare I say, sense of self. Physical exercise puts so many things into perspective for me, that it is hard to identify all the ways I have recently been blindsided due to my lack of activity.

The question is what does one do, when there is an injury, surgery or disability and when one cannot resort to the powerful benefits of this elixir.

“No exercise,” the doctor ordered. This did not completely sink in until after the surgery. “We’ll see how things go in a few weeks.” My heart sank. At first I thought I’d just stay in bed, write when possible, and in a week I would get back to my routine. Toughing out the depravation of those “feel good chemicals” (serotonin, dopamine and epinephrine) through lack of exercise wouldn’t be that challenging. I quickly learned that the healing process would take longer than anticipated and that I needed help.

7 important lessons for feeling good when you’re unable to exercise.

  1. When you are injured and/or bedridden, ask friends for help, especially from the ones that make you laugh and feel good. Laughter and good energy from friends releases those feel good chemicals.
  2. Allow your wonderful friends and neighbors to help with meals. I don’t like to ask for help, but I’ve learned it vastly beats the alternative. When you ask you not only get the help needed, but it is generally fun. The giver and the receiver both benefit.
  3. Remind yourself to say and repeat affirmations, because whatever you are going through will improve and you will feel better with a positive mental attitude.
  4. Watch movies that make you feel good and laugh. Laughter also boosts your immune system and will help you to heal faster.
  5. Write in a gratitude journal all the things in your day that you appreciate. This will keep you out of the darker place of feeling sorry for yourself, especially while you can’t work out, blow off steam and are dependent on others.
  6. Several minutes of meditation 1-2x day will help you to relax and put things into perspective. Sometimes an injury and being laid up give you the opportunity to rethink priorities.
  7. Allow your body to relax, rest and sleep. You’ll heal faster and feel more charged when the time is right for a gradual transition back into physical activity. In other words, do everything you can to honor your body, mind, spirit and friendships during the healing process.

What do you do to manage most successfully during those times when you can not exercise?

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