We’ve all been there. That moment where you’re finally hitting your stride with your workout routine, finally achieving those gains in the weight room, finally hitting that goal mile-time, and then suddenly you’re hit with an injury that totally sidelines you. Crutches, surgery, physical therapy – these can all seem like insurmountable challenges when you start to obsess over how much an injury can set you back and make you lose all of that momentum that you’ve worked so hard to gain. But perhaps we should approach a serious injury not as a disaster but as another potential fitness goal that we can work to achieve – only this time, the ‘muscle’ we are working out is our mind.
If you’re someone who would always choose the fast-pace of a spin class over the guided mindfulness of yoga, it may be tough to picture yourself going weeks, or sometimes months, without the release of an intense sweat-session. But mental exercise is arguably just as important to long-term health, and an injury can be an opportunity to focus more on mental fitness when faced with physical limits.
Visualize your Recovery
Close your eyes and picture your body slowly healing. Visualize specific targets that you want to hit, like walking without crutches after an ankle sprain, swinging a tennis racket after a rotator cuff injury, or hitting a deep squat after a knee surgery. Visualization can be a truly powerful tool in the healing process, and can make your milestones seem much more achievable. Not only that, this concentrated meditation can improve your focus and lead to a more positive mentality throughout the recovery process.
“Mental fitness” can mean different things for different people. For some, quiet meditation can be a great way to clear your mind and visualize overcoming an injury. For others, low-impact, rehab-friendly exercises like yoga, pilates, and swimming can serve the dual purpose of making us feel calm, clear and centered while adding in a little bit of much-needed sweating. Sometimes it can be useful to just take ten minutes per day to think about absolutely nothing, clearing your mind of the stress and anxious thoughts that often accompany the recovery process. It can also be immensely beneficial to create a calendar of physical therapy milestones that you can mark off as you hit them. This can help you remember that you’re working towards a goal and further assist in the visualization process. Picture yourself overcoming your injury and getting back to your baseline.
Think of it this way – not all of us love to sweat, yet so many of us workout because we know it’s good for our bodies and our minds. Nothing is more indicative of mental toughness than putting yourself through something that you know will be challenging just because the end goal is worth it. In other words, you are already much more mentally tough than you give yourself credit for! Approach injury recovery with this champion mindset, and you will emerge both physically and mentally stronger at the end of it.