Sidelined. Restricted activity. Surgery. Therapy.
Those words have the power to drag down the spirits of any martial artist. When you’ve been taken out of your game by sickness or injury, you discover a whole new team of opponents standing between you and your rapid return to training and competition. And the longer it takes to get back in the game, the more prone you are to experiencing injury-related depression.
Depression, that energy-sapping, happiness-stealing frame of mind, is almost certain to visit any athlete who’s been sidelined because of injury. And it will kick you while you’re down. So be prepared to fight back should you find it attacking you.
Why So Sad?
Here are a few reasons injured athletes fall prey to depression:
• The injury itself: The knowledge that you’re injured is enough to darken your mood.
• Pain: The chronic pain that accompanies many injuries can wear down your attitude.
• Months of hard work down the tubes: Inactivity brings atrophy, causing hard-fought gains in physical ability and skill to disappear.
• Time: The period needed to recover and return to your former levels can be overwhelming if it stretches to months or even years.
• Missed opportunities: The goals you’ve set for yourself in competition or personal achievement are suddenly out of reach.
• Endorphin withdrawal: Your regular workouts have provided you with natural mood-elevating chemicals. Being injured means no workout, and no workout means no endorphins.
But enough of the bad news. It’s more beneficial to discuss ways to defeat depression and get back into training. Here’s how to start:
Don’t deny — identify: If you ignore it, it won’t go away. And if you’re not impervious to injury, then neither are you immune to depression. You can’t deal with it until you recognize and acknowledge it.
Don’t quit: An injured athlete is still an athlete and should act accordingly. You didn’t quit when the workouts got hard, and you won’t quit when your athletic career faces the unexpected challenges that injury and depression present.
Take responsibility: It’s your body, mind, career and injury. You must take responsibility for your healing, and that includes your attitude. Medical professionals have their roles to play, but ultimately the responsibility for health and healing lies with you.
Be proactive: Regaining a sense of control is mentally therapeutic, so instead of passively waiting for your body to heal, get involved and develop a plan of action.
Form a Plan
A blueprint for healing will help you focus on what you can do, as opposed to what you can’t do. It’ll help you direct your energies toward achieving as quick a recovery as possible. Just having a plan will go a long way toward lifting the weight of injury-related depression. Your blueprint should include the following actions:
Redefine Your Goals
Most martial artists are goal oriented and have used that characteristic to reach their current level of health, rank or competition. You should tap into that same power to speed your healing. Set new goals for yourself such as consistently attending rehab or therapy sessions as directed by your doctor.
If you’re going to become proactive in the healing process, you’ll need to arm yourself with all the information you can get. Study your injury and the schools of thought surrounding it. Learn the treatment options available. Discover which medical professionals in your area specialize in your type of injury. Find out what your body requires to heal and do all you can to provide it.
Work Around the Injury
Not all injuries require bed rest, so ask your doctor what you can and cannot do. If your shoulder is jacked up, can you get in a lower-body workout? If your knee is torqued, can you work your upper body? How can you train around your injury, allowing it the inactivity it needs to heal while still working your uninjured parts? Can you swim or ride a stationary bike? Can you work your abs? What about developing flexibility? There is much to be said for creative cross-training and the benefits it will bring. You may find that a return to working out, regardless of how strenuous or unconventional it is, creates a new sense of mission, a hedge against atrophy, a productive and positive use of time, and those wonderful endorphins that will elevate your mood.
Understand that the regimen of therapy devised by a medical professional is one thing and a workout that allows you to train around your injury is quite another. It’s important to separate them so you can set medically sound goals for both the rehab and the training.
To optimize healing and your state of mind, you must address as many components of health and wellness as possible. The six primary components are:
Strength: Ask your doctor when and how you can lift weights or do resistance exercises.
Cardiovascular health: Also ask to what degree you can maintain your endurance level.
Flexibility: The inactivity often associated with injury doesn’t always have to result in a loss of flexibility. In fact, you may find that you now have time to focus on it.
Nutrition: Your body has been traumatized by an injury and requires top-notch nutrition to rebuild. The best diet is complete in terms of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, as well as vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Take time to study what you need and then consume it.
Hydration: Every athlete knows the importance of water in a workout, so don’t let inactivity result in dehydration. Keep the water flowing.
Rest: The best healing and the best attitude require the best rest. During your recuperation time, you may discover that a sufficient amount of deep, undisturbed sleep will not only heal your body more quickly but also refresh your mind.
Get a PMA
The ultimate goal is to experience the opposite of depression, and that’s a positive mental attitude. Having such an attitude about your health, knowing that you’re being proactive in the process and exercising some control over it will help you feel better and heal faster. If you’re fired up about your therapy or your training-around-the-injury workout, you’re more likely to do the work that’s required.
So acquire the necessary tools: motivational books, tapes, magazines, videos, buddies or whatever works for you. Then intentionally build your positive mental attitude. Like a muscle, your attitude will respond to exercise by growing stronger.
Voice Your Attitude
Words are powerful mental programs, so take care to be positive in all that you say. When you talk about your injury or recuperation, intentionally speak in positive terms. You need to hear yourself talk about the gains you’ve made and how much worse it could have been. Be attentive to that little voice inside your head and make it a source of optimism. If you convince your mind that you’re healing, your body will believe it and act accordingly.
Is there more to you than your injury? Is there more to life than your athletic endeavors? Of course there is, so embrace those aspects while you recuperate. If you catch yourself always thinking or talking about your injury, your healing, your goals — in short, yourself — stop it! Nobody likes a self-absorbed person, not even you. You may find that your down time gives you an opportunity to focus on others and be productive in different areas.
Tell Your Doc
Be sure you talk to your health care professional about your state of mind in addition to your body. He can’t help with your overall health unless he knows your overall condition. Don’t let continued or chronic injury-related depression go unaddressed.
Laugh Yourself Happy
What makes you laugh? Is it movies, TV shows, books, comics or friends? Well, get what tickles you and enjoy. A good dose of laughter not only lifts your mood but also releases those mood-elevating chemicals you get from a workout. Laughter really is a good medicine.
Celebrate Small Victories
Is it your first step since the injury — literally, your first step? Then throw a party. Completed your first lap in the rehab pool? Rejoice! Finished with your first round of medicine? Reward yourself. Find a way to mark your progress so it builds a positive mental attitude and makes your life more fun. You’re getting better, so be glad.
Remember that while you’re an injured athlete, you’re still an athlete. Moreover, there will always be more to you than just your athletic ability. So stay positive, stay busy, take control and take heart. Fight against depression the same way you’ve fought against other opponents — with the courage of a warrior and the heart of a champion.