PHYSICAL RECOVERY IS ALSO A MENTAL JOURNEY
Mariane Wray, Registered Psychologist
Movement limitations and injuries impact not only on our physical ability to move, but also on how we think, feel and behave. Having a positive attitude towards physiotherapy and rehabilitation can improve your overall chances for physical recovery, as well as reducing your recovery time.
How we respond to physical pain and injury is partially determined by how we think and what we feel. Our beliefs, values and attitudes determine how we interpret events, including those that cause injury. This interpretation drives our emotional response and resultant behaviours. For example, if I believe that physiotherapy will assist with rehabilitation, I’m more likely to seek treatment, and complete rehabilitation exercises. This belief reduces my recovery time, and creates a more positive outcome.
What we focus on and where we place our attention has a significant impact on the behaviours we exhibit. If we ruminate on the past, and spend time pining for our pre-injury self, we have a tendency to experience feelings of depression. If we worry about the future, and what could go wrong as a result of our injury, we tend to experience anxiety. Whilst both these emotions are within the normal realm of human experience, in worst case scenarios these may become more serious and develop into clinical issues. When we are able to focus our thoughts on our present situation and how we can make our recovery journey successful, we are more likely to have a positive outcome, as we can remain motivated to overcome our injury, and function as best as we can.
Often we are unaware of where we place our mental focus and attention, or if we have a tendency to ruminate or worry. Our typical thought patterns sit within our sub-conscious, so although they are constantly there, they are often not noticeable. These thought patterns are our ‘self-talk’; the stuff that we say to ourselves repeatedly, but we never really hear. If we have a tendency to notice negative aspects of a situation, our self-talk is likely to be harsh, critical and negative. If we focus on the ‘good stuff’, or the positive aspects, our self-talk is likely to be helpful, supportive and encouraging. Self-talk is very powerful, and it contributes to our beliefs, thoughts, emotions and behaviours.
If you have identified that your beliefs and thoughts may be hindering your recovery, there are mental strategies that that you can use to develop a more helpful attitude towards your physical rehabilitation.
Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the present moment, and is a skill developed largely through the practice of meditation. Mindfulness assists with reducing the effect of negative thought patterns and those associated with depression and anxiety. Mindfulness can assist with creating an internal state of calmness and peace, and this produces a physiological state that is more responsive to rehabilitation and physiotherapy. If you have not tried Mindfulness before, but are interested, a good place to start is;
Having positive emotions and thoughts is referred to as optimism, and is associated with better health. As well as reporting more positive emotions, optimists report better overall health, and may even live longer than pessimists. When dealing with setbacks, such as a physical injury, optimists tend to deal with problems head-on. Instead of being in denial about their injury or the effectiveness of physiotherapy, they plan a course of action, seek advice from others, and stay focused on solutions and positive outcomes. Optimists tend to expect a good outcome, and even when they don’t get it, they find ways to learn and grow from the negative experience.
To be more of an optimist, choose positive language. When you notice negative thoughts, reframe these into positive statements. For example, if you catch yourself thinking ‘physio doesn’t help’, re-frame this into a positive statement such as ‘physio will help as long as I do my exercises consistently’. These sorts of statements can help to reframe your thoughts and assist with maintaining your motivation towards rehabilitation.
One strategy to try is to ask yourself these three questions each day;
- What did I do to promote my rehabilitation today?
- What progress did I notice?
- What did I learn from this experience that I can use tomorrow to assist my rehabilitation even further?
Choose How You Use Your Mental Energy:
We all have choices in where we direct our mental energy. Choosing to place the majority of your mental energy on things that are within your control can improve your sense of self-efficacy. This is the belief that you have control over what happens to you. A good sense of self-efficacy helps to create and maintain the belief that you have a significant influence over your own recovery from physical injury.
Imagine a mental circle, and place within this all of the things that are within your control in relation to physiotherapy and rehabilitation. This may include things like ‘choosing my physiotherapist’, ‘choosing my appointment time’, ‘attending my appointments’, and ’completing my physiotherapy exercises’. Any time that you notice yourself worrying or thinking about things outside of this circle, let them go and return to the things within your mental circle.
Having a positive attitude towards physiotherapy and rehabilitation supports a healthy recovery from injury. Practicing the strategies above within your recovery journey may have positive outcomes in other areas of your life, as these mental skills are not specific just to rehabilitation. Although utilising your mental capacity to assist with physical recovery may require some effort, it is a smart thing to do and you may notice surprising outcomes as a result
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