Coping with Injury: What’s Your Most Important Tool?

I know what you are saying: “Heidi, you’re crazy! I don’t have a creative bone in my body. Not even one.” Frankly, I said those words before my injury. Believe me: your creativity does exist. And it’s your most important tool for coping with injury.

Recall your childhood. There was a time when you were a great artist, or a great dancer. You could build skyscrapers out of Legos. And boy could you sing, even outside the shower! Given the opportunity, you could spend an entire day playing with nothing more than sticks on the ground. You were totally and completely in touch with your creativity.

Kids playing and being creative

Every ounce of childhood creativity is still inside you. Maybe it’s just a bit out of shape and your creativity muscle needs a sweaty workout.

In finding and exercising your creativity, you’ll hone your most powerful injury-recovery-tool. You know how your mind is constantly obsessing about when you will be able to run again (because you believe every day you’re losing fitness) or if you’ll be able to participate in your favorite race coming up? It’s nearly impossible to obsess while focusing (literally and figuratively) a camera lens on your furry friend or a beautiful Austin sunset.

Frisbee Bella

Why does creativity matter? Every time you exercise creativity you wear a path in your brain to tranquility and power. Just like training, you get better at what you practice. Also, just like training, some days you’ll feel like not showing up. That’s perfectly normal. The more worn the path, the more you find freedom from: wondering what you’ll do with all the extra time on your hands; jealousy of your friends who can do [physically] what you can’t; pent up stress and frustration.

Don’t believe creativity is important? Ask any one of the athletes I interviewed who emphatically believe creativity led to a positive, optimistic emotional state throughout their journey. Practicing creativity catalyzed a faster recovery. In fact, after several hundred hours of interviews, creativity swept the field, finishing first on the “Top 10 list of things that kept me sane during injury.”

Creativity comes in many forms. You don’t expect to be Jackson Pollack; I don’t expect you to be Jackson Pollack. In this context, creativity means spending your time actively participating in activities that are out of your normal routine. Perhaps your creative endeavors include gardening, cooking or yoga. I exercise my creative muscles through photography (sans automatic settings on the camera), beadwork (mostly bracelets and rosaries I give to people who have supported and loved me on my long journey), knitting and writing.

Rosary

Now let’s breathe some life into your creativity!

Brainstorm Activity #1

  • Set a timer for 3 minutes and grab a pen and paper.
  • As a kid: What activities did you love with reckless abandon? What activities did your friends do that you thought were cool? If you could be a kid all over again, what activity would you attempt?
  • Start your timer and write every activity that comes to mind.

Brainstorm Activity #2

  • Set a timer for 3 minutes and grab a pen and paper.
  • What have you not had time to do while you were busy training? (If you have any questions about this one, call a friend you turned down because you had a race the next day.)
  • Start your timer and write every activity that comes to mind.

Implementing your brainstorms – aka, focus on what you can do

Is your mind thrashing about spectacularly? Do you desperately wish for tranquility? Then focus on what you can do. You’ve just created two lists from the brainstorm activities; let’s put them to use!

  • Recognize you may have physical limitations, so not all of your brainstorm activities are possible—accept it and move on.
  • Pick two activities you can do and practice them 2 times a week for 3 weeks—at least.
  • Tell a friend or family member you’re trying something new so they can hold you accountable. Maybe they’ll promise not to turn up their nose at the cacophony emanating from your trumpet.
  • Take a mental snapshot of your thoughts before and after your creative time.
  • Document the difference in your mood and attitude.

Writing

You may not have thought of writing as the pinnacle of creativity, especially the act of journaling, which, let’s admit, can end up looking like an incoherent emotional explosion.

Actually, writing engages your mind in both therapeutic and creative ways. Writing begets consistent improvements in physical and mental health, with benefits like improved mood, decreased blood pressure and reduced feelings of depression (read more here). The beginning of a writing session marks the end of your perseveration.

Leave your computer behind and excuse your inner perfectionist. There is no good and bad writing; there is only writing.

Practice writing

Write 15 minutes every day—computers are out; pens and paper are in. The physicality of writing with a pen more actively engages your mind in the creative and therapeutic process.

  • Write about anything to begin with. Don’t worry if your writing looks like Sanskrit; it’s your writing—not fit for public consumption.
  • Suggestion: Did the brainstorm activities jog your memory, compelling you to document some of your childhood mischief?
  • Suggestion: Make or purchase a notebook or journal. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Open it to page 1. Write in big letters “Things that make me happy.” Every time something makes you happy, not matter how small, write it down. Also, record every bit of progress you make.
  • Suggestion: Make or purchase a second journal. In this journal you’ll write down your obsessions, anxieties, negative thoughts, frustrations, and any mental baggage you’d like to offload.

Are you thinking, “Heidi, you’re still crazy. I don’t have time for that!”? But think, if you aren’t out training, you have extra time. You’re swapping physical training time for mental training time.

The injury ninja deftly crushes your mind with toxic thoughts of boredom, anger and frustration. You don’t have to lose the battle. Perhaps injury is an impetus for unearthing your creativity and a new hobby. Maybe your new-found hobby won’t be your forever-love, but it’ll become a good friend and tool you can always rely on.

You have a little time on your hands right now, so go do something new and creative!

Forward>>>Heidi

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