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Sidelined: 4 Steps to Mentally Dealing with Injury

girl holding injured ankleFor the past several years, working out and exercise has not only been the way I have stayed fit and healthy, but my lifeline to sanity and mental wellness. When I was sidelined 4 months ago by severe achilles tendinitis, I had to learn new ways to manage not only my fitness, but my emotions as well.

Not only was I devastated to lose my daily dose of endorphins, but I found myself wondering who I even was without my athleticism. Here are the ways I learned to deal, both physically and mentally, with my injury.

Accept the Situation As It Is

When I first had to use crutches, I was so frustrated that I would cry daily. I couldn’t believe that I couldn’t just take a walk or bring my own coffee to the back patio. Being forced off my feet left me way too much time to sit and think about what I would normally be doing.

I had so much anger and frustration because I was completely focused on what used to be and what I was losing instead of dealing with what I was actually facing. This kind of thinking causes insanity because it creates a gap between the past and reality.

Eventually I realized that the only answer was to change my perspective. I had to accept the current reality of being injured and off my feet to be able to move on and come up with a new game plan. I may hate the situation, but it is happening no matter how I feel about it, so it’s crazy not to just accept it and focus my energies on other things.

As Eckhart Tolle, my favorite author, says in The Power of Now, you have three choices in any current situation: accept it, change it, or leave it. Once I learned to accept that I was injured and going to be sidelined for a while, I was able to move on to the next step.

Focus On the “Can’s”

Being injured when you want to be able to exercise feels extremely out of control. I was so overwhelmed by all the things I couldn’t do. I would tell my husband “I just want to be able to go for a walk!” “I’m losing my muscle!” “I can’t even clean the house!” “My endurance is going to be shot!”

One day it dawned on me that I should sit down and list out some things I could do to help the situation. I could focus on my nutrition and try to heal from within. I could still use my upper body to lift weights.

I realized that there were lots of exercises I could do to at least get my heart rate up that did not require my right ankle. I could keep a journal about my struggle and write an article to help others through injury. When I started to list these things out, more and more ideas came to me. Suddenly I felt inspired and positive and back in control.

Work on Mental Fitness

This injury was a big reality check for me. I watched myself panic as I felt I was losing my identity, and over the course of the injury, realized that too much of my identity was tied up in being “fit”. I used this time to work on my mental fitness and to discover who I am without that part of myself.

I also used this time to work on other aspects of my mental fitness. I got myself back into the daily habit of gratitude, and remembering what was good around me. I made lunch plans with friends. I practiced my meditation techniques. I worked on my vision board and focused on my non-fitness related goals. I started a new personal project . I spent time under trees, just relaxing and feeling at peace.

Here are more details on how I worked on my mental fitness.

Take Baby Steps Back

When I had healed a little bit, I wanted to jump right back in, no holds barred. But of course, overdoing it always led to frustrating setbacks. I carefully evaluated my boundaries and made sure to stay within them. I had to learn to be patient with my ankle, or I was going to fall right back down the black hole of frustration and “I can’t's”.

Every baby step forward WAS a step forward, and now even though I’m not 100%, I’m able to get in a good workout every day. I keep my focus here, on how far I’ve come, and not back on what I used to be able to do.

  • Molly

    OMGosh…im dealing with this exact thing. As I read this I really thought you had crawled in my mind and stole my thoughts. I tore my plantar fascia and am having surgery this coming week. Right now cardio is OUT! I have lifted weights some but I have been so emotionally unstable. Ive been doing INSANITY, Combat, Pump, TurboFIre and now I can barely walk. To top it off ill probably be out for 3 to 4 months! EEKK! I mean the moment I found that out I starting eating crazy and went into a panic! Today was the first day in a week I actually focused on my nutrition again. Thank you for this article. I really needed it.

    • Deanna Schober

      You’re welcome and good luck!

  • Tiffany Henness

    This is great! Mind if I link to it on my post about Injured Runner Blues? (

  • HeatherKirby

    It’s so hard recovering. I’ve stopped training due to severe work stress and now it’s eased up, I’m trying to work training back in. I’ve lost so much, that it’s hard to go slow and ease myself back into it.

    on the other hand, i’ve started writing again. I might be ill, but there’s nothing wrong with my mind