It’s not the cards you’re dealt, but how you play them
By Claire Zulkey
January 22, 2018
After a major injury or illness, your own participation and perspective can make the difference between moving past a health crisis and letting it define the rest of your life.
Psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo cites two reasons why. First, the right attitude corresponds with a stronger commitment to physical therapy or rehabilitation. Plus, happiness is healing. “When we experience chronic stress, when we’re upset or depressed, that actually impedes our immune system,” says Lombardo. “Our body does not heal as well.”
Here are ways to keep both your body and mind healthy after a major injury or illness:
AFTER A HEALTH CRISIS, GET MOTIVATED FOR REHABILITATION
- Find a physical goal. New York City-based sports medicine physician Dr. Jordan Metzl believes no matter the injury, everybody can do some sort of therapy. “I never recommend complete rest,” he says. “If you have a broken pelvis, you can do the arm bike or get in the pool.” There is a benefit in having something to work at. “Just trying to feel like you’re a master of your domain makes a big difference for people,” he says.
- Form a rehab squad. After 65-year-old Florida author Keith Guernsey had two surgeries for brain tumors, he turned to food for comfort, gaining 100 pounds. Eventually he lost the weight, thanks in part to the pals he sees at the gym during his 5 a.m. workouts. “We banter back and forth about sports, life, what we can do to solve the world’s problems,” he says. “I don’t have to do it alone.” Join an aqua jogging class or invite the grandkids to work on their counting while you do your exercises.
- Get in touch with your body. When 71-year-old New York writer Stephanie Golden was recovering from hip replacement surgery, she drew on her experience co-authoring books with physical therapy experts. They taught her about deep muscle work and therefore her own anatomy. She believes too many older adults prefer not to get touchy-feely with their own bodies. “In my experience, when you go really deep into your body, you uncover certain feelings that are stuck in the tissues and people don’t want to do that,” she says. Treat yourself to a massage and ask your therapist to explain what’s going on with your muscles and tissue: if you’re truly averse to being touched, look into self-massage.
- Help others. When Metzl was recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a knee injury, he volunteered with the disabled runners program Achilles International. It put his own health in perspective. Lombardo encourages patients to mentor those who are earlier in their recovery journey. Not only are you doing a kindness by sharing your perspective with someone else, she says, “We don’t realize how far we’ve come until we see someone who hasn’t come as far. That can be very powerful.”