How To Stay Sane While Sick Or Injured

Besides the common go-to tactics like rest, ice and elevation, these tricks should make healing a sickness or sprain feel just a little less uncomfortable.

In a culture of hustle and a season of particular activity, the sudden strike of an unanticipated bodily ailment can put a serious wrench in the works, however serious the actual illness or injury might be. Associate Editor Leah Pellegrini broke an ankle earlier this month, and the experience has proven painful on more than just a physical level, perhaps surprisingly so — because however commonplace or even trivial this kind of impairment might seem, it requires a whole series of difficult daily adjustments and emotional challenges. Below, you’ll find a few ideas for managing and mediating these testing factors (whether caused by flu, fracture or sprain, in your case) while expediting the healing process, or at least making it a little more pleasant.  

1. Redefine your strict conceptualization of “healthy”...

I’ve spent years experimenting with different diets, workouts and other wellness rituals to build a routine that seems to best support my physical state. I know what “healthy” feels like, and I associate it with this particular set of regimens and rules, which now feel crucial to who I am and how I show up in the world. The human ego sounds the alarm at any challenge to its anchored identity, so it’s no wonder that I’ve felt a sense of panic over these past several weeks, sparked by the sudden nixing (or limiting, at least) of several crucial elements of my personal health formula, including daily running, plenty of walking and a majority of the day spent outdoors. There’s some nervous corner of my brain that genuinely thinks I’ll self-combust if I don’t tackle those much-lauded 10,000 steps a day or maintain my weekly average of jogging miles, and that believes I’m doomed to perpetual dumpiness if I sit for too long on the couch.

This reaction seems like a good hint that my wellbeing barometer isn’t quite as honestly internalized as I thought it was, and that, in fact, I’ve assimilated some guidelines from fear-based media, which don’t provide a complete picture of individualized fitness. No matter what societally-approved or pride-based constructions of health I’ve taken on as my own, sitting still is actually good for me right now. “Healthy” is not a permanent state that’s solidified through willpower, nor is it an official achievement to compete for; rather, it’s a shifting target we must feel our way towards, day in and day out, with a willingness to accept whatever intuitive directions our bodies provide. The true measure of health is how much we abide by our corporeal needs on a regular basis and how willing we are to comply with our cravings, whether or not they match what the brain thinks should be right.

2. …but push yourself in new and realistic ways.

Without the ability to move around the way I normally do, I could have conceded to total couch potato status. Allowing myself ample rest has been crucial, but nonstop slouching on the sofa quickly started to feel more numbing and defeating than nourishing. So, I got creative. I’ve been experimenting with upper-body exercises I can perform while sitting down, without putting weight on my leg, and I’ve found these episodes of sweat to be immensely restorative. Exercise elevates my mood and my energy levels, and it stokes my creativity and mental acuity, all of which can only be beneficial to my body’s current healing process. Plus, the empowerment — the realization that I am still strong, capable and adaptable, though in unfamiliar ways — is emotionally encouraging. In my most optimistic moments, I’m almost grateful for the opportunity to focus on building strength in my arms and core, which typically tend to take the back-burner while I emphasize running and other vertical cardio.

3. Scrutinize your internal dialogue with tender discernment...

In the grand scheme of things, a broken bone is hardly a big deal, and the same goes for a bout of the flu or any other short-term malady. But this logical, cognitive knowledge doesn’t negate the stress and trauma that these occurrences can cause on a cellular level, dampening spirits in the process. I’ve endured plenty of self-inflicted guilt-tripping over these recent weeks — “Why can’t you just be your usual, cheerful self? Why are you making such a fuss out of this? Don’t you know how much worse this could be?” — but of course, this only makes me feel increasingly disheartened, which is far from the goal. Instead, I’m trying to be especially mindful and intentionally cultivate positive thoughts. When negative notions of self-judgment and worry crop up, as they’re wont to do, I'm just reminding myself that they’re normal, but destructive, and calmly weeding them out.

4. …and be equally judicious towards the support you request and accept from others.

You cannot do all the things. This fact is always true, but it becomes especially obvious, and almost terrifyingly so, when you’re rendered freshly incapacitated. (On one of my first mornings post-injury, I may or may not have cried into the cup of coffee I’d just poured myself, realizing I couldn’t possibly carry it to the table while balanced on crutches.) It’s necessary to be willing to accept help, but it’s also important to recognize what kind of help serves you best and to request it accordingly. A well-meaning friend might offer to bring you take-out dinner, when what you really want is an extra hand with chopping and sautéing your own, or a loved one might lend a sympathetic listening ear when you’re truly yearning for a comedic distraction. Speak up for the assistance that you truly need — the giver gets to feel genuinely useful that way, and you get to feel better, too. 

5. Pick a hobby, any hobby...

If you’ve ever been curious to explore knitting, speaking Italian or still-life drawing, now’s your shot. With regular daily to-do’s off the table, your schedule should have some extra space for the sort of whimsical explorations you typically insist you’re too busy to try. (Personally, I’ve been tearing through loads of crossword puzzles and learning to make vegan cheese. To each, his or her own.) You’re entitled to indulging in trashy television, too, of course, but a more engaging, involving and interactive pursuit or project will stoke curiosity, creativity and a sense of purpose, all of which are soul-nourishing combatants to any sense of stagnancy.

6. ...and leave your phone out of it.

Whether because I was uncomfortable, bored or simply trying to avoid the labor required to stand and hobble to the bathroom, I found myself particularly absorbed by my phone on a nearly constant basis in the first couple of weeks after my ankle break. I’d scroll mindlessly through Facebook or open Twitter twice in the span of ten minutes, more vulnerable to its distracting allure than normal, and the minutes spent idly browsing were making me feel even more sluggish and stuck. Rather than repeatedly attempting to battle the seductive power of the shiny screen, I deleted my social media apps or buried them in folders where they’d be less accessible, forcing myself to think twice before opening a newsfeed “just because.” I now make a conscious effort to leave my phone out of reach while focusing on more substantially entertaining tasks. 

7. Embrace natural remedies, old wives’ tales or your idealized panaceas of choice.

I’m eating piles of garlicky broccoli and kale salads the size of my head to score ample Calcium, Vitamin C and Vitamin K. Fermented cabbage provides more of all three of these nutrients, while red peppers and strawberries offer extra Vitamin C. I’m scattering pumpkin seeds on top of everything for Zinc, snacking on walnuts for omega-3 fatty acids, and sprinkling my plates with turmeric, cayenne, ginger and cinnamon for their anti-inflammatory properties. Though many of these foods play regular parts in my day-to-day diet, I’m putting extra attention (and therefore intention) towards their healing properties right now, if only because I like knowing I’m doing something to help myself out. So much of my treatment process comprises a surrender to a “wait it out” strategy, and it’s soothing to feel like I’m taking conscious steps to speed things up. Whether you go with herbs or crystals or visualizations, the addition of a self-chosen remedy for your own ailment certainly can’t hurt. 

p.s. This accessible meditation tactic might help you feel a little better, too.