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Illness and Injury: Coping Strategies When You're Unable to Run

As individuals who may face daily mental health challenges, many of us are champions in dealing with illness. As runners, it’s likely that we also deal with physical injuries more frequently than most. Add post-partum periods into the mix of these ‘no running’ recovery phases, and we often lose one of our most formidable coping techniques for helping to manage both mental and physical health issues, as well as just day-to-day life.

Here are several coping techniques that I include with the wide and wonderful range of runners that I work with that can help to manage the challenges of an enforced ‘no running allowed’ recovery period.

But first, a quick overview:

Two Types of Coping Strategies ~ Best to Use Both


These efforts are directed at managing or altering the problems that cause us stress are referred to as Problem-Focused Coping. Examples might include gathering information about the nature of an illness or injury, learning about treatment options and resources, setting goals for recovery, or figuring out how to adhere to a rehab plan.


These strategies are directed at managing the emotions that are experienced as a result of an illness or injury and their impact on being temporarily sidelined. Examples here could include learning to openly express and manage thoughts and emotions through self-talk and relaxation techniques, seeking out social support and/or formal therapy, and eventually being able to accept your condition throughout the recovery phase.

What To Do When You’re Unable To Run

Seek Information (Problem-Focused)

Learn everything you can about your condition along with what to expect in the course of dealing with it. Be familiar with the goals and rationale for rehab and recovery, the dangers and risks of your treatment options, and probable outcomes and expectations. As mental health patients, these are likely familiar practices for us, (even if we need the help of a friend/family advocate) so it’s also likely that we’re better than most at accomplishing these things. It’s your body, your mind, and your life, so it’s wise to be an educated consumer and to be your own best health advocate/warrior.

Seek Social Support (Emotion & Problem-Focused)

Social support plays a critical role in the recovery process and is well documented as being vital to the rehabilitation process, and includes emotional, esteem, and informational support.

  1. Emotional support includes those individuals who offer you comfort and security and make you feel well cared for. (The SIR Facebook group is a perfect example of a solid safety net filled with empathetic people who both understand each other and care).

  2. Esteem support includes efforts by others to build your sense of confidence by reminding you of your abilities and mental strength. This group might include friends and family members, therapists, medical teams, and again, close social media contacts like those you have through SIR or other health groups.

  3. Informational support includes data, expert advice or guidance that helps you to deal with your recovery. Examples here could include surrounding yourself with those who can give you solid information about the nature of your condition, being able to tell you what to expect during your recovery and offering feedback on your progress. Medical teams, support groups and/or participation in clinical research studies can help here.

Set Attainable Goals (Problem & Emotion-Focused)

The way in which you approach challenges and goals can directly affect your success. During the recovery process, in particular, it’s often helpful to break your ultimate goal of recovery into small-step process goals and to use your achievements as the foundation for regaining your confidence, while setting goals that relate to your own level of functioning at any given time.

With a muscle or ligament injury, for example, goals might include first increasing your range of motion, and then gradually increasing the strength in your leg. You could set a schedule for performing your PT exercises, routinely evaluate your weekly progress and adjust your rehab program accordingly. If a mental health crisis temporarily prevents you from training or running in general, you could use the downtime to focus on therapy, medication use or changes, and setting up a concrete daily self-care plan for yourself until you’re stabilized.

The goal, in either case, is to gain both confidence and a sense of accomplishment from knowing that you’re working hard, committing to your program and seeing progress from week to week.

Use Time Off from Running as an Opportunity (Problem & Emotion-Focused)

It can be helpful to use a short-term recovery period as an opportunity to address aspects of your life that may have been put on the back burner. After a physical injury, and if you’re feeling well enough, this can be your chance to return to school, volunteer, or pursue a hobby that’s been on your life list for a while. When sidelined by a mental health challenge or crisis, the enforced downtime could be used to reflect on possible triggers that may have occurred for you, and/or to assess how effective your support network and medical teams are, and to make adjustments if necessary. Every step taken, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable, can provide you with a sense of purpose and autonomy as you deal with the stress of your illness or injury.

Use Thought Management (Emotion-Focused)

For many of us, an illness or injury triggers doubt and fear, accompanied by a flood of catastrophic, negative thoughts. Cognitive restructuring, or reframing the way you perceive your illness or injury can be crucial to maintaining your confidence, motivation, and hope. Continually ask yourself what positive gains or opportunities can be made by going through this difficult period in your life, and work on looking at your experience from every possible perspective. Sometimes just using the cue word ‘Reframe’ when you find yourself in negative thought patterns can help to redirect your mental attitude.

As many of us know, healing will always take courage, and often requires us to stand tall against the things in life that try to tidal wave right over us… Just because we may at times be forced to watch from the shadows though, we’re never invisible… We’re Warriors after all, and cannot be forced to be small.


By Pam Landry

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