On being ... your recovery time

By Ingrid Sapona 

I’m currently taking an exercise program for folks who’ve been diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA). The idea behind the program is that exercise is one of the best ways to improve the quality of life and reduce pain associated with OA. We’re learning exercises aimed at strengthening our legs and hips to improve our joint mobility and stability. We share feedback about which activities we find challenging and which don’t really bother our particular joints. In response, the physiotherapist suggests ways of making a given exercise a wee bit easier or a bit more challenging. The exercises are meant to be fatiguing enough that we feel our muscles working. Discomfort during the exercises is ok – but actual pain is not what we want. The rule of thumb we are to gauge things by is whether, 24 hours after the exercise, our muscles and joints have recovered. 

Even before the course I started paying attention to how much I can push my walking and still be able to get up out of a chair later (my personal recovery litmus test). So, for example, I’ve been testing to see if the distance has much of an impact on my leg pain and stiffness or whether the terrain makes a difference. Another alternative I’ve tried is a long walk every other day instead of daily. I keep hoping I’ll come up with a magic formula – the optimal length of walk or type of workout – that provides the fastest recovery. While I may never zero in on an optimal formula, I’ve come to realize that focusing on recovery time is as useful, preventing me from dwelling on current aches and pains. 

Since starting the course, the idea of focusing on recovery has captured my imagination. So much so, in fact, that it occurred to me the idea might be a useful way of thinking about things besides just physical recovery. So, for example, the other day I was going to some event and – as is often the case when I’m driving – someone did something that really irritated me (they were looking at their phone instead of turning when there was a break in the traffic, or they were tailgating, or something). Alone in the car, I gripped the steering wheel and swore at the driver under my breath. 

A few minutes after the incident, I realized my irritation at that driver’s behaviour had morphed into aggravation with traffic and I soon found myself in a bad mood about even going out. Despite the temptation, I didn’t turn around and head home. Instead, I decided to focus on using the rest of the drive to recover (i.e., calm down) in hopes that I could enjoy myself when I reached my destination. I was doubtful about whether I’d be able to recover in time, but I gave it a try. (Turns out the drive was long so I had enough recovery time and I ended up enjoying the evening. Whew!) 

Another opportunity to focus on my emotional recovery came after an argument with a friend last week. After we parted company, I couldn’t seem to get the fight out of my mind. The next day I continued replaying the quarrel and I still thought I was in the right, but I knew that the disagreement wasn’t worth breaking up the friendship over. That fact alone, however, wasn’t enough to get me out of the mood I was in. 

I call such moods sour because they’re like a sour taste – they can linger and they can distort the way you perceive other things. I find it useful to distinguish sour moods from other kinds of moods because I’ve figured out things that can help speed my recovery from such moods. For example, when I’m in a sour mood, I don’t really want to be around people. So, I burrow a bit – avoiding calls and emails for a few days. I also find it helps to do something with my hands, like bake, or do a craft, or even clean. The final part of recovering from a sour mood is always the conscious decision to get over it. I know… why not just decide that on day one? I’ve tried that, but it doesn’t seem to work. Why not? Well, maybe because – like recovering from physical stresses and strains – it’s a process that takes time… 

What do you think? Have you noticed whether you’re quicker to recover from things physical or emotional? Have you got ways of speeding your recovery time? Or are you more inclined to just let things run their course? 

© 2024 Ingrid Sapona 


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