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How to Overcome Fear after Injury

woman fearful and worried after surgery

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Art of the Arm by DJ Lynn

You’ve probably heard the saying, “fall hard seven times, rise up eight times.” Well that’s easy! Actually it’s not and there’s nothing like a few platitudes to make you feel worse.

Our brain is programmed to prepare for the worst – it holds on to negative memories a lot more easily than it does positive ones. We’re wired towards survival and self-preservation. After I shattered my elbow, radial head and ulna from a ladder fall, I got scared. I was afraid of not having a useful arm ever again. I was afraid of being in pain. I was afraid of falling out of my queen size bed (that I have never fallen out of before), tripping over something in the living room, and driving (particularly at night). But the biggest fear was being re-injured. I had so much metal in my arm that if I fell and caught myself with my bad arm – metal would come out! They would not be able to put Humpty Dumpty’s arm back together again.

I am a rational, logical person. I’m not one to believe in the power of crystals or outside forces, yet ironically, I probably practice more mindfulness than people realize. I think there is a lot to be said for the power of positive thinking in whatever way that works for you. In 1986 I had my first panic attack. I was young and didn’t even know what it was – thought I was having a heart attack, and that was long before I had any broken bones. Because of that I learned how to manage my anxiety over the years, and I honestly believe there is no such thing as one size fits all. When I used to have anxiety attacks, I would slap my wrist with a rubber band that I wore all the time. If that didn’t help, I found a quiet room where I could shut the door. Later I became less social – shying away from people and places that had a particularly negative influence on me. I gradually overcame that level of anxiety and I think injury-induced-anxiety is no different. Getting through the fear is a process. Here is what I had to do and I’m still doing some of these things.

Power of positive thinking. Fear can be a warning sometimes, but more often it comes from unrealistic ideas and expectations.  Take deep breaths. Repeat. Relax your shoulders and take a few more deep breaths.

It’s okay. Indulge those unusual activities that make you feel calmer. For me that was sleeping with the light on. For some reason that made me feel better that I wouldn’t fall out of my bed (my queen size bed with a ton of pillows all around – I couldn’t have fallen out yet I worried about it).  I fell asleep with the television on streaming reruns of Frasier over and over again because they still made me laugh and the idea of someone in the room that could make me laugh was calming and helped me fall asleep.

If driving makes you fearful, take the back roads. Get one of those handicap stickers from the motor vehicle department and put it in your back window so that you can drive slower without people behind you honking and being annoyed.

Rearrange the furniture. My living room was always set up like I was going to have visitors – that is always orderly and untouched. I never sat out there. But after the fall, I finally had to admit to myself that it was okay to push my couch against the wall, put my treadmill in the middle of the floor in front of the television, and configure my desk, two big monitors and laptop in a way that was unusual looking but worked for me. Since I couldn’t raise my arm very high I had to buy an adjustable table for my keyboard.

Be gentle with yourself. I was never much of a napper – I’ve always been busy with work, painting, reading – I always had projects that I loved to do. After the break, it was hard or impossible to do some of those projects. I’m tired more and I have to allow myself to take a nap if I feel like it. I remind myself that I’m healing and I need to be patient.

Find a new hobby that you can do with a broken part. Some suggestions: start a journal, container garden, scrapbooking or digital scrapbooking, drawing, watercolor painting, or write a book (computers now have automated dictation capabilities).

Get hold of your diet! Eating a bunch of sugar and snacks to try to ease your pain and anxiety is not going to work and will ultimately and quite quickly result in depression and even more fatigue.

Try to get better sleep. Notice I said – try. When you’re uncomfortable with a broken part, it’s hard to sleep. Do what you need to do but don’t take drugs more than a few days out of the hospital. For a while at night, I would take Benadryl which helped with the itching and sleep. Maybe a meditation app will help, music, a breathing exercise, maybe it’s petting the cat – or some furry pillow. It helped me to put something very soft around my arm. I couldn’t find anything online, so I created one – a sort-of arm cave. It kept my arm warm and comfortable without having to cover it with the bedding. You can get the pattern in the SHOP (and have someone make it for you – it’s super simple).

Self -talk. Calming yourself through self-talk will release tension in your muscles. Remind yourself that there is no point worrying about something that hasn’t happened.

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