Mental toughness as your arsenal

I could spend days and months describing my personal struggle to overcome chronic joint pain. I have gone through years of pain medications, blood work, x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, surgeries…and the pain persists. One doctor told me to workout with less impact (i.e., swim). I felt worse. Another doctor told me that if I lost 15 pounds, the pain would significantly subside. My response – 15 pounds from where?? Unwilling to manage my pain with medications for the rest of my life, I had to explore my alternatives. I knew pain medications would only temporarily mask the problem, so I found other ways to manage and cope with my pain.

A change in lifestyle…

photo (2)Determined to improve my quality of life, I modified my lifestyle. It worked. The stronger my muscles became, the better my joints felt. For years I would not workout without my knee brace. Did I need it? Maybe not, but I thought I did! Further, I was afraid of pain. I had lost my ability to distinguish between good and bad pain. With the guidance of an AMAZING trainer and friend, I was able to modify my exercise routine. And look at me now! I maintain the body and the training level of an elite athlete, but in all reality I exercise because I must.

In addition to exercise, I modified my diet. I limit foods that trigger my pain, such as sugar, alcohol, and red meat. I take a multivitamin, fish oil, and amino acids. I feel the difference! I spent years trying other supplements and nothing compares. One of the many benefits of fish oil is reduced inflammation and I cannot begin to describe the difference I have seen and felt. NOTE: Everyone has individual dietary and supplementation needs, this is just an overview of what works for me.

Mental toughness

I have been asked how I can do the workouts I do if I am in pain. First, I have become incredibly in tune with my own body, knowing what is good or bad pain. Second, mental toughness. Whether you are recovering from an injury or managing a major health concern, mental toughness is your arsenal. Mental toughness will help you cope with adversity.

Cope: to contend with difficulties with the intent to overcome them.

(The American Heritage Medical Dictionary, 2007).

My daily ability to cope with my pain is directly related to mental toughness. Don’t get me wrong, there are days, nights, and weeks of weakness. But I have far more good days than bad. The following tips can help you contend battles with physical pain and injury:

  1. Be informed. Ask questions and know your diagnosis and prognosis of your injury.
  2. Use imagery. Imagine yourself performing the skills you are working to recover.
  3. Maintain a strong social support system. Having strong social support can help you cope with the stress, whether by having someone attend physical therapy with you or by watching a movie to distract you for a time.
  4. Practice physical and mental relaxation. Release tension and clear the mind.
  5. Practice gate control methods. The physiological benefits of self-massage, tapping, etc. are proven and effective for many.
  6. Partake in alternative physical activities. This will allow you to benefit from the positives of exercise. Dive into the pool or get into a yoga or Pilates class.
  7. Communicate. Let the recovery team (e.g., physicians, therapists, trainers) know when you are in pain, when you have made significant gains, etc., so that adjustments can be made to the program if necessary.
  8. Get plenty of sleep. Inadequate rest can lead to fatigue and poor judgment. Note: While you are sleeping is also the time your body and muscles repair themselves.
  9. Maintain a positive attitude. And practice self-talk. The Law of Attraction: People with positive attitudes tend to approach problems with more hopeful and optimistic views and attain more positive results.
  10. Maintain realistic expectations and goals. Having unrealistic expectations can lead to pushing too far or hard, resulting in setbacks and/or delays in recovery.
  11. Celebrate. Recognize goals and milestones that you have achieved! Track your progress and see how far you have come.
  12. Maintain interests. Having external interests can keep you socially connected and help keep focus off of the injury and the pain associated with it.

The bottomline

Injuries and pain, chronic or acute, can get the best of you. It can be a daily struggle, navigating, “how do I best cope today?” However, you do not have to let pain consume you. Few people who know me or meet me know about my struggles – nor should they! I have provided these tips, but that is just the beginning.


Albinson, C., & Petrie, T. (2003). Cognitive Appraisals, Stress, and Coping: Preinjury and Postinjury Factors Influencing Psychological Adjustment to Sport Injury. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 12(4), 306-322.

Moran, A. P. (2004). Sport and exercise psychology: A critical introduction. New York: Routledge.

Cope. (n.d.). In The American Heritage Medical Dictionary (2007). Houghton Mifflin Company.


One thought on “Mental toughness as your arsenal

  1. Pingback: How to push yourself in a workout | StrongBraveHonest

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