Whether we have a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty outlook, our thoughts can affect our healing and recovery more than we think.

Consider Kim’s story.

Kim spent hours working out and getting in shape. She was working out or doing yoga every day; Kim hadn’t missed a day in 6 weeks. She was on a roll and feeling great!

Then she tripped and ripped the cartilage in her knee.

In just a few hours, Kim went from feeling good about her workout to sitting on the couch with her leg up and her knee in a brace.

It took longer for Kim to move to the bedroom. She had to learn new ways to move so she wouldn’t cause pain. But with each passing day, Kim’s body was healing.

Even as her body recovered, thoughts of “what if,” “if only,” and “what’s the use” started bombarding her mind.

Sometimes recovery takes mental toughness.

Many scientists believe there is a strong mind-body connection that can affect healing.

Sometimes the trauma to the body and negative thoughts can lead to stress, depression, and anxiety. Occasionally, the injury leads to fear about getting injured again.

These negative thoughts and emotions can affect recovery.

According to a Harvard Health article, the American Heart Association found heart attack patients diagnosed with depression were 54 percent more likely to return to the hospital.

Feelings of depression or hopelessness can be more intense if you’re worried about work, caring for your family, or if you are recovering at home alone.

And left unchecked, these thoughts and feelings can start a cycle of problems.

  • Anxiety and stress can raise cortisol levels. This stress hormone can raise blood pressure and increase inflammation.
  • Depression can suppress your immune system and lower motivation to follow through with your surgeon’s instructions or rehabilitation exercises.

It’s common to feel down and discouraged after an injury or a setback that keeps you from doing what you wanted to do. But if it’s possible, do everything you can to change negative thoughts to positive motivation.

According to Alia Crum, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University, “what patients think and expect about treatments can influence health outcomes.”

Your mindset can affect your recovery.

Change is hard. And when you face the loss of movement because of an illness, injury, or surgery, it’s a change you didn’t ask for.

When it’s harder to put your pants on, make a cup of coffee, or pull up the blankets at night, it can lead to discouragement, depression, and irritability. When these emotions arise, they can:

  • Drain your motivation, making rehabilitation or recovery exercise routines harder to complete,
  • Interfere with sleep and slow healing, and
  • Decrease your appetite and deplete nutrition.

Movement, sleep, and nutrition are three building blocks needed for a successful recovery.

If you’re rehabbing from an injury, illness, or surgery and experience depression, a lack of motivation, irritability, or feelings of hopelessness, talk to your health care provider.

It’s important to deal with these feelings early so they don’t become more severe.

What can you do to prevent negative thoughts from affecting your outcome?

  • Share your feelings with your health care provider. Chances are they have other patients who have felt the same way. Sometimes just knowing the feelings are normal can make them easier to handle.
  • Learn everything you can about your injury and your recovery. Ask your health care provider about your injury, the recovery time, and what you can expect. Open lines of communication with your provider will help when you’re discouraged with your progress.
  • Talk to your provider about your goals and journal your progress. Choose one daily living activity that is difficult to perform and then purposely check in with yourself every week. Note your level of pain and your mobility as you perform that activity.
  • Trust your health care provider enough to follow their recommendations. 
  • Share your feelings with family and friends. The people closest to you can offer you the most support as you journey through recovery.

If the negative thoughts and emotions get worse, talk to a counselor who can give you techniques to replace negative thinking with more productive thoughts.

With a home support system and a supportive health care team, you can do the hard mental and physical work that often comes with surgery and recovery.