How to regain confidence after a fall



An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect academic affiliation for Amber Shipherd. The story has been corrected.

My timing was cinematic. No sooner had I berated my family for repeatedly warning me to watch my step on the muddy, thawed mountain trail (“I’m not decrepit, people!”) than I slipped way spectacular on a plot of frozen ground. My feet flew out from under me and I landed hard – my tailbone, cervical spine and the back of my head taking the brunt of the impact. I lay there, momentarily stunned, thinking, “I’m really going to feel this tomorrow.

Once I was able to move again, we cautiously walked two more miles on the trail to the car, me feeling broken and my clothes covered in mud. When we passed a group who had witnessed my fall, they asked how I was doing. “Ask me tomorrow,” I grumbled. My husband added, “His pride is a little hurt too.”

It’s true that my ego (“I’m a failure in the outdoors!” I lamented in a text message to a friend the next day) and my tailbone took a beating. But even if the latter felt better after about ten days, the injury to my self-confidence persisted.

Since taking that fall, I constantly think about falling again – while hiking over rough terrain, walking down a loose gravel path, or just walking down the stairs in my house – and wonder if I have to cut back on my soft adventure activities. Still, at 55 and in reasonable, if not excellent, shape, I feel like it’s a bit too early to give up the outdoor activities I love, especially the ones we do as a family.

It made me wonder about that blurry space between excessive worry and justified worries about falling or re-injuring yourself. How do you know when it’s time to get back on the trail, or when it’s time to hang up the hiking boots and find a new, less perilous activity?

“People fall all the time,” says Helen Lake, a professor at Saint Louis University School of Nursing whose research specialty is falls and the fear of falling. “Hiking is a high-risk thing. Rough terrain, or rocky or slippery terrain, … you challenge yourself to some degree, and everyone falls down doing those things.

But when taking a hard fall is a new experience, as it was for me, Lach says it can feel “more dramatic.” There’s even a name for what I’m feeling: weak fall self-efficacy, which Lach describes as “the loss of confidence that you can do everyday activities without falling.”

In older populations in particular, individuals may get to the point where they are not comfortable leaving the house or doing activities they normally enjoy – and as a result, they may not be doing enough. exercise, or they may even become isolated and depressed.

After a painful fall, this doctor and runner learns the best way to fall

While my falls self-efficacy isn’t so low that I’ve become a recluse, it’s typical, even though I’m in a slightly younger demographic. “Loss of confidence and fear of re-injury are two common side effects of any injury,” says Amber Shipherda certified mental performance consultant based at Texas A&M University in Kingsville who works with professional athletes, coaches, musicians and members of the military – “anyone who performs as part of their daily job.”

Kyle Martinoformer Major League Soccer player and founder of the More less initiativesays that, for athletes, the fear of re-injury happens “every time” after an on-court injury, though Shipherd says the same concepts apply to active people like me.

“The hardest part of overcoming an injury is trusting your body again,” says Martino. “It’s almost like having a physical you and a mental clone of you.” They are both injured, he says, except that the body often heals faster than the mind.

Shipherd, who has a background in counseling, kinesiology and performance psychology, says she’s looking for the root of the problem. If physical limitations can be ruled out, she says, then a counselor can set out to help restore the client’s confidence.

Practical steps to bounce back

The techniques Shipherd uses to help star athletes get their A game back are essentially the same ones that might apply to a middle-aged woman who fell on her behind: positive self-talk and baby steps. “We fall back on mental skills and goal setting.”

In the case of hiking, she says, “we’ll get you back on short, flat trails. Once you get to the point where you feel good, we increase the difficulty. As someone finds success on trails of increasing difficulty, hopefully their confidence will return.

Lach, who had to bounce back from a broken ankle resulting from a fall in the garden, is fine with slowly returning to previous performance levels and being realistic about his fitness level. “An older person who is really out of shape might need to start with physical therapy,” she says, including working on mobility and balance. But above all, she adds, “it’s about improving physical strength. If you feel stronger, you feel more confident.

At 67, she sees a personal trainer once a week. And while her alpine skiing days may be behind her, she feels confident playing golf and hiking – two activities that might have seemed out of reach during the three months she didn’t wear a pair. weight.

The big number: About 36 million people aged 65 and over fall each year

It’s also about reframing, not ignoring, your fear, says Shipherd. “The fear of injury is still there. It is not realistic to deny it. But we frame it differently. ‘This track is rough; I’m nervous about it,” becomes, “This track is going to help me get better. ”

The confidence-building process also happens off the beaten track or on the playing field, Shipherd says. You do not have to immediately resume activity. “A break is a great opportunity to make sure you’re thriving in other ways and to align other things, like family, school, or work, in your life.”

Martino, whose football career was cut short by injuries, says this slow rebuilding of confidence and form is a change from the performance training of yore when people were “fighting the pain to get back to their best as soon as possible. “My way of overcoming injuries wasn’t the healthiest,” he says, recalling his career being cut short and his quality of life affected due to rushed recoveries. “If I could go back I would listen to my body more and take the time to heal properly.”

“For an athlete or athlete of any type,” Shipherd says, “one of the hardest things is not being able to do the same things that you were doing before.” Some may end up accepting that they can’t run as fast or as far, but they still enjoy running. Others may recognize that they can’t run at all anymore or that the risk isn’t worth the reward. And “when you don’t love what you’re doing anymore, it’s time to find a new sport,” says Shipherd.

For Martino, the epiphany came during a treatment session. At one point, he recalls, “what I had to do to get on the pitch wasn’t worth what it felt like to be there. One day my doctor looked at me during treatment and he could see what playing was doing to my body. “Think about the next 40 years instead of the next four,” he said. I decided to leave that day.

My situation doesn’t have the drama of a professional athlete having to walk away from the game due to injury. But Lach suggests some of the same realism, and a risk-reward analysis is advised, especially at my age. “It’s about scaling your business right for yourself, being realistic, but still doing the things you love doing as much as you can,” she says.

And maybe wait for the ice to melt on those mountain trails.

Elizabeth Heath is a writer based in Allerona, Italy. His website is Find her on Instagram: @myvillageinumbria.

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