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Backpacking Fitness

Stay Calm and Heal Faster

The Emotional Side to Injury Recovery

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Pocket this nugget for the time you fall off a cliff, snap a ligament, and lie there waiting to be rescued: Do whatever you can to pull a Steve McQueen and keep your cool. Why? Because throwing a temper tantrum at the trail, at the injustice of it all or, more truthfully, at your own stupidity, can slow the healing process by up to four times compared to people who take a deep breath and chill out.

That’s the gist of a short news item passed along to me from the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, California. It cited a study from Ohio State University published last December in Brain, Behavior and Immunity which found that really stressed out (a.k.a. angry or freaked out) people interfered with their own ability to heal.

My first response to this was, “Duh.”

Of course you can’t heal if you’re stressed; it’s when you’re not stressed that you recover. That’s why doctors have been prescribing “rest” to the sick since forever. It’s why I look at people going off the deep end and think, “Man, if he doesn’t cool it, he’s going to die from a heart attack.” And it’s also why a smart athlete knows that his or her rest days are as critical as their workouts if they want to grow stronger and faster.

When I went to look at the abstract of the study titled “The influence of anger expression on wound healing” at PubMed, a clearing house of medical studies maintained by the NIH, I did find this interesting bit of info:

The anger control variable predicted wound repair over and above differences in hostility, negative affectivity, social support, and health behaviors… These findings suggest that the ability to regulate the expression of one’s anger has a clinically relevant impact on wound healing.

When I thought about it, this struck me as the most important finding of all. Basically, it means that if you’re one incredibly pissed-off, super-fit hothead with a perfect diet, you’ll likely heal slower from a blister or contusion than the sedentary guy doing bong hits in his bedroom.

Okay, that’s a bit extreme, but it gets to my point: When you find yourself injured out in the middle of nowhere, chill out and assess the damage, chill out some more and then calmly figure out the best way to get help. And after you get that medical attention, keep that mellow vibe and avoid physical and emotional stress. Your body’s ability to start healing itself depends on it.

Grant Davis has spent the last decade writing and editing articles about health, fitness, and nutrition. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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