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Avoiding the Spiral of Doom

Last week I tweaked my knee at the gym, probably doing an extra rep of something even though I knew it wasn’t a good idea. For someone who is driven and motivated by being able to stick to my plan, my schedule, my routine, something as simple as a tweak can initiate the dreaded “Spiral of Doom.” You know what I am talking about.

The Spiral of Doom starts out as something relatively minor, but quickly spirals out of control. It  feels like being a character in a Dr. Seuss book and the story goes something like this:

Day 1:You tweaked your knee, but pretend it’s ok, but clearly it isn’t.

Day 2:Then you cannot do squats, or deadlifts, or high pigeon. But it doesn’t hurt when you run.

Day 3:You try to find the positions that don’t hurt. Soon it hurts all the time-except when you run. So you run. Because you have a race. And for some reason you think you will run fast, having spent two days before the race smashing your quad.

Day 4: Your race is hard and you think possibly the knee is way worse than you thought, because it still hurts. Now you start Googling “tweaked knee” and find out about the ACL and the medial meniscus and all sorts of dreaded tears. Even though you just ran a hilly 5K in your usual time, and you have only the slightest bit of swelling, you assume the worse.

Day 5: The knee, feels better at first, then as the day wears on it hurts. So on the advice of your trainer you take the day off. No running, no lifting, no squatting.

Day 6: Even though the knee feels better in the morning, it still hurts, and you try to do things to see when it hurts, how it hurts, where it hurts and you are doomed. It hurts when you squat.So you work on push presses, and try to imagine a life without squatting.

Day 7:You wake up and the knee feels even better so you decide to go for your planned run! And it feels great while you are running, but then it really hurts afterward. And that is when you know for sure you have a damaged body part. Which means you will never squat again and you may not ever be able to stand up from a seated position. But you try to anyways. And it still hurts. Alot. So you start to think maybe you shouldn’t be running or doing anything! Why even go to the gym?

The spiral of doom is out of control and you are going down at a rapid pace. You are an orb of negativity and gloom.

The Spiral of Doom has now affected your family and friends, it has disrupted your life because your routine has been disrupted. (If you have read Gretchen Rubins’ book Better than Before that teaches us about habits, you know that each of us have different tendancies.) I am a “Questioner” who gravitates toward being an “Upholder.” My routines are sacred and are not to be interfered with. Having my routine disrupted only contributes to the Spiral of Doom. The Spiral of Doom is worse for “Worriers,”  one of two genetically predisposed personality types  Pro Bronson and Ashley Merryman refer to in their book: Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing. According to Bronson and Merryman and as outlined in Lauren Fleshman and Roisin McGettigan-Dumas’s Believe journal,

“You like routine and usually train at the same time every day…

If worry isn’t kept in check, it can lead to anxiety disorders, Worriers can sometimes be introverted and rigid in their ways, which causes them to be less open to new people or new experiences.

By now, 1 week later, the knee feels great, but the Spiral continues. The last time I took time off from my routine it took a couple months for me to stop the spiraling. By the time the spiraling stopped I  was on the verge of a mental breakdown.

But hindsight is 20/20. I have lived this before and it feelis eerily familiar. It started with an injury, which disrupted the routine which started the negativity of doom and gloom, which in turn caused an increase in worrying and anxiety. What if I never run again? What if I never go back to the gym? What if, what if, what if…

Fortunately, something as simple as empathy can help stop the Spiral of Doom-and it can sometimes prevent the Spiral altogether. Understanding your tendancies and what makes you anxious can help minimize the spiral. What is really going on?

Here are a few ways to try to avoid spiraling out of control:

  1. Find a friend who gets it-you really don’t need someone to tell you it is all in your head or you are imagining the worst, because you know that, you just can’t help it. Taking unplanned time off from your scheduled routines only makes things worse. Try to stick to your routines and cut back on what you are doing, physically, if need be.
  2. Work on making positive self talk a habit when things don’t seem to be going well
  3. Write down your biggest fear or worry; what would you do if it actually happened? Think about a positive outcome or solution.
  4. Do something you love- and shake it off

Recognizing the spiral, reflecting on how it started and why it is happening can help stop it.



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