An Action Plan for Recovery: How to Bounce Back from Health Setbacks

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 15 August 2013
  • 6 minute read
An Action Plan for Recovery: How to Bounce Back from Health Setbacks

It was inevitable.

There had been plenty of signs that I was slowly heading towards the ‘danger zone’: sleepless nights, inflamed joints and flare-ups of old symptoms. I was running on empty, but kept going. Sometimes you have to push beyond your limits in order to make significant progress on what matters in your life.

So it didn’t come as a surprise that after months of working intensely on a psychological study, launching this website and celebrating milestones in my friend’s lives, I was feeling completely worn out.

Optimistically, I’d figured that taking two weeks off to relax and catch up on sleep would help get my health back on track. Yeah… I should have known better. Instead, my body was thinking: “Oh good, I’m finally done? Time for some thorough restoration!”, leaving me feeling worse than before.

Dealing with health setbacks can be tough, even when you’ve been living with chronic illness for a long time. Sometimes, like in my case, it’s obvious what’s causing your flare-ups. Other times, it feels like a mysterious game of ‘two steps forward, one step back’ – one that you didn’t agree to play in the first place. But the question always remains: what can you do to slowly get back on your feet again?

I like creating an action plan for recovery – a rough guide on how I intend to gradually rebuild my health. Do you need a strategy to help you bounce back from your health setback? Here are some essential items that you can put on your own recovery to-do list.

How to Create Your Own Action Plan for Recovery | The Health Sessions

How to Bounce Back from Health Setbacks

1. Rest up

When you’re exhausted or dealing with disruptive symptoms, you probably feel like getting plenty of sleep and taking time to relax and recharge. (And even if your mind doesn’t feel like it, your body will make it a priority). But do you really know how to rest properly?

As Nicole Antoinette once pointed out:

“Actual rest – periods of time that are truly restorative for your mind, body, creativity – aren’t just characterized by the act of not doing the thing you usually do. Just because you’re not working, that doesn’t mean you’re recharging. 

I realized that I spend a lot of my “rest” time doing shit that isn’t actually restful. Like constantly refreshing my email. And repeatedly hitting “play next episode” on Netflix Instant. That’s not rest, it’s escapism.”

Although binge-watching ‘Orange is the New Black’ and mindlessly pinning inspirational images (guilty) can be soothing, what does it really take for you to replenish your body and refresh your mind?

For me, it means unplugging more often: choosing old-fashioned books over endless online reading, listening to music instead of watching TV, spending more time outdoors soaking up vitamin D. It also means getting back into a regular sleeping pattern after a bout of severe insomnia and purposely limiting my activities and obligations during the coming period.

What do you need to (not) do to really rest up?

2. Replenish your body with essential nutrients

Prolonged stress depletes your body of vitamins and minerals, so it’s important to restock by eating nutrient-rich foods. If you feel run-down, it’s a good idea to pick light, easily digestible yet nourishing meals that require little energy to break down. Think of veggie juices, yoghurt with fruit and seeds, salads, bone broth, quinoa or steamed fish.

If you suspect you might be having a real deficiency in certain vitamins or minerals, ask your doctor to have your blood tested so you can take supplements.

An Action Plan for Recovery: How to Bounce Back from Health Setbacks | The Health Sessions
All photos by Karolina Grabowska via

3. Gentle movement

Low-impact physical activity is an important step to rebuild your strength and stamina. Depending on the seriousness of your health setback, you could go for a leisurely stroll, do some light stretching or take a swim. If you’re stuck in bed, do some very gentle exercises to get your blood flowing and release tension in your muscles. Whatever activity you choose, don’t push yourself too hard. Take all the time you need to fully recover.

4. Pamper yourself with wellness activities

There’s no better time to take extra good care of yourself than now. You can support your healing process with many enjoyable wellness treatments, from acupuncture and massages (my favourites) to sweating out toxins in the sauna during a luxurious spa day.

But pampering yourself doesn’t have to cost much. Soaking in a warm bath with a drop of essential oils, applying a simple facial mask and painting your nails can be very relaxing rituals. Just give yourself permission to indulge in self-care acts that boost your wellbeing.

5. Less ‘should’, more ‘want’.

With a never-ending stream of household chores, work assignments and social obligations, it’s all too easy to fall into a routine of mostly doing things you ‘should’ or ‘have to’ do. But what about making time for activities that you want to do?

Recovery is not just about physical restoration – it’s also about feeling inspired and motivated, your mind brimming with ideas and enthusiasm.

Over the last months, in the midst of my hectic schedule, I somehow forgot to do the things that make me cheerful and recharge my spirit, like reading for pleasure, singing and dancing. The laundry gets done, birthday presents were bought and healthy home-made meals were served every day, but there was no time for spontaneous happiness? That just isn’t right. So my goal is to sing and/or dance to one song each day during the next weeks (more about that challenge coming up in future blog posts!) just to get back into the habit again.

So ask yourself: how you can create more unscheduled time for the simple pleasures in life? How can you (temporarily) cut back on your commitments and your to-do list?

An Action Plan for Recovery: How to Bounce Back from Health Setbacks | The Health Sessions
Pin and save these tips for later.

Even if you create the most detailed action plan for recovery and you do everything ‘right’, it still takes time (and sometimes a lot of time) to bounce back from a health setback. Unfortunately, you can’t force your recovery; it’s a gradual process with ups and downs. It’s not always easy dealing with the uncertainties of a fluctuating health. But using hope to drive positive actions is such a powerful tool. As Marc and Angel write so eloquently in “9 Ways to Find Peace of Mind in Tough Times”:

“Hope empowers you to strive and grow even when your circumstances are in shambles. It’s all about balance – accepting reality without giving up on what needs to be done to reach your desired destination in the long run.”

I’d love to hear from you: Am I the only one nerdy enough to list wellness activities that will help rebuild my health? Or does creating and executing recovery plans give you hope and motivation as well?  What strategies do you use to overcome health setbacks? 

For more information on rebuilding your health after illness or injury, check out ‘How to Create Your Own Action Plan for Recovery’.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like:

Related articles in Coping with Chronic Illness

More Than ‘Just a Headache’: What It’s Like to Live with Chronic Migraine

Beyond Bubble Baths: What Self-Care Means When You’re Chronically Ill

Beyond Bubble Baths: What Self-Care Means When You're Chronically Ill | The Health Sessions

How The Spoon Theory Explains What It’s Like to Live with Chronic Illness

How The Spoon Theory Explains What It's Like to Live with Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions