Back in December, 40-year-old actress and author Alison Sweeney suffered a ski injury while hitting the slopes with her family.
"I tore my ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] and several ligaments in my knee at Christmas, so it's been a tough road," says the star and executive producer of the fifth installment of Hallmark's "Murder She Baked" franchise. "And certainly as someone who's always been healthy — knock on wood! — I didn't realize until this happened how I take my fitness and my body for granted."
Sweeney successfully underwent surgery in February, but the former "The Biggest Loser" host has had to learn new ways to take care of herself.
"It's been a real eye-opening experience to go down the road of physical therapy and rehabbing an injury like this," she says. "It's about being patient and taking it one day at a time [to figure out] what you can do — mentally and physically — to keep yourself feeling good and confident about your progress."
Here are five strategies Sweeney has been using to stay healthy — and sane — during her ongoing recovery.
She celebrates any and all progress.
If you've ever had an injury that took you out of commission for a while, you know all too well that the road to recovery is really, really long.
"For me, it began with celebrating the small steps — quite literally!" Sweeney says.
Instead of focusing on what she couldn't do yet, she adopted the habit of viewing progress on seven-day cycles.
"I would pick a day of the week, like Friday, and then the next Friday I'd think, 'Well, since last Friday, I'm able to do this and I'm able to do that,'" she explains. "Where throughout each day you're not able to feel the improvement, but if you look back from a week ago, you can quantify some noticeable changes, which helps you feel good and stay mentally positive."
She finds safe and creative ways to challenge her body.
The "Days of Our Lives" alum regularly works with her doctor and trainer to determine the movements she can do despite her injury in order to stay physically fit. For her ACL tear, this meant targeting and strengthening her upper body.
"Even when I was using the crutches, I would try to use them almost as a workout," she states. "In fact, they tell you when you get the crutches that you don't want to rest your armpits on the crutches because it's not good for your shoulders or armpits. So using your arm strength and your core body strength to carry you is actually the right way to use them and serves as a good workout."
She's upped her healthy eating plan.
It's crucial to keep a watchful eye on your diet, Sweeney says.
"When you're busy with work and your kids and you don't have the time to workout every day, you have to be extra conscientious about your nutrition — and the same is true when you're rehabbing an injury," she says. "You're not able to burn off as many calories in your daily activity as you normally would, so you have to take that into account."
She takes care of the rest of her body.
"Don't lose sight of the little things that are part of your everyday routine," she says.
For example, moisturizing her skin has become a bigger priority for her lately because it helps with the healing process and minimizes scarring.
"You don't have to buy those fancy, expensive creams — I went with Aquaphor," the actress admits. "This brilliant stuff I use for my lips, the blisters on my feet, and for keeping the scar tissue moist."
Also crucial for maintaining a sense of balance: keeping up with typical healthy hygiene habits, like brushing your teeth twice a day (her favorite brand: Arm & Hammer Truly Radiant toothpaste with baking soda).
"Especially when other things are up in the air, it's a big deal to do the normal things you can do to take care of yourself."
She finds teaching moments.
Being less mobile has temporarily interrupted every aspect of Sweeney's life, including one that really can't be put on hold: Mom life.
"As a mom, it was really a rude awakening to realize that I wasn't capable of standing there and making breakfast and dinner for my kids," she confesses. "It was tough for me to wrap my head around that."
But she soon discovered a win-win solution: "My kids [Ben and Megan] are getting older now — 12 and 8 — and I realized that maybe this is the time for me to sit down and guide them through simple lessons in the kitchen to produce meals. This was actually good for the whole family!"