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How exercise can help with grief

Posted by AK Lander | On January 20, 2020 15:31

Exercising has many benefits, and for some, it even helped them coped through grief. In this guide, we look at how exercise can help people cope with loss.

The mixture of emotions you experience after losing a loved one can be extremely difficult to manage, and although exercise can’t take away what you’re going through, it can help ease the pain. It’s no secret that exercise brings mental benefits as well as physical, with it being an efficient way of boosting your mood, decreasing your stress levels and helping you sleep better, even a gentle stroll can help put you in a positive mindset.  

An article published on Very Well Fit mentions the findings of Dr Gross, author of ‘The Only Way Out is Through: A Ten-Step Journey from Grief to Wholeness’. Dr Gross explains that “having a focus—like exercise— can help alleviate grief symptoms” and that “exercise has the capacity to help the body stay in balance while withstanding the trauma of loss.”

In this guide, we hear the stories of those who have benefitted from exercising during the grieving process.

“It helped quiet the anger after losing my husband”

Silhouette or someone running

Staci, who sadly lost her husband, Gordie, suddenly in 2012, is the author of the blog Running Through Grief, where she shares her experiences with exercise and grief. Staci tells us: “I have used running, swimming, and my indoor bike (now a Peloton) to help quiet the anger after losing my husband at the age of 44, and also to help relieve the stress of raising two boys on my own since his death, they were aged 2 and 6 at the time. I found that exercise was the best outlet for me to pound out my emotions, even better than therapy (which was also helpful).

“I encourage all new widows/widowers who I meet to use exercise during their grief journey, whatever exercise they can do - even if it's just walking. It's obviously a much healthier option than drinking, eating, or staying in bed. I found that by forcing myself to run, even on the mornings when I just wanted to hide in bed, it made me keep getting up so that I was there for my sons and also so that I was able to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Grief is just a horrible, horrible journey to be forced to take. Especially when someone dies before their time. And when there are children involved, it's even uglier. I don't know how I would have survived the nearly eight years since my husband died had it not been for running to help me clear my head, pound out the stress of everyday life of a widow and tire myself physically so that I could quiet the unhappiness inside my head and heart.”

“I feel completely at ease, despite grieving terribly”

We asked Vicki, from the blog Bloom Education, to share her experience of exercising whilst grieving for her uncle and great auntie, who sadly died within a few days of one another. Vicki tells us: “Not only did I find comfort in the arms of my partner, but also in the presence of my Zumba family. I feel completely at ease at my classes, and so, despite grieving terribly, it was the natural place for me to be. Plus, the endorphins are always a bonus!"

Vicki also went running during this difficult time: “Running allows you to find the time to be in your own space and think. The number of times that I have been running with tears streaming down my face, but the sense of release because of it, is quite high. I'd really advise it to anyone as you can run at your own pace and cry your heart out, no judgements.”

“It helped create a balance and normality back into a very chaotic time of my life.”

Woman doing yoga

Grief comes in all shapes and sizes, as Sarah Lou, from the blog Sarah Lou Writes, experienced during the breakdown of her marriage. Sarah tells us: “During the early stage of my marriage break down I wouldn’t do anything; I would sleep and not do anything for myself. Then one day I got up and went for a walk, being outside in the fresh air really helped me get through an extremely hard time. Gradually I included yoga back into my routine because I wanted to be active. Gentle exercise really helped take my mind off things for a period and helped create balance and normality back into a very chaotic time of my life. It gave me a sense of being and purpose again.

“My only advice for others is to just to take your time, do things at your own pace. The grieving process can be long and frankly exhausting but once you are over a hump and get outside or get into a routine for you, it truly is a wonderful form of therapy.”

Remember to do things at your own pace

When you think of exercising you may picture yourself in the gym doing an intense workout but remember there are plenty of less strenuous options. If you were an avid gym-goer before grieving, try to avoid putting pressure on yourself to keep up the standards that you once had, as your body is already trying to process enough. Even simply walking to your local shop and back, doing some gardening or stretches in the comfort of your own home, can help you feel more positive.

Here are some exercise ideas you can do to help with grief:

  • Going on a stroll or jog in your local nature spot.
  • Doing a simple at-home yoga routine.
  • Walking the dog.
  • Doing some gardening.
  • Going for a swim.

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