There are different types of loss; death, divorce, break ups, even the loss of a pet can inflict grief. Grief is the natural response to a significant loss. It is much more involved than sadness and healthy methods of coping must be implemented. How can exercise help people cope with their loss?
Taking care of yourself is always important but especially during times of emotional turmoil. The mind and body are connected, one will always affect the other. There are
physical symptoms of grief such as, fatigue, weight loss or gain, aches, pains, and insomnia. A good way to ease the physical soreness is through exercise. It will release all that tension in your muscles. Exercise combats fatigue by improving circulation and invigorating you. It reduces anxiety and levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that effects weight.
While there are 5 stages to grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance) it can still be experienced like a roller-coaster. These stages don’t always happen in order, you may have highs and lows. This is completely normal and exercise is a great way to keep your hormones balanced.
Research shows the same neurotransmitters targeted by antidepressants are also affected by exercising. Exercise is a natural mood booster. It releases endorphins, those “feel good” chemicals, into your body.
Assistant Professor J. Carson Smith, from the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland, studies how physical activity affects brain function. Smith found, that not only does exercise reduce anxiety, it helps protect against future emotional distress as well. His subjects were either instructed to rest for 30 minutes, or workout for the same amount of time. While anxiety levels reduced in both groups, only those who had exercised were able to maintain their reduced levels of anxiety after being emotionally stimulated.
On a psychological level, exercise serves as a distraction and it also helps restore a sense of control. When coping with loss, one of the symptoms is a feeling of helplessness. You could feel helpless to your feelings, helpless to your current situation, and helpless to get back what you lost. When you’re exercising, you’re in control of your body, its movements and your physique. It makes you feel stronger inside and out.
Whether you do vigorous activities like running and cycling or lighter activities such as Yoga or taking short walks, 30 minutes of activity is enough to reap the mood boosting benefits. Keep in mind there is no “correct” amount of time for the grieving process. It will lessen with time. Seek professional help if you’re having trouble moving on to the acceptance stage and begin to suffer from severe depression.