How does exercise heal grief

What helps when you are grieving? Kelly McDyre who helps families cope with the death of a child, shares her experience of how exercise heals.

Dealing with grief is a process that looks different for everyone. Grief can be unpredictable, overwhelming, confusing, and painful. It is more than just an emotion; it impacts both your mental and physical health.

If you are wrestling with grief, exercise may be the furthest thing from your mind. Even gathering the strength to get out of bed in the morning may be hard. But studies have shown that exercise can be just the thing you need to get you feeling like yourself again.

When you are hurting, finding healthy ways to move through your emotions is essential. Self-care is a vital part of the healing process. Exercise can help bring back a sense of purpose, add structure, and produce mood-enhancing responses in the body.

When you are hurting, finding healthy ways to move through your emotions is essential. Self-care is a vital part of the healing process. Exercise can help bring back a sense of purpose, add structure, and produce mood-enhancing responses in the body.

How does exercise give your life structure and purpose

The experience of losing someone or something can affect your ability to operate at your normal capacity. By taking control of your physical activity it can help you feel a greater sense of control over your life, which may seem lost while coping with grief. Exercise can bring back structure and normalcy to a life that is out of sync.

Whether it is going for a walk or doing something more intense like a weight training routine, a physical goal can bring back a sense of purpose and a feeling of accomplishment. It may be one of the few things you always have control over and can bring your focus back to the right things.

Your physical health is closely related to what you do with your body daily. Physical activity and exercise can help you get more in touch with your body and help you be more attuned to your needs. Determining to do something physical and sticking to it is one of the best ways to build positive energy that can also improve your mental health.

How exercise heals and promotes a feeling of well being

Research has shown that emotional pain triggers the same response in the brain as physical pain does.

Physical and emotional stress can increase blood pressure, cause inflammation, and weaken your immune system making you susceptible to other illnesses.

These types of stresses can become chronic if you don’t keep them in check. Grief may cause a lack of sleep or poor eating habits, which also worsens your health.

When you exercise, your brain releases hormones called endorphins, which reduce the perception of pain and increase feelings of euphoria. Exercise also triggers the release of serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, and the amino acid GABA.

These chemicals regulate appetite, release sex hormones, and enhance your immune system activity. Endorphins have also been shown to put you in a better mood, increase your memory retention and learning, and keep your sleep cycles more regular.

How does exercise heal and prevent depression?

The five stages you encounter while grieving are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Feelings of anxiety and depression are especially common. Through each of these stages, exercise can help you cope with your emotions and help energize your spirits.

Exercise can be a helpful and powerful antidepressant. Regular physical activity can help relieve feelings of anxiety, pain, insomnia, and fatigue. It can even bring clarity to what can feel like a mess of emotions.

If you are feeling down about yourself or your situation, continuous exercise like running or meditative exercise like yoga can help put you back into the right mindset.

While grieving, you may spend a lot of time feeling down about things, or your self-esteem may suffer. A full hour or other set time devoted to focusing on your physical health can be therapeutic in many ways. It can help you feel good about yourself for doing something positive and can help you listen to your body so that you can be more in tune with what it needs to heal.

Exercise can be a healthy distraction. While you are focusing on the task at hand – like staying the course on a running trail or lifting a heavy dumbbell – your brain will be forced to focus on things other than your emotions, even if only for a few minutes. It can break up the cycle of negative thoughts and increase blood flow to your brain, bringing mental clarity.

Exercise Can Be Simple and Still Effective

You don’t need a complicated workout routine to improve your physical and mental health. Basic activities like walking, dancing, biking, and swimming can improve aerobic fitness, stimulate the heart and lungs, increase blood flow, and enhance mood-enhancing chemicals. 

If you are struggling with motivation, start by making a small activity goal. It could be walking for 10 minutes or doing one set of pushups. Once you build a routine and get in the habit of doing something, then you can start to add more exercises or time.

It’s easy to overthink things, but keeping it simple and consistent is the best way to get on track and stay on track. Start small and build momentum. Aim to make a little progress each day. Find ways to refresh your mind and spirit regularly.

Just as grieving looks different for everyone, exercise also looks different for everyone. The journey toward health and healing will be unique to you. Find exercises that you enjoy, and try to find others who enjoy the same activities. It could be as easy as taking your dog for a walk or running around the playground with your child.

During this tough time, you may want to isolate yourself. Exercising alone is fine, but finding a community of support can help you stay accountable even when you don’t feel like working out. Taking a yoga class, joining a running group, or signing up for a recreational sports league may be just what you need to jumpstart your healing process.

With the help of exercise, you can find purpose and healing while in the grieving process.

Kelly McDyre Bio

Kelly McDyre is the Executive Director of Faith’s Lodge, a nonprofit organization that helps parents and families coping with the death or medically complex condition of a child. In its Northwoods setting, Faith’s Lodge provides a peaceful escape for families to refresh their minds and spirits while spending time with others who understand what they are experiencing. As the only facility of its kind in the U.S., they have served over 9,500 people from 40 states and 4 countries since opening their doors in 2007.


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