Working Out, Through Grief
Updated: Jan 7
Everyone experiences great loss in their lives. Some more unfortunately than others but everyone loses something or someone very important to us. It has a profound impact on us and how we deal with it can have an even more profound impact on our futures.
Recently I lost my aunt. To call her an aunt is a misleading representation of our closeness. To myself and many of my 13 cousins, she was our babysitter, our camp counsellor, our social worker and the person many of us depended upon to make sense of the world. When my mother passed away, she was the person who swore to be there for me no matter what, to offer guidance & support while also calling me out on my sh*t. Her unconditional love for us, mixed with her dry wit and love for nature made her a very special person.
I find it quite fascinating how differently people cope with loss. I have known many who pretend they are fine and push onwards without acknowledging the pain that must be processed, I have known others who have literally drank themselves to death within a year, not able to manage what was now missing from their lives, and many more who have tried to mask their pain with substances, eating disorders, seclusion, sexual promiscuity or a neurotic work ethic that consumes them.
When my mother passed away over a decade ago, I did not have the tools and resources that I now have to cope. I gave into many of the above mentioned coping mechanisms but there was one thing that truly helped carry me through that period of emotional desperation. That was sport. It helped me then and is helping me now. Back then, only constant in my life was wresting. The sweat, tears and adrenaline of a physical workout granted me some sort of clarity and mental strength to slowly move forward.
There has been quite a bit of research done on the benefits of high intensity physical activity on stress and grief management. Dr. Mercola explains in his article, “Sweating Out Sadness”, that high intensity exercise gives you a sense of control as it requires great internal focus. Not to mention the benefits of increased blood flow to the brain, release of endorphins (those happy neurotransmitters) and the sense of accomplishment that can help rebuild general motivation.
Now I am not saying that every single time you are feeling sad, down, low, unmotivated, paralyzed, impartial, etc., that you should get up and rock a 20-minute HIIT workout. That’s an unrealistic expectation that will just lead to feeling even more lost and disappointed. There have been days this past couple of weeks where just brushing my teeth, showing up for work or eating something other than chocolate & Skittles all day is considered a victory. I am talking about those moments when you feel like you want and need something to help you feel better. Those are the moments to try and get your sweat on. Just as the grief diary I will share at the end of the month will demonstrate, the actual process of processing typically looks much more like a 2 year olds’ drawing of a cat. It rarely is a straight inclining line.
The path to saying goodbye is probably filled with many ups, downs, happy moments when you think you should be sad, sad moments when you want to be happy, moments when you want to lash out at the nice barista who put just a bit too much foam in your cappuccino and flashing moments of your old content self. My best advice is not to rush it, to own your feelings whole heartedly and to do a little bit most days. Use the loss in order to strengthen you for the future. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of a small company called Facebook, wrote a beautiful piece about grief when her husband passed away. She does not touch on ‘sweat therapy’ but I leave you with this article and hope that it gives you some insight and that exercise becomes a helpful tool in your tool belt.