Running Toward a Solution

Running as a means of therapyThrough the week of Aug. 26, Hello Grief will feature stories from people who have used running and other physical activities as a means of coping. As part of this weeklong series, we’re also starting a new Fitness and Grief group here on Hello Grief. You can also get involved by joining Comfort Zone Camp’s Grief Relief Team, which helps bring awareness of grief to communities across the U.S.

We kick off this series with thoughts from Pete Shrock, National Program Director for Comfort Zone Camp.

Running is my time. What used to be the best way to stay physically fit has become more about mental stamina. I have been running for the past 2 years. Don’t get me wrong – I have always run but it was not always enjoyable.

It was not until I suffered an injury and stepped away from running that I learned it was more of a coping skill for stress than just an ability to manage physical fitness. Something about the open road without headphones and constant conversation allows me to think objectively. It expands my ability to process conflict -– manage expectations -– and build a vision for what I want.

The longer the run, the better the outcome. I choose to run – not in an attempt to run from conflict – but toward a better solution.

Comfort Zone Camp Clinical Advisor Kim Kaufmann says that coping skills can be divided up into two categories: skills that distract us and skills that help us focus on the issue(s) that we are dealing with. Physical activity engages our entire body (physically, mentally and emotionally) to work together.

Over time (but even in short bursts) you will be able to see/feel the benefit of physical activity. Physically your body will release endorphins and hormones that will directly impact your mood. Physical activity will work to balance out these endorphins and hormones to provide stability.

In time, you will build endurance and physical strength. When you feel stronger physically you are more likely to feel stronger mentally and emotionally, that is if you also “exercise” these areas at the same time. Mentally, you have options to focus on while being physically active.

If it is an action that you are used to, you may choose to “check out” mentally and let your mind wander. We all need time to escape the day to day and will often come back to the present moment with a fresher perspective Or if it is an activity that your body is used to, you can choose to focus your thoughts on your challenge to gain some clarity.

By “doing” an activity in which you feel a degree of success while problem solving something that is challenging, you are more likely to be able to focus on a positive and/or healthier resolution to the issue. If it is an activity that requires more focus, you may get the distraction that you need to gain a different perspective on what you are coping with.

Physical activity can impact us emotionally in some unique ways. Depending on the activity at some point (especially if you push yourself) you may come up against “a wall” in your belief system about yourself and what you are capable of. Questions related to self-esteem, what you are capable of and trust are likely to come to the surface and need to be dealt with. Being able to make these connections can help an individual cope with some deeper rooted patterns that are influencing their lives.

If the physical activity is more organized (team or partner) you get the added benefit of socialization. When we are struggling with an issue, it is not uncommon to isolate ourselves from family and friends. By engaging in group physical activity, we experience meeting new people and increasing our resiliency.

Physical activities are a broad category and universally available. It does not matter if you walk around the block or do Cross Fit, the overall benefits will be the same if you are able to recognize the physical, mental and emotional connection in what you are doing.

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  1. web mamma said on August 26, 2013 at 9:37 pm ... #

    Thank you for this thoughtful article.

    One thing that happened to me was the physical transformation from working out: I was losing weight and other people started to respond to me more positively, and avoid me less. I turned from a weepy, hair greyed-out figure to more of a self-confident and attractive appearance. This had a flip side too, though, as I wasn’t done grieving at all, I just let people think I was.

    Planning my workouts, finding diet recipes, healthy cooking and shopping and all the “work” that accompanies a healthy lifestyle was a distraction for me, something I was able to focus on. I did also bemoan and obsess over my physical imperfections too, though. I couldn’t control my husband’s death, but I could control what I ate (most of the time).

    Still, my commitment to health I feel sent a strong message to my children after surviving their father’s death that I was here to stay, and stay strong. Also, I did create a different, stronger version of myself athletically that younger self never would have thought possible.

  2. maria said on August 26, 2013 at 11:30 pm ... #

    I had a bad injury last year where I had to have achillies tendon surgery. This year my Dad passed away battling cancer in jan 2013. I wss still recovery from my surgery . I am now running 3 miles a day some days more. For me it is a escape and I feel alot better after I run . I am having a hard time with the loss of my father. I think about him every day. So for me running helps..

  3. Sierra said on September 17, 2013 at 12:31 am ... #

    I need help/advice for a friend of mine. A coworker of hers has recently died at a young age. While she feels sorrow she is overwhelmed with the feeling of relief for herself. She was given more classes to teach in a very stressful school district with limited resources, while her coworker was on medical leave for a year. She feels very guilty and selfish with her feelings of happiness instead of having more sorrow for the death of her coworker. Can anyone help with some advice or guidance?
    Thank you. Sierra

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