Through 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.