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Walking Through Grief

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When you suffer the death of a loved one, you are thrown into a state of emergency in your body, mind and soul. 

Brain imaging studies have shown that when an individual experiences a significant loss, changes occur along a broad network of neurons. The ancient survival mechanism of the fight or flight response is automatically triggered in your brain chemistry. Even if not consciously aware, at a deep level we fear for our survival. There is incredible amount of tension held in the body that is stressful and takes a huge toll emotionally, mentally and physically. Grievers often initially go into a form of shock or “freeze,” the third part of the fight or flight survival response. We freeze because there is no action that we can take to change the trauma that has just occurred. Unfortunately, with grief, there is no enemy to fight or to run from in order to feel safe again. All of that trauma tension, anxiety and fear gets frozen within the chemistry of the body. This grief and trauma chemistry affects our functioning on so many levels including changes in our energy levels, sleep, appetite, concentration and memory. 

Exercise is one of the ways that we can release some of that tension, change our actual brain chemistry and increase endorphins that help us to feel better on all levels. It also helps to decrease the trauma hormones that are released in survival mode so that we can find relief inside and heal. It’s not easy to exercise when you’re grieving, but taking small steps to move your energy can bring tremendous benefits. Just taking a short walk in the fresh air can increase energy, increase the ability to sleep and improve appetite and concentration. Grief can be all-consuming and exercise is a good distraction, if just for a moment. Those moments add up over time and help us through the journey of grief.

If you’re grieving, physically move your body today. A simple walk can help relieve your body of some of the stress and tension, opens more breathing space inside and helps you to step out of your grief for a while.

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Reprinted with permission from Fitness® magazine. ©2014 Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved. 

By Jo Christner, Psy.D.