Exercise?  No way, grief stole my energy!

You’ve lost someone close to you and grief has taken over your life.  Your thoughts are jumbled. Your concentration is gone and your energy level is less than 50% of what you used to have.  You’ve always exercised regularly, but now you don’t seem to have the energy to even get off the couch.  It’s a frequent problem caused by the grief process.

Seven years ago, I was fighting the exhaustion of grief and scrambling to get through each day.  Today, I dedicate my days to teaching others how to get through their own grief.  I believe in an active approach that explores a variety of strategies to support you as you grieve.  My goal is to both support you and give back some control during an uncertain and challenging time.

If you were like me, I spent the early years of grief exhausted.  I didn’t know that there was anything I could do about it!  I mentally knew that exercising would be a smart and help me feel better, but the activation energy required to get me off the couch, seemed like too much.

In this blog, I’d like to break down the physical and mental barriers that influence our ability to get off the couch and back in the gym.

  1. Grief steals our energy – The process of grieving is an emotional, mental, physical and spiritual process that drains our energy. Imagine a gas tank filled to 100%.  Our gas tank was full before our loss.  After our loss, our body is physically working harder to get through each day.  We use more gas than normal.  We lose 25% of our tank as we experience a myriad of new emotions.  We lose 25% more as we mentally process our new reality.   So now we are down to 50% and still trying to do all the things we did before.  Of course, we are tired!
  2. Grief disturbs your sleep – Each time we toss and turn or wake up in the middle of the night and look up the ceiling in disbelief, our sleep is disturbed. Restlessness and disturbed sleep from mentally trying to process the reality of what has happened is common.  Lack of sleep further drains your gas tank and makes exercising less likely.
  3. Grief compromises our food choices – Emotional eating. The struggle is real.  When we feel depleted and sad, we want to feel better.  We tend to use our food to change our body chemistry and help us feel better.  It works temporarily, but poor food choices and lack of proper nutrients can drain our tank even further.
  4. Grief causes us to lose interest in activities we once enjoyed – We may have forgotten that we used to be happy. There were activities we once enjoyed, including exercise, but right now, exercising may be the furthest thing from our minds.   We may question if being healthy even matters anymore.  We may even say, “What’s the point in exercising?  I’m going to die too!”  This loss of interest can keep us out of the gym.
  5. Grief causes avoidance – When our gas tank is depleted, we often don’t feel up to “pretending” to be okay.  It takes energy to put on a brave face and go out into the world.  We may avoid other people because we aren’t ready to talk about our grief with anyone.  We choose to stay home and out of the gym.

When you are grieving, exercise can be helpful.  Even small amounts of exercise can lift our mood, release stress, quiet an overactive mind and ultimately add more gas to your tank.   The challenge is how to exercise when you feel so exhausted!  My advice is this.  First, stop judging yourself for not exercising and acknowledge that your energy levels are compromised as a result of your grief. Next, do something physical because it will help you feel better.  Start out slow, reminding yourself that any amount of exercise will help.  You don’t need to run a 10k or take a 60-minute spinning class.  Start with a 10-minute walk and congratulate yourself for getting off the couch.  You can use the time in one of two ways.  You can use it to give you time away from your grief.  Alternatively, you can use exercise as a “meditative” way to spend time understanding that you are grieving because they meant so much to you.  Exercise is one way you can actively support yourself as you grieve and give you back control in an uncertain and challenging time.