Lets Talk About Sweating Out Sadness from Grief

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are some of the most commercialized holidays of the year. Both holidays assume that everybody’s mom or dad is alive. However, as we all know this isn’t the case. So, these holidays can be difficult for people whose parent’s have passed away.

For last week’s HealthYeah interview, Excy co-founder and CEO Michele Mehl spoke with Andrea Goodwin who kindly shared how she manages the stages of grief after losing both parents. Andrea lost her mom to breast cancer and her father to a heart attack. She was very close to both parents. Andrea, a life long exercise enthusiasts, turns to exercise frequently to manage grief. She also relies on her faith, journaling, yoga, and more.

Strategies for Enduring the Grieving Process

Grief is a natural response to loss and can shake the foundation of our existence and affect both mind and body. It is well worth thinking through strategies that can help you overcome or at least manage the stress that comes with loss. This includes how exercise can help create coping strategies throughout the stages of grief.

We invite you to jump into the interview, which primarily focuses on Andrea’s approach to using exercise to sweat out grief, but she has other great tips as well. This includes seeking out a therapist or counselor and friends and family for help working through the grieving process. We have also included a summary of the interview below.

Grief is a Journey that Never Ends, It Just Changes

Andrea’s family was always very close, so when her parents passed away from breast cancer and a heart attack within three years of each other, her whole world was turned upside down. Coping with loss has been an evolving journey for Andrea. She spoke to us about her journey through a healthy grieving process. This includes how to process thoughts and memories, but also accepting the finality of the loss, and experiencing waves of sadness.

Not Wired to Exercise? Explore Options

Not everyone is wired to love exercise, but exercise has always been part of Andrea’s DNA. She was a national champion in Judo as a youth, lead by her father Jesse Jones who taught Judo for over 55 years. She also played field hockey at the University of the Pacific.

During the interview, she discussed how she doesn’t believe that you ever truly heal from grief, but that you evolve. This includes learning to live with a new normal. This normal for Andrea includes turning to exercise as medicine to manage grief in her mind and body. For her, she views exercise as therapeutic. When her mind tells her not to get out of bed, she tells herself that she wants to be in control of her mind and body, so she pushes her self to go on a run, practice yoga, or attend a fitness class. Through this approach of exercise as medicine, she feels in control again, a feeling she lost when her parents passed. The science of exercise supports how it makes her feel and why it’s so important.

Running is Her Go-To Exercise to Manage Grief

When she needs to be alone with her thoughts, Andrea turns to running. For a few miles, she can re-center her mind and determine what her body needs. Sometimes, the simple act of running is a celebration that she was able to put one foot in front of the other. Often, when there are important dates approaching that cause her to feel her parents’ loss more heavily, running helps her deal with her grief. Through running, Andrea has learned that, when grief hits, you must let it come. Sometimes she will break out in tears while running, and instead of trying to stop them, she gives in and lets go. She knows that allowing her emotions to bottle up will only cause them to explode on someone in the future.

What if You Hate Running or Can’t Run?

Not everyone has the physical ability to run or the desire to go to the gym. But, we can all benefit from exercise release neurotransmitters that impact our mood. Serotonin and norepinephrine are both neurotransmitters that help us feel happy and good about the world, which is important when managing the grieving process. The trick is to find something you enjoy doing to get those feel-good chemicals flowing. For those who prefer the couch, Excy can help by turning it into a recumbent exercise bike. We can even help with days where you don’t want to get out of bed with our approach to lying down while exercising. Others might prefer going on a walk or exploring other home exercise equipment. The trick is to move and get those mood-enhancement chemicals going to start feeling better.

Processing the Emotions of Grief

The stages of grief and mourning are universal and are experienced by people from all walks of life, across many cultures. The 5 stages of grief and loss are: 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance. People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them. In addition to using exercise to process these emotions, Andrea also turns to prayer, scripture, devotionals, and journaling. She will also turn to yoga, for a calming effect when experiencing stress or anxiety, but prefers running. She does not want her mind or body to move into a negative space, so she recognizes when she is entering a stage of grief and takes steps to help herself out of it. For Andrea, she believes the important thing is to not ignore the symptoms because it leads to more stress.

Help Someone Who’s Grieving

When her parents passed, Andrea was working as an executive in hospice. Looking back, she believes she was placed in hospice for a reason. During bad days, she was able to pick up the phone and talk to a grief counselor at any time. She had people surrounding her every day who dealt with death, dying, and the grieving process. Because of her work, she had an abundance of resources to help her through her grief, which she believes is crucial for anyone dealing with loss. To find resources on your own, Andrea recommends Googling grief resources in your area and reaching out to the ones that fit your own preferences. Some people turn to books, some to social groups, and some need a counselor to talk to. However you grieve, she believes it is crucial that you have some resource to guide you in order to not lose yourself in the process.

Getting Through the Firsts

The year of firsts is the first full year after the passing of a loved one. It is the first time someone must go through birthdays, holidays, and events without their loved one present. Andrea stresses that the year of firsts is the hardest year, and if you know someone who has experienced loss, it is crucial to support them during this time. This can be through a text, a card or a phone call saying that you are there.  It’s important to recognize how hard it must be. These types of messages help people feel they are not alone in their grief, and that their loved ones have not been forgotten.

Finding Ways to Celebrate

Andrea works hard to set an example of what healthy grieving looks like for her two children. Along with exercise and introspection, she makes sure her late parents have a presence in her home and family traditions to celebrate them whenever possible. To recognize and celebrate her lost loved ones, Andrea keeps pictures hung around the house and lights candles for major holidays and birthdays.

Final Advice

At the end of the interview, we asked Andrea for her final words on advice for those of us who still have our parents. Her advice across the board is this: “If your phone rings, answer it.”

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