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Running with Grief

Updated: Oct 3, 2019

How exercise can help you through the stages of grief

We are talking more about mental health, which is a really good thing, and there seems to be a focus too around how exercise, (of any kind) can be good for your mental health and wellbeing.

So how does grief fit into this?

Grief affects people in so many different ways. There is no one size fits all way to get through grief.

There are many books and articles which describe the 7 stages of grief. The stages don’t flow in the way they are listed below, and just as you think you are at that upwards turn you can easily slip back into depression or be hit by waves of anger “why?”, “so young!”, “it’s not fair” – or in my case when I lost my father just 4 weeks after he had retired at the age of 65 - “there are murderers and paedophiles locked up in prison who are so much older than my dad, why couldn’t one of them be chosen to die?”

I lost my father 13 years ago to pancreatic cancer, and on the 14 August this year will be attending the funeral of his brother, Bill, who was taken by the same cruel disease. Words can not describe how these 2 amazing men fought to stay on this earth with their loved ones – that inner strength to not give up and just live for that very moment because it may have been their last was truly inspiring.

Since my dad passed away, I’ve taken up running, and that running bug has shifted from plodding around the streets trying to get to 5km, to being confident enough on my two feet to hit the trails.

Helford Passage

Last week I was in deepest rural Cornwall, in a place called Helford, and had the opportunity to get out most days to run a trail route along the Frenchman’s Creek (where Daphne Du Maurier set her famous book).

The opportunity to be running in some of the most glorious English countryside, gave me time to process my thoughts about losing my uncle, and there was a shift in my grief.

Running gave me space, nature gave me something to be thankful for, a beautiful distraction when my legs and my lungs were trying to get me uphill.

Earlier this year a friend, Celeste, recommended a book called ‘Your Brain on Nature’ by Eva Selhub. …Scientific studies have shown that natural environments can have remarkable benefits for human health. Natural environments are more likely to promote positive emotions, and viewing and walking in nature have been associated with heightened physical and mental energy. Nature has also been found to have a positive impact on children who have been diagnosed with impulsivity, hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorder.

In this book the authors examine not only the effects of nature on the brain, but also the influence of everyday technology on the brain, and how IT overload and its many distractions may even be changing it.

The book offers an antidote for the technology-addicted, the book outlines practical strategies for improving, mental health and physical well-being through ecotherapeutic (ecotherapy is the name given to a wide range of treatment programmes which aim to improve your mental and physical wellbeing through doing outdoor activities in nature), nutritional and behavioural means. A powerful wake-up call for our tech-immersed society, Your Brain on Nature examines the fascinating effects that exposure to nature can have on the brain.

The week of trail running allowed me to process how I felt about losing my uncle and as well as revisiting old thoughts about losing my dad. I wasn’t distracted by social media or the constant ‘ping’ of emails hitting my account. Instead I was distracted by complex tree roots, butterflies, swaths of wheat bending in the breeze, the changing shoreline and boats bobbing about on the moorings.

beautiful distractions

It is not until I have come back to the hustle and bustle of London that I can see the impact of those 40 minute runs, and also the impact of reading that book. Subconsciously I knew I needed to be amongst the trees, breathing in clean air, seeing new sights and allowing my emotions time to do what they needed to do.

Exercise and nature haven’t got me to the point of acceptance yet when it comes to grief and I am sure that my uncles funeral next week will bring about heightened emotions, however exercise and nature are now part of my coping strategy.

As a Personal Trainer my mission is to make people feel good about themselves.

When people feel good, the chances are they will make other positive decisions and choices about their life.

Exercise and nature make me feel good. I am still here, I am still living, and my father and uncle would want to know that I am making the most of each day in the best possible way I can – for me, nature and exercise has a massive part to play in keeping my mood positive and my mental health in a good place.

Exercise and nature can make me feel energised (hill sprints in Greenwich Park) or calm (a stroll by the sea). They can give me space, they can give me time, they can allow me to physically change the way my body is reacting to its surroundings and alter my mood.

So for me exercise is going to be my go-to coping strategy over the next few months, be it a walk in the park or a slippy wet trail run – either way I am going to let nature do its best to help me out of my grief.

If you don’t want to buy the book, then the Charity Mind have created a pdf about ecotherapy


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