Guest Post – Bob Livingstone, When Tragedy Strikes: Moving Your Body, The First Step Towards Healing Emotional Pain

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stressWe will all encounter tragedy in our lives. Crises can be abrupt or take place over a lengthily period of time. We will all experience the death of a loved one. Many of us have faced the turmoil of divorce. You may have suddenly been laid off from a job you treasure. There are those of us who have lost long term friendships due to a misunderstanding.

All of these tragedies dramatically change lives. Finding yourself alternating between a state of shock, hopelessness and abject fear are common experiences for all these crises.

It is also common to have no other desires but to lay on the couch and be swallowed up by the cushions It is part of the normal grief process to feel numb, depressed and frightened during the initial stages of loss. Eventually you feel that it is time to move on to the next stage, what ever it is.

The question is: What is the next step and how do you get to it?

The answer to the first part of the question is: MOVING YOUR BODY.

kidsexerciseThere is a ton of research that indicates that physical exercise improves your physical health, decreases feelings of depression and anxiety, improves self-esteem, reduces stress and increases mental and physical strength. Some studies indicate that your endorphins can kick in after only fifteen minutes of exercise and at the point you can experience a sense of well being.

Exercising is certainly a healthy way to deal with tragedy and loss. A short walk, run, bike ride or other aerobic activity will help you face and work through trauma.

What is going to help me get off the couch and into an exercise program?

1. Become aware that it is normal to be depressed and non-active immediately after a crisis occurs. This understanding will allow you to be sedentary without feeling guilty during the initial stages of grief.

2. You will eventually reach the point where a voice in your head will inform you that it is time to do something else rather than laying around when you are not at work or actively parenting. Pay attention to this voice, don’t ignore it or push it away. Make an appointment with your physician to determine if it is safe for you to exercise.

3. Repeat these words throughout the day: “Exercise will help me get through this horrible time. It will put me in a better state of mind where I will be able to get through the pain. Moving my body will enable me to feel good about myself and eventually improve the quality of my life.”

Choose an activity that you feel that you can do on a regular basis.

4. Choose an activity that you feel that you can do on a regular basis. Some of you may not have exercised for years. Others may never have worked out. If you are not sure what to do, begin walking. You can do this in your neighborhood and it does not require any equipment other than good shoes. Begin short and slow. When you start exercising, create a realistic goal such as walking for fifteen minutes at a slow pace. You can gradually increase your speed and distance as you go along.

5. Become self aware as you are exercising. Ask yourself: How does my body feel? What is my breathing like? What am I thinking and feeling about?

Once you experience positive results, you will be motivated to continue a regular exercise program. Moving your body is a safe, productive means to deal with tragedy. The pain you are experiencing can move out of your head and into your body. You can feel the anguish gradually leave as sweat pours through your skin and mixes in with the tears falling down your face. You can discover this new way of letting go.

Bob Livingstone is the author the critically acclaimed Unchain the Pain: How to be Your Own Therapist, Norlights Press 2011, The Body Mind Soul Solution: Healing Emotional Pain through Exercise, Pegasus Books, 2007 and Redemption of the Shattered: A Teenager’s Healing Journey through Sandtray Therapy, Booklocker 2002. He is a psychotherapist, licensed clinical social worker in private practice in The San Francisco Bay Area and has nearly twenty five years experience working with adults, adolescents and children.