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Walking Through Grief

April 24, 2015

 

When we find ourselves in a low, depressed place, it's good to get moving. For years I've espoused the benefits of physical activity for my clients who live with depression. And the research supports this: exercise releases chemicals called endorphins into the brain, which reduce the perception of pain. As little as 20-30 minutes three times per week is often enough to lift the mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and even act as a sedative.

 

Even though I've encouraged clients to exercise, I often found myself--during my own grief and depression--sitting in front of the television or lying in bed. The last thing I wanted to do was get up, get out, and get moving.

 

But one day after the holidays, a notoriously difficult time for people with mood disorders and those dealing with the loss of a loved one, I finally got fed up with my own misery. I got up and got outside. I breathed in the brisk air. I walked down the block. And then, I just kept walking. Crying and walking. Praying and walking. I didn't want my husband to join me, didn't want a friend. I just wanted to walk in solitude as far and as long as I could, so I could feel something different. Something else besides hopelessness and pain.

 

The walks continued, and soon I was prioritizing daily walks over just about everything else in my life. When I felt anger or hurt, I walked so fast I was almost running. When I felt sadness or fatigue, I strolled through my neighborhood. I felt best when my feet were touching the ground. Always I made myself pay close attention to the colors in the sky, the textures of different trees, and the sound of Canadian geese overhead. I felt more connected to nature and to the divine than at any other time in my life. And slowly, I began to emerge from the fog I'd been living in for several months. I slept peacefully. I looked forward to something again -- the simple act of walking. I began to sort through my grief, and I discovered hope again.

 

"How can you explain that you need to know that the trees are still there, and the hills and the sky? Anyone knows they are. How can you say it is time your pulse responded to another rhythm, the rhythm of the day and the season instead of the hour and the minute? No, you cannot explain. So you walk." ~Author unknown, 1967.

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