Walking Your Way Out of Grief

You’re grieving now, feeling lost, alone, helpless, and depressed. I understand some of your feelings. Six years ago, my elder daughter and father-in-law died the same weekend. My husband and I felt crushed by grief and we sat on the couch and sobbed for weeks. Finally, our sobs waned and we went for a walk in the neighborhood.

Walking felt good after sitting so long. My husband and I kept walking. Though we didn’t walk daily, we walked regularly, several times a week. While we were walking, we talked about our loved ones and how grief had changed us. As the days passed, we walked more. I developed a new understanding of the benefits of walking.

I understand these benefits because I’ve lived them. Several weeks ago, I finished a women’s book about walking for heart health. While I was writing the book, I thought about how walking helped me cope with grief. Walking was an antidote to grief, changing my body and mind. Today I am a walking advocate.

Mayo Clinic details the emotional benefits of walking in a website article, “Exercise: 7 Benefits of Regular Physical Activity.” Exercise improves your mood, according to Mayo. Physical activity releases chemicals in the brain that make you feel happier and more relaxed. Regular physical activity makes your heart and lungs work more efficiently, which gives you more energy.

WebMD makes a similar case in its article, “Exercise and Depression.” Endorphins are released in the brain when you exercise, the article explains, and this changes your perception of pain. “Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body,” the article says. Other benefits of physical activity include stress reduction, combatting depression, and a better night’s sleep.

I have received all of these benefits. Eight years ago, I was on a regular walking program and kept at it for years. But two more family members died and my husband and I became guardians of our twin grandchildren. Multiple losses, raising teenagers, and the physical ailments that come with aging, brought my walking program to a half. Consequently, I put on weight.

The day finally came when I broke out of the fog and reclaimed responsibility for my physical and emotional health.

Ask me about fitness, and I’ll launch into a detailed story about my walking program. Walking is the easiest and cheapest form of physical activity. You don’t need pricey equipment and already know how to do it. When you’re feeling down, climb on a treadmill or walk in your neighborhood. Check with your doctor, however, before you begin a walking program.

Your walks can be meditations. What is a walking meditation? Dr. Kelly McGonigal defines it in her Psychology Today website article, “Walking Meditation: The Perfect 10-Minute Willpower Boost.” You start by walking at a rate that increases your heart rate slightly, she explains. Next, you focus on your breathing and your feet connecting with the ground. Then you shift your mind to “a state of open awareness.”

I’ve been in this state, and it isn’t the same as daydreaming. When you’re in open awareness, you pay attention to what you see, hear, smell, taste and touch. I’m also aware of balance and moving forward. If I can walk several blocks or a mile, I can move forward with life. You can too.

Grief is a solitary journey and, though people help you, nobody can grieve for you. How can you cope with grief? I recommend walking. Keep walking day after day and you’ll notice a change in mood. Life won’t seem as bleak and your spirits will lift. You may think of all the things your loved one brought to your life and treasure every one.

With persistence, healthy eating, and grief work, you can walk out of the darkness to the bright life that awaits you. Life can be good again.

Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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