August 2, 2021
Hmmm … I hadn’t really considered how the two might be connected at that point in my grief journey. After my mom died in late 2012, and my body began sending non-stop signals in the form of headaches and ‘random’ numbness in my lower body. For example, I remember attempting to get out of my car, and when I turned to put my foot down after opening my the door, I had no feeling in my left leg. On another occasion, I experienced the most excruciating headache, after which I visited my doctor, who politely informed me that nothing was wrong.
My therapist’s question intrigued me. In addition, I found myself willing to try just about ANYTHING to feel better.
I remembered that I’d been an athlete in middle and high school and considered myself to be physically fit in my 20s and 30s. It wasn’t uncommon to see me signing up for half marathons and marathons, walking 25,000 steps a day, and jogging through the streets of Los Angeles.
My mom’s death forced me to confront the reality that my body needed attention that I hadn’t given in up to that point. But how was it that my emotions had become so intertwined with my body?
Believe it or not, this is a common phenomenon throughout the grief process. And it makes perfect sense. The sheer degree of stress associated with grief creates a cascade of instabilities within the body, even at a cellular level. When I coupled this with day-to-day stress related to being a Black woman in this society, I can now see why my body began to shut down.
For example, two researchers explored the potential integration of movement and dance therapies among children who’ve experienced the loss of a caregiver (see https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10465-017-9260-6). Another recent study noted benefits of physical exercise as a means of improving grief outcomes (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8028581/).
So we have some data to support the impact of grief on the body. An important question remains, however. What do we actually do to stay physically active as a way of managing grief? Here are few ideas from my own grief journey.
If you haven’t done this quite yet, what are some ways that you might begin to move your body?
As a gentle reminder, grief is not solely an emotional response to loss. It’s a complex interplay of our emotions, our spiritual selves, and our physical bodies. And I’m convinced that as we focus more attention on movement, we can help shift and align all three as we continue to grieve.
As always, I’d love to hear from you.
Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.
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