When Loss Strikes Hard – Exercise Can Help

When Loss Strikes Hard – Exercise Can Help

True Examples of Women who’ve lost something dear to them and used exercise as a way of coping.

Losing something or someone close to us is almost certainly going to happen to everyone at some stage.  As we listen to the news, more British Soldiers have been killed serving in Afghanistan.  All of them will be leaving families, loved ones, colleagues and friends behind.  All of those affected will somehow now have to come to terms with their loss, live with their grief and find a way of coping with the enormous void left by those never to return.  And we may hear of those with near fatal injuries, others with a terminal illness, or a life threatening condition, and hear the words of shocked families whose lives have literally been torn apart by sudden life-changing situations.  Yet amongst all this tragedy, we nearly always also hear messages of hope, resilience and determination in the voices of those affected, and support from those who want to help.  And we also hear of the enormous courage and achievements of those struck down by loss and how sometimes the worst news can spur us on to great things.  And those great things often evolve around some form of exercise and associated challenge.

On a personal level, I know many women whose lives have been turned upside down by the loss of something dear to them.   Some have lost their health, some a loved one and some have lost something much less tangible, namely their self-confidence. 

Whether its bereavement, redundancy, divorce or illness, perhaps it’s a relationship that’s finished, a child who’s left home or a phase of life that’s ended, loss usually hits hard.  It takes its toll and there’s no easy fix.  Mostly we heal through time, sometimes we don’t.  I know women who’ve lost a loved one in tragic circumstances and who tell me they will never come to terms with it:  Mums diagnosed with Cancer at a young age, and who are scared at what lies ahead:  Women whose partners left them with no warning and whose aggressive behaviour they now don’t recognise:  Women who’ve lost their jobs whilst on maternity, or having gone back part-time.  And to make things worse, often women who’ve suffered this type of loss then find an additional loss sets in, namely losing their identity, self-belief and pride. 

The good news however, is that many of these women, far from allowing their loss to totally dominate their lives, have fought back.  I’ve watched people transform from tragedy, disbelief, self-denial and grief to finding hope again and a sense of purpose.  And mostly I’ve seen this happen in association with exercise…..

From being diagnosed with malignant Breast Cancer, undergoing a mastectomy and chemo, one lady completed a long distance fund raising walk for charity half way through her treatment.  She is now cured and on the mend.

Having lost a child in a tragic accident, a colleague learnt to channel her insurmountable grief into exercise.  Starting with a short walk, she then turned to trail running to help her find some purpose in life again.  And whilst a parent will most probably never fully recover from the loss of a child, exercise can certainly help alleviate the pain.  And every time this person finds a new set of hills to explore, or trains with the boxing gloves and pads, it helps just a little with the anger, hurt and emotional torture of grieving for a lost son or daughter.

Through being made redundant for a third time, a close friend lost all self belief.  Unable to trust colleagues, corporations or indeed herself, she lost all confidence in her own abilities.  The easy thing would have been to give up, turn to comfort food and stop trying.  The brave thing was to get back out there again.  And several Marathons later, she now has an even better role than before, working very successfully for several years.

And when a Mother of four found her partner had walked out; insisting he got the house, the children and someone else too, the energy required to stand up to his crazed demands was daunting.  Yet, through building strength through exercise, this person managed to do just that.  Yes, some exercise sessions involved tears, sometimes it was hard to get going, but it’s amazing how hard you can train when you’re angry!

Of course exercise can’t change the diagnosis, it can’t bring back what you’ve lost, and it can’t necessarily alter the mindsets of others around you.  Yet it can provide an outlet for grief and anger.  It can give you a reason to value yourself, to carry on with the fight and to realise that although you may have lost the most important thing in your life, exercise can make you appreciate that your life still matters.  And if you remain strong, if you use exercise on any level as a way of coping with your highs, lows and all the range of emotions in between, then you will get through the darkest days.  And if you exercise with other people, you may even allow yourself to laugh again.


Annie Jacks



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