The Divorce Workout: Coping Through Movement

Exercise can force you to focus on yourself and be in the present moment, which is an important tool in dealing with loss.

For some of us, one of the most challenging times in our lives is a divorce. This heartbreaking event occurs with unfortunate frequency. Realizing that the marriage is not working out and that it must come to an end is nothing short of devastating. No longer having a partner in your life is just one factor. There is also a whole lifestyle change, getting thrown out of your routine, struggling with finances, and dealing with custody issues. The whole situation is nothing short of a nightmare. Adjusting to your new reality can tip some people over the edge, if these changes are not managed and processed the right way.

My ex-husband and I had children together, ran a business together, and owned joint property. We were completely tied together on all levels. My family lives in Australia while I am in the States, which means I have endured this process of divorce mostly on my own. I have become a single mother with two little girls, rebuilding a business from scratch with no family around me and very little support. So how have I gotten through it?

Coping Strategies After a Divorce

Move Forward Every Day

When you are at the lowest of the lows, it is very hard to keep moving forward. Everything sucks. But time keeps on going, so moving forward is the only option. You can choose to create a better future for yourself with your new opportunity, or you can stay stuck in the past and miserable. Take it day by day. Set small goals for yourself. Today, make time to catch up with an old friend. Tomorrow, aim go to the gym. The following day, aim do a meditation.

Seek Positivity

I always tried to put a positive spin on everything when going through this process. Every coin has two sides, so focus on the positive aspect of any given situation to make your life a bit easier. For example, finances might be strained, but that may be a good opportunity for you to embark on a new project. You may have more time on your hands, so instead of moping around feeling lonely, go to the gym or enroll in a martial arts class. Focus on the small things, such as a sunny day or a good meal, and remember to always be thankful for the things that you do have or for the things that are working out.

Process Your Emotions

During a divorce, we go through the process of grieving. They say there are seven stages of grieving after the end of a relationship: disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and finally acceptance. No one wants to feel all of those negative emotions, but these are the reality of dealing with divorce, grief, and loss. Honoring all the emotions that come your way is a much healthier approach than trying to suppress them. Allow yourself to feel everything. Acknowledging all these feelings and working through them allows us to move forward. Repressing emotions is living in a state of denial, which makes it impossible to move forward. Dwelling on emotions and situations leaves you stuck in a sad, angry state that is not healthy for your mind, body, and spirit.

I found that going for long walks with my favorite music was a good way for me to process everything. I dealt with my anger by putting it all out on the mat in my BJJ classes. Doing something physical, whether hiking a very steep mountain, lifting super heavy weights, or punching the crap out of something (ideally a punching bag) is a wonderful outlet for the negative emotions like anger.

Focus on You

Make this the time to focus on yourself. Do all the things you wanted to do, but couldn’t when you were married. Do things that make you happy. Catch up with friends. Go get your hair done. Travel. Go to the gym. Enter a competition. Read a great book. I found it really helpful to write a bucket list and systematically check things off. Once I had done something on my list, the sense of achievement made me feel better.

The Miracle of Exercise and Dealing With Loss

Whether your goal is to take it day by day, do something for yourself, or create an outlet for the negative emotions, a workout is a great solution. When you work out, you are focusing on you. You are putting in the time to make yourself stronger, fitter, more toned, more skilled, or whatever your own personal reasons for working out are.

Exercising also releases endorphins, a.k.a. ‘feel good hormones,’ which will help lift your mood. How many times have you dragged yourself to the gym, only to leave with a spring in your step because you feel so alive?

Exercise, especially more intense exercise, requires focus that puts you in the present moment. You are focused entirely on the task at hand. You can’t think about anything else when you’re trying to not get choked out (for all those BJJ enthusiasts), or pump out those last few reps of heavy squats, or make it to the top of that hill, or perform a particularly challenging movement pattern. You must be in the present moment. The beauty of this state is that there is no past to grieve and no future to worry about. There is only you and the task, for that moment, everything is okay.

The ‘Be Here Now’ Workout

The following are some exercises that are very good to get you in the present moment. They require strength, balance, and coordination. In order to execute them properly, you must focus on them 100%. I have listed them in order of least difficult to the most difficult.

Arm and Leg Extensions

This movement requires balance and core strength to execute without toppling over. Begin on your hands and knees, with your wrists in line with your shoulders and your knees in line with your hips. Raise one arm and raise your leg on the same side. Repeat for 10 reps each side.

See-Saws With Dumbbells

This exercise primarily works the hamstrings, but also the lower back and the glutes. The challenge lies in the balance and the flexibility. A lot of foot stability is required. Try to keep a straight shape from head to toe the whole time. Allow the dumbbells to gently touch the floor before raising your head. Aim for 10-15 reps each leg.

Physio Ball Push Ups

This is a nice variation to standard push ups. Lowering your chest down to the ball requires a lot of upper body stability as well as core strength. For an extra challenge, try raising one leg while you perform the push up. Always try to keep a straight shape from head to toe. Aim to do 10 each leg.

Running Man on Physio Ball

This exercise works primarily the transverse abs and the hip flexors. The lats also are working overtime to balance and support, while the weight distribution is through one leg at a time which requires balance. Keep your shoulders in line with your wrists and your butt down the whole time. When you bring the ball into your chest with one leg, the other leg extends to create a running motion. This also requires co-ordination. Beginners can work with both feet together. Aim to do 10 reps each leg.

Single-Leg Squats

Single-leg squats are one of the most challenging bodyweight exercises around. They not only require a lot of leg strength, but also core strength and balance. Try to squat all the way down with your butt to your heel and a flat foot. Beginners can put their hand on the wall for stability. Aim to do 8-10 each leg.

V Snaps With Physio Ball

This abdominal/hip flexor exercise is very advanced, and requires a lot of concentration in order to balance and effectively transfer the ball from the hands to the feet. When you bring your upper body up, raise your legs and pass the ball to your feet. Lower your body down flat, and then sit up again to pass the ball back to your hands. Beginners can work with bent legs and pass the ball to their knees instead of their feet. Aim to do 10 – 15 reps.

Move Your Body to Heal Your Mind

Divorce is no fun for anyone. It is a particularly testing time since there is loss on so many fronts. But with the right mindset and coping strategies, you can get through it. Remember to take it day by day, stay positive, allow yourself to process the emotions and then let them go. Make time to focus on you.

Exercising is one of the best coping strategies when dealing with divorce. For some, getting outside and power walking to your favorite music is good therapy. For others, getting into an MMA gym and beating the crap out of a punching bag is a better option. Either way, the key is to get your body moving, release those endorphins and be in the present moment. When you are in the present moment and not wondering about the past and worrying about the future, everything is okay. Exercise helps shift your perspective and puts you in a happier place, which is what we are all striving for.

What priorities will you demonstrate to your kids?

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