Heartbreak can come in many forms.

From the end of a relationship to the loss of a member of the family, even losing a family pet can bring heartbreak.

When we experience an event that breaks our heart we go through what’s known as The Five Stages of Grief.

Grieving in 5 stages

The 5 stages are described below, and during this period you may find that you manage each emotion differently. Some emotionally eat, others use the gym as a way to manage their feelings. I’ll explore this further on.

Denial

This helps us survive the event, we just simply don’t believe it’s actually happened. We go into a state of shock and numbness as we digest what’s actually happened. This is actually the start of the healing process.

Anger

Stage 2 is anger, this can be a tricky one to handle when it’s associated with death. You may find yourself angry at them for no reason, or just angry at people around you. You may find yourself lashing out and not really understanding why. It’s important to not suppress this, just let it out but be aware that’s it’s a natural part of the grieving process.

Bargaining

This is an interesting time during the process, you are likely to find yourself asking ‘what if’ questions. ‘What if I had gone round maybe this wouldn’t have happened.’ ‘What if I hadn’t done X maybe Y would’ve happened’. ‘What if I change, will X happen?’ This again is perfectly normal, although you may wonder where your thoughts are coming from in this stage.

Depression

The point where we feel the emptiness of space, the sadness kicks in. Wondering what the point of it all is. Again it’s important to let these feelings out, and not to suppress them. Suppressing them and trying to ‘get on with it’ is what often causes issues later on and it has even been suggested that suppressed emotions manifest as illness later in life. So allow the feelings to flow.

It’s important to note that these stages aren’t necessarily linear. One emotion could last moments and then you find yourself in another stage, but eventually, you get to the acceptance stage and that’s when you know you’re finally coming through your grief.

Acceptance

You don’t have to be ‘ok’ with the situation but you accept it’s happened and find a way to move on with your life. We re-assess relationships, our role in the world, how we manage things going forward but the important things is we have learnt something from the grief and carry on with our lives no matter how tough the event was.

So where does Bodybuilding Come in?

How exactly do you manage your emotions whilst you’re going through this process? Many of us are emotional eaters for instance, making ourselves feel better by eating food that makes us temporarily feel good. Unfortunately what tends to happen is that is then followed by a stage of feeling guilty for having eaten something we probably shouldn’t have, and then the response is to eat again and repeat the cycle of eating and guilt!

Obviously not where you want to be ideally! However, I believe that if that’s how we deal with emotions, then for a short period of time it is ok to do this. To not beat yourself up for eating badly during tough times in life, but to simply accept where we are and how we are coping, be conscious of it and move on when we are ready.

The other way to deal with grief is through pain. Bizarre as it may sound, many bodybuilders enjoy the feeling of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) – that ache you get in your muscles after you train, because it’s a sign you have trained hard enough. By focusing on the physical pain it actually helps the brain to temporarily ignore the emotional pain during the grieving process, it’s a distraction with a huge beneficial result at the end.

Training as a healer

Whilst you’re in the gym, training, temporarily distracting yourself from the emotional pain, what inevitably happens is the exercise actually also produces endorphins too – so a happy chemical gets released into your brain during a tough time, surely that’s only a good thing!

And of course the more you show up, train and start to take care of your physical body and feel physically better, it begins to impact your mood and your body. Within a short period of time you may find yourself having lost excess weight, or gained strength, sleeping better, able to deal with issues better, having more mental clarity and a more positive outlook on life.

Personal experience

I am both an emotional eater and a bodybuilder. I often find my default is to emotionally eat or drink, but a few years ago after a particularly stressful breakup I said to myself ‘enough is enough’ with the emotional eating and instead found myself in the gym at midnight training instead. Now, this may sound extreme, but it was my coping mechanism for my grief. The outcome, I lost 40lbs in fat and was ready to compete in my first bikini competition. My ex-wanted me to come back and whilst I would’ve done anything for him just a few months before, I was proud that I no longer needed him and was pursuing a lifelong dream instead. And had attention from men who were far more suited to me.

Needless to say this was an experience that became a turning point in my life, and whilst I cannot guarantee that when the next heartbreaking event happens in my life I will be hitting the gym, I hope that the memory of how happy I was at the end of my grief will spur me to the dumbbell rather than the doughnuts!

This post is written in memory to one of the girls in my Group who recently suffered a heartbreaking event.