Don’t Let Exercise Be Your Only Coping Mechanism

Me, using exercise, along with other activities, as a coping mechanism

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I had to make one of the most difficult decisions ever: We chose to say goodbye to our sweet little 12-year-old Pomeranian, Rey. She was very sick and her quality of life had diminished in a major way, to the point where she couldn’t go for walks, play, or do any of the things she loved. Needless to say, we haven’t been feeling great lately, and it’s taken a lot more energy for us to just take care of the basics every day. In the past, exercise has always been my primary coping mechanism during difficult periods. Right now, though, it hasn’t been a priority at all.

I was thinking about this the other day because I realized that I’d worked out a total of two times in the last two weeks. This got me thinking about how I’ve used exercise to cope with stress/difficult emotions in the past and how this period of life is different. That, in turn, got me thinking about how it’s important to have other tools in your tool kit besides exercise that you can turn to when life gets tough, and this post was born.

I’m Not Anti-Exercise

Now, I first want to say that I think exercise is a great coping mechanism. It provides you with some lovely endorphins so you don’t shoot your husband, it can help you get better sleep, and it just gives you a chance to tune out your stressors for a bit and just focus on the exercises in your program.

For the last couple of weeks, though, exercising has just felt like the last thing I wanted to do. For a while, I was barely sleeping at night (thankfully, sleep has improved at this point), so I was waking up exhausted and just didn’t have the bandwidth to do anything outside of walking and a little mobility work most days.

I could have worked out still while feeling this way, but it really wouldn’t have been in my best interests. I know my body, I know that I already have some issues with hormone imbalances, and I know that pushing myself through a workout when I barely had the energy to keep my eyes open would not have been smart.

I wasn’t in a position to exercise to deal with my stress and sadness, so I had to turn to other things. If you’re in a position where you need to work through something difficult and exercise isn’t an option or isn’t calling to you, I wanted to share some other strategies you can turn to instead.

Time Outdoors

Spending time outside has been one of the most beneficial thing for us over the last few weeks. The great thing about having a dog is that you have to go outside at least once a day to take them for a walk.

Now that we don’t have Rey anymore, we have to be intentional about getting out and getting some fresh air. It’s been 100% worth the effort to do so, though. We’ve done more hiking than we did before (Rey couldn’t really handle hikes, what with being 5 pounds and having congestive heart failure) and have seen some great parts of our area that we didn’t know about (including a trail that’s right in our backyard), even though we’ve lived here for over 2 years.

I’ve always been a firm believer in the power of disconnecting and spending time in nature, but I’m even more of a believer now. Leaving the house and exploring new places has been incredible for our mental and physical health, and I don’t see us dropping this coping mechanism anytime soon, even as I start feeling good enough to add more structured workouts back into my routine.

Journaling

Writing has always been a go-to for me when I need to process things, and I’ve naturally gravitated to it during this stressful time. It’s helped a lot to put my thoughts down on paper, work through what I’m feeling, and remind myself that things will get better.

I don’t follow any kind of structure when I’m journaling. I just write about what I’m feeling and stop when I feel like it’s been long enough. It might be five minutes or a half hour; it just depends on the day and how things are going.

Mindfulness

I haven’t made it a secret around here that I love meditation. I’ve been doing a lot of meditation and breathwork over the last few weeks, and it’s helped me manage my anxiety and focus more on the present moment. Insight Timer is still my favorite app for meditation, and I recommend checking out the 10 Percent Happier podcast as well if you want to learn more about it.

Watching TV/Movies

TV, especially reality TV, was already saving me during the pandemic, but it’s been even more important to my husband and me recently. It gives us a break, allows us to escape and laugh at other people’s dumb decisions, and just chill for a while. We’ve been trying to supplement our trash TV with some media that’s a bit more substantive, though, and we’ve watched some great movies, including Blindspotting, which I highly recommend.

Cooking/Baking

You know how everyone started making their own sourdough and banana bread once lockdown started? We bypassed that trend, but since we lost Rey, we’ve been doing our own baking from scratch as a coping mechanism to help us get through the day.

We discovered the deliciousness that is homemade pizza cooked on the grill last week and, after experimenting with store-bought dough and sauce, we decided to make our own and are obsessed with it (we use this recipe). We’ve also been making tons of delicious grilled chicken and homemade French fries in the air fryer.

Keeping Small Promises

Finally, I’ve been making an effort to keep at least one small promise to myself every day. It might be doing a 10-minute workout, spending time outside, doing a chore around the house, or anything that helps me to feel a little more normal and grounded.

Even on days when I’m spiraling and am struggling a lot, it helps to know I at least had the discipline to do one little thing. Once I’ve done that, I often then feel empowered to take on another, slightly bigger thing later.

What’s Your Favorite Non-Exercise Coping Mechanism?

Once again, just to be clear, I’m totally down with exercising to manage stress or help myself stay sane during a difficult time. Working out isn’t always an option, though, or the best tool to handle a specific problem. That’s why it’s important to have other coping mechanisms you can turn to when exercise won’t cut it.

What are your non-exercise coping mechanisms? Comment below and let me know.

Also, if you have any tips on how to deal with losing a pet, I’d love to hear them. I’ve never been in this position before and, to be frank, it’s not going well. All advice is welcome; thank you in advance.

4 thoughts on “Don’t Let Exercise Be Your Only Coping Mechanism

  1. David Earley says:

    Oh no! I’m so sorry you lost your pup. That’s really depressing. My girl is three, she’s my first dog and I can’t even fathom the day. My wife says she would go right out and adopt another dog to get my mind right. I have no idea how I would feel about that, but I know it will be a terrible time.

    I would probably go out and hike as well because that’s our favorite activity to do together. Abbey walks everyday. Sometimes she does a hike and a walk in the same day. It gets her right in the zone. You mentioned the need to walk a dog everyday. I don’t know how many people actually do that. My wife seems to think not a lot of dogs get that much activity, and then pulls the “spoiled” card out on Miss Abbey.

    I can’t give you any advice from personal experience, but it sounds like your dog lived a good life and that was thanks to you guys. Every dog doesn’t get to go to an active, or caring home, but yours did. She lived 12 years with a great family until time was up. We don’t like to think about time being up, but it’s in every future. Yes, I’m definitely pushing the thought of my dog’s time being up to the furthest corner.

    I hope you get your workout routine/motivation back soon, and it’s good to hear you found some new and exciting opportunities! I’ve been doing homemade pizza for awhile now because I just can’t stand all of the half-cooked gallons of cheese and crust out there. I do baked chicken with a pesto spread over the thinest crust imaginable. Then I cook that stuff until golden brown and it comes out delicious.

    Haven’t heard of that movie before, but will try and check it out later… Do you workout at home, or have you been trying to do a gym return?

    1. Natalie Thongrit, CPT says:

      Thank you so much 🙂 It’s been a challenging couple of months for sure, but we’re doing a lot better than we were. I think a lot of dogs get less activity a daily walk, at least based on what I hear from other owners, but I definitely think giving Rey as much exercise as we did helped keep her healthy longer. Keep giving Miss Abbey those extra walks!:)

      I need to try a chicken and pesto pizza — that sounds delicious! I’m still working out at home. We’ve been working on (slowly) building our own gym in the garage, so I’m just making do with my kettlebells and bands for now. Have you made a return to the gym since things have started reopening?

      1. David Earley says:

        Don’t worry, Abbey never fails to let us know when it’s time to walk! Lately she’s been coming in from the backyard and trotting to the front door as if it were time to go somewhere. It’s just too hot right now. I can’t wait for it to cool down just a bit. She doesn’t mind the heat, but I’m not about to risk heat exhaustion.

        If there were a way to add pics I could show you the pesto pizza. I’m pretty much pesto obsessed. I eat that stuff on pasta, sandwiches, rice, eggs and all kinds of things as a sauce. I think it’s best on pizza though, with the right ingredients.

        I workout at home as well. Haven’t exercised at a gym for about two years (excluding hotel gyms) and that was mostly because I trained a few clients there. I’ve seen pics of people working out with masks and gloves, and of course the risk is much higher – I just can’t do it. We just made a move a few towns down the road.

        I ordered a squat rack from Amazon (Fitness Reality Power Cage) which has surprisingly been in stock. It’s hot out there right now, even with the insulation I put on the door and a fan running, but it is what it is. I sprayed the posts orange, and it works great. I had to sell my old one several years ago prior to a move, and have been missing it ever since. Consequently, my leg strength took a serious decline.

        But hey, kettlebells are great too. Most people prefer swings, but you can do any exercise with those. I’ve been contemplating getting a new set of resistance bands and taking them out on the trails to see what I can come up with…

        1. Natalie Thongrit, CPT says:

          That looks like a good squat rack. I want to get something simple like that for our garage at some point because I do miss heavy squatting and deadlifting. I’m content with kettlebelling it for now, though 🙂

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