Whether it's a breakup, death, or any other type of loss, there's a small part of every brokenhearted person—even in the earliest stages of grief—that asks, "What can I do?"
Here's an idea: Start running.
"The morning after I heard about my dad's death, I headed for my hill. It's my sanity," fitness instructor Shauna Harrison tells mbg. "I didn't go there to escape; I went there to deal. I run to be with myself in my own thoughts and to process. I cried and sweat (and almost threw up) as the emotions came up and came out."
Shauna isn't the only one with a story like this. Plenty of people (myself included) have turned to running as a way to cope with heartbreak. So I consulted two experts—psychiatrist Dr. Ellen Vora and psychologist Dr. Alice Domar—to find out why running is such an effective coping mechanism.
The truth about running and heartbreak
According to a 2010 study, when we experience heartbreak, our brain's response is similar to that of cocaine withdrawal. In other words, you need all the feel-good chemicals you can get. Alice and Ellen both recommend exercising regularly during times of heartbreak both to bust stress and release endorphins, and Alice notes why running is unique.
"Running tends to occupy your mind more thoroughly than other less intense forms of exercise," Alice says.
Plus, running really can give you a bit of a high—and every positive emotion counts during times of extreme sadness.
How much do you need to run?
Not a marathon runner? No big deal. "I don't go for hard and fast rules about the right amount to exercise," Ellen says. "The key is to listen to your body."
Alice cautions against overdoing it. "Running 30 to 60 minutes a day for five days should have a good impact on your mental distress," she notes. "Some people like to do more challenging runs, to push themselves."
If running isn't your thing, here are some other ideas
Running certainly shouldn't be your only form exercise while you're dealing with heartbreak, especially if it's not a form of exercise you especially enjoy.
"I'm always partial to yoga, since it helps put your body in a relaxation response and promotes mindfulness," says Ellen. "I think nothing compares to dancing to heal a broken heart. Do goofy dancing, or soulful dancing, or tribal dancing. Just turn up the music and dance."
What are you waiting for? Lace up those sneakers and get going. Or start goofy dancing. Whatever floats your boat.