Healing Emotional Pain with Exercise

We all have read so much about the benefits of exercise and know how it is beneficial for our physical and mental health. Depressed and anxious people are offered counseling to improve their mood and one of the suggestions is to add an exercise regimen in their schedule. The holistic view of treating anxiety and depression, takes into consideration the role of exercise and how it affects mood. People, who have endured grief, loss, trauma, neglect, and abuse, carry an emotional pain and this pain can be significantly reduced with exercise.

According to Bob Livingstone, author of the book, The Mind-Body-Soul Solution, there are several types of emotional pain:

Stuck Grief

Loss of a loved one

The teenager within

The anger that hurts those you love

The Ancestors Anguish

In order to heal from emotional pain, it is crucial to first investigate your emotional pain. For example, the source of the pain could be due to having an absent father who was also abusive, or neglect by the mother, abandonment by parental figure, placement in foster care home, child rearing by neglectful and authoritarian step mother. When the care givers are totally uninvolved in the emotional development of the child, the child grows up with insecurity and feelings of inadequacy, which further leads to anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and mood swings. If the person utilizes exercise along with self questioning, it will be possible to heal the emotional pain. For example, if you are dealing with stuck grief, the following questions will be appropriate to ask:

What does stuck grief feel like? Why is it so hard to resolve? Does listening to music while exercising help break through this emotionally constipated feeling? What memories does music stimulate? Am I angry with someone? What for? How does it feel to have been abandoned? Am I angry about what happened?

(The above questions are directly taken from the book, The Body-Mind-Soul Solution Healing Emotional Pain through Exercise, by Bob Livingston)

As you ask these questions while you are exercising, you gain an insight into answers and this helps process your stuck grief and also reduce the emotional pain associated with it.

Physical exercise helps increase self esteem, mental and physical strength, improves mood, reduces stress and facilitates better physical health. It reduces the risk of dying prematurely and also helps with the weight loss. The brain neurotransmitters play an integral role in promoting better healing of the emotional pain. The three neurotransmitters are known as Endorphin  Serotonin, and Norepinephrine, which are produced when we do physical exercises.

When we do a workout, we get a rush of endorphin  which helps in alleviating our pain and also produce euphoria. They can also lower our blood pressure and suppress appetite. They are the natural pain relievers and have the potential to provide the pain relieving power of pain medications, according to Dr. Edward Laskowski, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist and co-director of the Sports Medicine Center at Mayo clinic. There are lots of studies to support this view point in the literature.

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that adjusts mood, sleep, and appetite. Depression is caused by the deficiency of serotonin. When we do exercise, the levels of serotonin are increased in the brain and this helps reduce symptoms of depression. Antidepressants like Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft , Cymbalta, are prescribed to increase the production of Serotonin and reduce symptoms of depression.

Norepinephrine is a transmitter involved in our body’s reaction to stress. When we exercise, we facilitate the activation of the locus coeruleus region of the brain, which connects most of the brain regions involved in emotional and stress responses. The chemical tends to play a major role in modulating the action of other neurotransmitters that play a direct role in the stress response, according to the American Psychological Association.

Many studies have confirmed that the exercise reduces anxiety and improve mood. When the two groups: sedentary and exercise were compared, it was found that the active group reported a greater sense of general well being and less anxiety than the sedentary group. Exercise is now being prescribed in clinical settings to help treat anxiety and depression. There is a decrement in electrical activity of tensed muscles following a session of exercise. Some studies found that exercise is as helpful for treating depression as medication. Thirty minutes of brisk walk, three times per week, is as effective as drug therapy in treating depression in the short term. In the long term, continued exercise reduces the possibility of relapse of the symptoms.

Exercise also helps reduce stress. Stress can manifest itself in stomach cramps, neck, shoulder aches, headaches, and other physical discomforts. When the person feels pressured, stress is initially experienced in the brain, which releases adrenalin, Cortisol, and other hormones. When these hormones are released, we begin to feel the stress and they serve as a precursor to uncomfortable or emotionally painful episodes. When we exercise, it not only makes us feel better but it also changes the way our body responds to Cortisol. It is interesting to know that the health effects of the brain’s neurotransmitters— endorphin, serotonin, and Norepinephrine- counteract the stress hormone, Cortisol, during exercise. Emotional stress can cause heart attacks and may increase the risk of cardiac arrest and also lead to strokes. When we exercise, it reduces emotional and physical stress, as well. High blood pressure is often caused by lack of exercise and living in too much stress. However, exercise can reduce high blood pressure for people experiencing high levels of stress.

In order to get rid of the emotional pain, you need to investigate the source of your pain by asking questions. Once you get your answers, you will develop new insights about your emotional pain. You will also find new ways to resolve what is troubling you. You will also develop an ability to face emotional pain without distraction. When you focus on your emotional pain during exercise, you can speed up the healing process. Sometimes, the fear when you begin to concentrate becomes an obstacle in healing the pain, however, when you are exercising, there are certain changes that take place in your brain chemistry and they enable you to overcome the fear of facing your personal trauma. The anxiety suddenly vanishes and it becomes easier to focus on the origins and memories of emotional pain.

It has also been found that when you exercise, you develop a capacity to experience anger and sadness fully. Because we tend to bury our anger and sadness and express them in abusive fashion, our encounters with anger and sadness are brief. However, when you ask questions about your emotional pain and exercise, you will be able to feel the sadness and anger in an uninterrupted way. You will be able to feel the sadness and anger and will let go of these emotions as you increase the pace of your workout. You will be able to reason your rage better when you exercise regularly.

When you try to deal with emotional pain through exercise, you will also develop a capacity to find your wisdom and listen to your Wise Mind. As you let go of your emotional pain, you will begin to sense your higher self and this will help you access the place inside you and you will enter your personal place of wisdom. You will be able to hear your higher voice. When you feel confused, you can visit this place. When you pay attention to your inner voice, you can trust that it is speaking the truth. You will be able to trust and accept it. You will surrender to your truth and no longer question who has hurt you and what is responsible for your hurting. You will no longer struggle with these thoughts internally.

It is also advisable to use imagination and visualization when you are exercising, to reduce your emotional pain. When you visualize and script a bad memory, it becomes an effective mode of healing emotional pain. When you combine, exercise, imaginative play and music altogether, you might facilitate a significant change, according to Bob Livingstone.

With the daily practice of healing emotional pain through exercise, you will become more self aware and be in touch with your feelings. Being aware is the first step in resolving problems. Suppose you are angry, you will realize that the first feeling to address in the rage cycle is hurt. Once you become aware, you will be able to understand more readily why you are hurt and you will begin to address the cause appropriately with others. Additionally, you will notice that you will become wiser and will begin to use the Wise Mind instead of following the impulses that misled you, in the first place. You will also become more patient, have fewer stress related illness and will begin to listen to your higher inner voice more frequently.

The Mind-Body-Soul solution can bring about a transformation in you and you will become more optimistic, as opposed to, being cynical and paranoid. You are the only person who can heal yourself. Once you make this as an integral part of your routine, you will begin to use it when you feel depressed, anxious, confused, indecisive and weak. Those unresolved childhood issue, personal tragedies, relationship break ups, or death or losses, will no longer make you confused and grief struck. You will be able to use the healing exercise with facility and ease as you become proficient in using and applying it.

In summary, if you are experiencing some kind of emotional pain, it is a good idea to investigate and explore your pain by making a script and then using it while engaging in an exercise regimen. Treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, weightlifting, jogging, and aerobic exercises are beneficial to alleviate your emotional hurt. With continued practice, you will begin to notice a transformation in yourself with increment in self esteem and reduction in the frequency and intensity of anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Hypnosis can also help with pain management. Please visit our Blossom Hypnotherapy page to learn how hypnosis can help reduce symptoms of Anxiety disorders.


  1. Leila Vrhel said:

    can you give an example of a script to use while exercising, to help self-esteem?

    August 9, 2016

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