In this podcast interview of Alicia Shay, professional runner, talks about how she coped with the sudden death of her husband, Ryan Shay. He too was a professional runner and died of a heart attack while running the 2007 Olympic marathon trials in NYC.
Naturally, Alicia was devastated. She describes how, as a runner herself, she threw herself into training as a way to numb her feelings. She became incredibly fit, to the point that she had overdone it. It wasn't until she allowed herself to grieve that she found peace and balance again in her life.
Exercise is commonly a tool that individuals use to control their emotional state. It can serve to distract from or numb emotions, creating a scenario where pain is controlled by the intensity of the exercise rather than emotions. It can also be used to create a positive emotional state, as exercise produces changes in brain chemistry that boost mood and calm anxiety.
Eating disorders too are a prime example of ways that people numb themselves from painful or unpleasant emotions, and exercise often goes hand in hand with ED's. However, we can't selectively numb our emotions, so by avoiding negative emotions we also avoid positive ones.
For those struggling with exercise in this manner, it is important that they take a break from the activities and gradually reintroduce exercise in a new, healthy way. For example, Alicia took time off from running and came back as a trail runner. Nature can be incredibly healing. If you need guidance, seek the help of a professional.