10 Ways to Heal Your Emotional Trauma with Exercise

Divorce is a highly emotional experience. Even if you’re a super strong and resilient person, you’re going to feel the stress of it. The question is, when does the experience of divorce become a trauma? And what can you do to help yourself through one of the most stressful experiences a human can go through?

What is emotional trauma?

In this blog, we explore everyday physical activities you can do to diminish the stressful impact of divorce. But first, let’s back up and define the term “emotional trauma.”

In simple terms, according to the American Psychological Association, emotional trauma is a strong emotional response to a stressful event. This emotional response may manifest physically, behaviorally, or socially. It can make everyday life hard if not impossible, causing people to shut down, isolate themselves, and feel unable to move on.

Examples of emotional trauma in divorce

You may be wondering if your end-of-marriage experience qualifies as emotional trauma. One of the most obvious and well-known traumatic scenarios that can lead to divorce is domestic abuse. 

Domestic abuse

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s definition of domestic abuse as, “... willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systemic pattern of control.” It further divides abuse into the categories of physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, and economic abuse.

So, for example, a spouse who stalked you or threatened to harm you or your family would be guilty of psychological abuse. A spouse who withheld marital money from you in order to maintain control over your spending and your life would be guilty of economic abuse.

Sudden and unexpected loss

Some spouses anticipate their divorce before it happens. They might sense a disconnect before the break actually happens, or they might notice their partner no longer seems to care or make an effort in the relationship. 

Other spouses are caught off-guard by their spouse’s leaving. They might wake up one day to find their spouse has moved out, or their spouse might suddenly announce a love affair with another person. The shock of this unexpected loss can lead to emotional trauma – and it’s common enough that the experience has its own term: spousal abandonment syndrome.

Read: How to Cope with Spousal Abandonment Syndrome

Other forms of divorce trauma

Even if you haven’t suffered one of these extremes, you may have experienced emotional trauma before, during, or after your divorce. Making the decision to divorce is, in itself, a traumatic experience for some. Witnessing others’ reactions to your divorce – your spouse, your children, your family – can cause extreme distress. And the legal divorce process is rife with stress for some people, particularly if your divorce is contested and you and your spouse get no satisfaction from professional mediation.

All of this is to say, we want you to be aware of your emotional state so you can address it and help yourself heal. Physical exercise is just one way to do that.

What are the signs of emotional trauma? Though it’s different for everyone, some of the outward signs include anger, fearfulness, depression, and a loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed.

10 physical activities to lower your anxiety and stress

Although not a substitute for therapy from a trained mental health professional, exercise is a healthy and inexpensive way to help lower your stress as you deal with the emotional repercussions of divorce. Here are 10 suggestions for ways you might incorporate some extra muscle burn into your daily routine.

1. Walk to work

Do you work outside of the home? If so, walk to work, or park your vehicle several blocks from your workplace so you get a few minutes of light cardio before work.

2. Use the stairs

Walk a flight of stairs periodically throughout the day.

3. Take a class

The pandemic is easing up, and more fitness centers and other organizations are offering classes again. Check your local gym, community ed department, or church for offerings. This is a great way to meet new friends, too.

4. Dance around

We curated this versatile playlist of songs for your different moods. It’s perfect for your kitchen or living room.

5. Get a fitness tracker

For some people, awareness of their physical activity is key. A wearable fitness tracker provides all sorts of helpful health data, such as how many steps you take per day and how well you sleep at night.

6. Pair exercise with TV

Watching a good show or movie is a great mental escape. Park your treadmill, hand weights, or yoga mat in front of the TV and get two things done at once.

7. Sit on an exercise ball

If you sit during the day, invest in an inflatable exercise ball. This fun “chair” forces your body to constantly perform subtle exercises to maintain your posture.

8. Wear ankle weights

You could also wear wrist weights or a weighted jacket. The added weight gives your muscles an extra workout as you go about your day.

9. Perform isometric exercises

You can do these exercises while “sitting still.” Identify a muscle group, tense the area, and relax repeatedly.

10. Play

Play isn’t just for kids. It’s a way to get more exercise while having fun and releasing stress. Play with your pet, your child, or your grandchild. Throw a ball around, engage in hide and seek, or start a game of charades. 

Healing from emotional trauma

Each person’s divorce story is different, and each person’s reaction to the events of their divorce is different. Something most of us can do to help ourselves cope with adversity is physical exercise. But if that’s not your jam, there are other ways to heal as well:

If you’ve experienced severe emotional trauma, we urge you to take a multi-faceted approach that includes working with a healing professional. If your trauma doesn’t feel as “severe” as that but eats away at you nonetheless, don’t ignore it and let it snowball. We encourage you to do the deep work now to prevent serious repercussions later on.

Additional readings about emotional recovery from divorce:

Senior Editor
Communication, Relationships, Divorce Insights
Melissa Schmitz is Senior Editor at Hello Divorce, and her greatest delight is to help make others’ lives easier – especially when they’re in the middle of a stressful life transition like divorce. After 15 years as a full-time school music teacher, she traded in her piano for a laptop and has been happily writing and editing content for the last decade. She earned her Bachelor of Psychology degree from Alma College and her teaching certificate from Michigan State University. She still plays and sings for fun at farmer’s markets, retirement homes, and the occasional bar with her local Michigan band.