Use Running to Rebound From That Awful Breakup

October 31, 2014


By: Crista Gambrell (@CristaGambrell)

I was in shock and disbelief

I felt like the floor had been pulled out from underneath me… like someone hit me in the chest

I couldn’t breathe…I could barely function…I cried hysterically

  No breakups are pleasant. But then there are the truly soul crushing ones, the ones that hit you at your core because you never saw it coming. This was my story and the story of thirteen women I interviewed about their traumatic relationship endings. It was discovering betrayal that left an otherwise healthy young adult like me with traumatic stress symptoms and blood pressure at 140/90. My anxiety was so severe that a good friend suggested I start running. I was resistant at first because I used to hate running. But as I kept with it, I noticed it helped. It’s so physically rigorous for me that it overrode the fear I felt most days. Since trauma affects the body, then the healing should occur within the body as well. When people feel threatened, the amygdala fires and adrenal glands produce cortisol, the stress hormone. The fight or flight mechanism is activated for the purpose of moving us to action. However, there are times when emotional shock causes a freeze response instead. The women I interviewed and I were initially immobilized by the loss. There was no way to prepare emotionally or psychologically for the abrupt, and in some cases, cruel departure and that left us with trapped energy that desperately needed to be discharged. I believe that is why exercise, particularly running, was one of the commonly utilized coping resources post romantic dissolution. Women reported, “I run a lot- training for a marathon.”; “I do yoga, running…”; “I got into running, as exercise initially (and now) became a saving grace for me emotionally.” Another shared, “When I was going through that painful time in my life, the marathon training helped me process my emotions and feelings…until it stopped hurting so badly.” These findings validate previous studies. Balanced diet and physical activity, although not directly related to the relationship dissolution, are cited as common health promoting-behaviors after a romantic loss (Sakraida, 2005). This could be due to the outlet it affords to release intense emotion on a physical level. It could also be because the breakup inspired an appropriate self-focus in which the women now had the freedom to focus on their needs. Whether we like it or not, we will all have a moment-of-truth experience in our lives that reveals what’s inside us. For me and these women, it was the brutal end of a romance. But from the ashes of humiliation and rejection arose the beauty of a resilient, more secure self. Movement helped us heal. Movement gave us strength again. Movement allowed us say, as one woman so poignantly said, “It was a hit. It was a hard hit, but it didn’t knock me down.”   References Sakraida, T. J. (2005). Common themes in the divorce transition experience of midlife women.     Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 43(1-2), 69-88. doi 10.1300/J087v43n01_04 Sakraida, T. J. (2008). Stress and coping in midlife women in divorce transition. Western   Journal of Nursing Research, 30(7), 869-887. doi 10.1177/0193945907311324 About Crista Gambrell Crista Gambrell, PhD, LPC is a licensed professional counselor in private practice, an adjunct professor at Old Dominion University, and an AFAA certified group exercise instructor and licensed Zumba instructor. You can follow her at: Twitter: @CristaGambrell; Instagram: @Wellfitcris; Blog:

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