I have always been a “health” addict most of my life and after I went through my own experience with domestic violence, I found fitness shortly after and have not looked back since. Exercise has helped me in many areas of my life: it’s helped improve my mood, I’ve met new people in the fitness community that have inspired me and it has helped me create a new lifelong hobby/routine that I will take with me throughout my entire life. Because it has changed my life so drastically, I wanted to share three reasons why fitness is beneficial for past victims of trauma.
Domestic violence survivors encounter many side effects from their past trauma, which includes the triggering post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. PTSD leaves victims experiencing multiple, debilitating symptoms such as worsening of anxiety and depression, social isolation and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. PTSD can also increase the chances of obesity, heart disease and diabetes due to the lack of prioritizing health and fitness (Collins, Ryan 2016). The last thing survivors think about is eating healthy and exercise due to their lack of motivation and energy that depression brings along. Making wellness a priority after experiencing severe trauma can lead to a more fulfilled life, experiencing less of these symptoms.
It’s deeper than developing a healthier body, exercise can also lead to a healthier mind. When a person exercises, “feel good” brain chemicals are released called endorphins or more specifically: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. This leads to increased feelings of happiness and also boosts confidence. Exercise helps survivors cope in their daily lives and replaces those negative feelings with positive ones.
Exercise can also act as a trauma survivor’s therapy. Of course, this shouldn’t take the place of regular meetings with a therapist or psychiatrist but it can be substituted in with the treatment/healing process and can sometimes even replace medication. When a survivor exercises, they can take those feelings of anger and use that energy to go harder in the gym! There are plenty of exercise options to choose from including kickboxing, cross-fit, yoga and many more! Survivors no longer need to feel helpless; they can become stronger, physically and mentally.
Part of the healing process is finding a way to cope with the side effects of trauma. Survivors are able to reduce the side effects a bit and learn how to live their normal daily lives but it is not possible to go back to the person you were before the trauma. This is nothing to worry about; there are millions of people living their best lives even after experiencing trauma. Survivors can take fitness and make it into a hobby as part of their daily routine, creating reachable goals and challenging themselves to get their minds off of the trauma. For example, you can create a goal of being able to do 30 pushups in one set within a three-month timeframe; make it fun and make the goals reachable! Think of it as a distraction but a healthy one!
Exercise has multiple benefits and has personally helped me out with my PTSD struggles tremendously. I wanted to take some time to let you know of a healthy, more natural alternative to medication and share some insight into a hobby/routine that has changed my life forever. I hope you take something from this post and start incorporating exercise into your routine in small increments. Don’t go crazy, start slow and reap the benefits associated with a regular exercise routine. Remember, trauma symptoms do not fully go away but you can be proactive in making them less debilitating and learn how to function properly in society. Stay tuned for my next blog on how nutrition also can have a large, beneficial impact on survivors of trauma.
Collins, Ryan (2016). Exercise, Depression and the Brain. Retrieved on June 23, 2019 from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/exercise#1