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Put on a happy face

My dad passed away, suddenly, at 63 years old. It was 14 years ago, and it still feels fresh in my mind and on my heart. He certainly wasn’t a pillar of health. In fact, he smoked too much. He drank to much. He ate red meat, and had a particular affection for ice cream. He was the life of the party where ever he went, and he was my best friend. The last few years of his life were spent traveling, meeting folks and making new friends. He was the ultimate social butterfly and is still greatly missed by all who knew him.

He would have hated COVID. Never has there been a person so completely at odds with the idea of a quarantine, or being locked down. He hated being restricted in any way. I’m certain the experience of the last year would have left him depressed and feeling like an eagle with clipped wings. Just Miserable.

Physical Pain causes obvious physical feelings of discomfort, but it also can cause depression, and even misery. I think most people understand that there are emotional scars that form right along side the physical scars. We can be affected emotionally by physical pain, and that effect can last long after the physical pain leaves. It can last for years. It’s very real, and it turns out it’s very treatable.

With the last year causing incredible isolation for millions of people, with are also seeing increases in emotional problems for wider and wider audiences. Depression is becoming more common. Anxiety is on the rise. The emotional impact is taking a toll. The corresponding lack of physical activity that comes with the isolation is also not helpful. It's like a perfect storm of loneliness. And since the link between physical pain and emotional pain is so well understood, I started asking myself the chicken and the egg question. Researchers have promised us endorphins, and small waistlines. But which comes first? Since corrective exercises work to correct physical pain, why aren’t we using them to help those with emotional pain as well.

Well, we are. One of the strategies I employed when dealing with my dad’s death, all those years ago, was to keep busy. Just keep moving. And it helped. I found that that if I exercised everyday, the moments where the pain of losing him occupied my every thought, started getting replaced by the immediate fatigue of my workout. I started walking everyday. Taking extra long walks, while trying to appreciate thy surroundings. It was almost like I was looking for those endorphins we are always promised result from continuous exercise. I don’t know if I ever got the magic endorphins, but I do know that I felt better. And it wasn’t the kind of “feeling better” that happened just because I didn’t think about my dad, but rather, bit by bit it allowed me to remember him without the pain of loss. Exercise was preventing my depression.

This pandemic has left too many people with the pain of loss. It has caused us all to feel isolated and alone. It reoriented our lives and caused many to take their futures in previously unknown directions. And closer to home, our family is seeing more teenagers act out on those depressed feelings. Kids in our community, hell in every community, are acting on the feelings caused by hormonal changes. They are acting out on the feelings that are now intensified by the crisis. Some of these actions are the permanent / forever kind, while parents struggle to keep up, stay informed, and search for help.

Chemistry, counseling, and discipline have always been options for parents to use when faced with these situations for their kids. As a parent, I know that I’d do anything for my children. My message to other parents is simple. Start doing a routine of exercises everyday. Get your kids to join you. Do it together and do it everyday. Do it even if you have other things you are trying to numb the pain or stem the tide of the overwhelming feelings your kids are having. Start building good habits physically and emotionally. The pandemic will eventually pass. Corrective exercises can help make that time more bearable. And coming out the other side, you and your kids will be healthier versions of yourselves with less pain inside and out.

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