What do you do when a heavy heart puts you on the couch?

Do you feel stuck in a self-definition that isn’t quite working for you at the moment? Maybe you’ve been pegged by loved ones or co-workers in a way that doesn’t feel fair or true (you’ve been blamed or labeled). Perhaps you’ve had a conflict with someone and your heart hurts so much you can’t get a deep breath. You may have suffered a loss that makes you sadder than you would have expected. Whatever it is, it has flattened you and put you on the couch for the time being. If we were to be honest with one another, we could all tell of many times like this in our lives.

We sometimes get into mental holding patterns that create pain, fear or anger, but most of us also have ways of working through tough, hardened states of mind so we can get un-paralyzed and get back to whatever is normal and healthy in our lives. When I feel exceedingly blue, anxious, angry, or confused, I take a run. Years ago I discovered that moving my body was the key to loosening up my psychic knots. I also discovered that there was a paradox to this course of action. When I’m in a heavy state of mind, I tend to lack the energy to get myself out on the trail. Doing what I know is good for me is often an act of will that takes a firm decision and then a leap of faith (that it will actually make me feel better), but once I’ve gotten off the sofa and out the door, my inner world opens up and my constricted thinking often gives way to a more spacious perspective.

You know what I’m talking about, I’m sure. The “key” to your well-being may not be running; instead, it may be meditation, prayer, or a warm bath. It could well be escaping into a good book or cranking up the volume of your music and dancing behind closed doors, but whatever it is, you know that when you do it, your heavy state of mind will begin to lift and whatever you’re wrestling with will start to untangle itself and loosen its tendrils ever-so-slightly. You also know what I mean when I say it takes an act of will to engage in the activity that will give you relief. Energy you don’t exactly have in the dark, heavy moments is exactly what is required to produce relief, right?

If you’re on the couch this week, struggling to take the step you need to take in order to lift the heaviness, consider what I do to get myself out the door onto the trail during hard times:

1. Suit up. I put my running clothes on as a first step–even before committing to heading outside. For you, go ahead and set yourself up for your chosen course of action. Dig out your favorite music; organize your yarn and knitting needles; pull your meditation cushion out of the closet. Make available for yourself whatever accoutrements you need for the self-care activity that will help you lift away the weightiness of your emotional state.

2. Call your running partner. I call my neighbor Julie, who almost always agrees to go running with me. Who will hold you accountable to be good to yourself? Will your best friend go to a concert with you? Will your meditation teacher (or your AA sponsor) come over and sit with you? If you don’t have a “running partner,” you may want to consider finding a therapist or coach to partner with until you build a community which will invest in your well-being.

3. One, two, three–out the door. But slowly. On sad, hard days I start by walking and work my way up to a run. Be gentle with your heavy-hearted self. Maybe you only have the oomph to read a few passages out of your Holy Book or one chapter from your escapist novel. Perhaps you can’t stay more than five minutes in your bubble bath before you’re ready for bed. It’s okay. The very act of doing one self-loving thing provides encouragement to do more of it tomorrow. One slow mile today, and by the end of the week (or the month if this is a persistent heaviness), you’ll be back up to your 10K.

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