ANXIETY: How to moveTHRU

What am I going to do? 

The question haunted me. It kept me up at night. My husband had died six months ago. The shock had worn off. Reality was hitting me hard.

I was alone with two kids under three. I had no job, no future plans and no will to do anything more than to get out of bed in the morning and maybe workout later.

My thoughts would spiral — I can’t do this. Why me? This isn’t fair. WTF???

My heart would start racing as I desperately searched for answers. It felt like I was losing control of my own mind and body. I wanted to scream. I wanted my husband ’s hand to hold— to help me calm down and tell me that everything would be ok. 

But he wasn’t there. He was gone. And deeper into the spiral I went.

To make it stop, I would curl into a ball in my empty bed, break down in tears and cry. 


Anxiety. 

An emotion that author Claire Bidwell Smith dubbed as (and named her book) “the missing stage of grief.” We experience anxiety after we lose someone special to us for many reasons: 

    • The intense and varied emotions brought on by grief.
    • The threat of your own mortality and the unpredictability of life.
    • Logistical issues like managing finances and the deceased’s belongings or estate, etc.
    • Supporting other family member’s — comparing grief or feeling pressure to be the “strong one.”
    • Unresolved issues or fear of forgetting your person.
    • Unprocessed grief.
    • Healing from the trauma of losing someone in an instant or having to watch someone slowly die.

Anxiety occurs in relation to a stress — a physiological and psychological response to a real or perceived threat. For people who experienced a loss, that threat is the death of our loved one. 

When we’re confronted with a threat, our sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands, causing them to release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol as part of our body’s nature fight or fight response. Emotionally, we might feel tense, jumpy, restlessness, irritability and sometimes start anticipating the worst. Physically, we might experience a racing heart, shortness of breath, sleeplessness and headaches, among other symptoms.


After recognizing how anxiety felt in my body, I was able to notice when it came up. Typically this was when: 

1.) I had too many stressors — remote learning for the kids, too many commitments with friends, too much work or too many fitness classes to teach. 

2.) I had unprocessed grief — if I removed the stressors mentioned above and still felt “off”, this told me that the stress was internal and usually involved grief that I needed to process. 


Our knee-jerk reaction to anxiety is to avoid it, to suppress it or to make it go away. But anxiety is our body’s natural alarm system — like a siren trying to warn us that something outside us or within us needs our attention.

For me, this meant listening my body, stopping what I was doing, and asking myself — where is this anxiety coming from? Why am I feeling this way?

If the anxiety was too overwhelming, sometimes I needed to do an intense workout — spinning, running or HIIT — to calm down before I could start investigating the root cause.


During Isabelle’s 5th birthday I noticed that underneath the joy and fun of the festivities, I felt a sense of irritability and restlessness. I was snapping at my boyfriend and parents over nothing! I kept feeling like I was being suffocated. I needed space. The party, the friends, the gifts, the decorations — it just felt like so much and I needed to escape. 

The Monday following the celebrations, I went to yoga. I moved my body. I breathed. And in shavasana, I cried. I felt so much sadness release. As I found stillness lying there on my yoga mat, I realized that I hadn’t made any space to grieve Ian’s absence during Izzy’s birthday. While my mind told me that everything was ok, the emotional memory stored in my body told another story.

As soon as I acknowledged my sadness and gave myself room to feel it, the anxiety dissipated.


Like most of our feelings, anxiety is there to tell us something too! If we can notice it, take a pause, and move thru the overwhelm with exercise, mediation or breath, then we can typically find the clarity to understand what’s driving it.

Did this help? Tell us in the comments below or share with a friend who could use this advice.

Want to learn more about how to move thru anxiety and other emotions experienced during the grieving process? Check out our 8-week online course.

FEAR: Let’s Talk About Death

I can still feel Ian’s arms wrapped around me, grasping me tightly — almost desperately. The tears stream down both of our faces as the doctor’s news settles in. We hold each other as if we are holding on to this one moment in time — the only certainty we have left.

Ian’s terminal cancer diagnosis propels us into the world of the unknown — where tomorrow is never guaranteed and each milestone, each good-bye, each “I love you”, could be your last.

Death is imminent.

I fear for my husband’s life. Will he make it? Will he live to see Theo turn one?

I fear for my life. How will I survive without him? How will I raise a two young children by myself?

My mind wanders. I fear for my future without him.

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, months turn into a year. Ian is still alive. It’s been 15 months since his cancer metastasized. He’s beat the odds, but his time is running short.



I can still see the hospice nurse’s heartbroken look as she makes eye contact with me. I know what’s coming and I can feel her proceeding with caution — fearing my reaction. She starts to cry as the words leave her mouth. I wrap my arms around her; lifelessly comforting her as the air is sucked out of my lungs.

Ian will pass tonight. Ian will die.

For a second the room feels like it’s spinning, but then a new sensation takes over.

It’s relief. It’s calm. It’s peaceful.

I no longer fear my husband’s death. I’m ready. I’m ready to surrender — to stop the suffering, the fighting, the uncertainty and guessing. It’s his time.

Ian passes away in the early hours the next morning.

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, months turn into a year. I feel numb, disconnected, then angry, and sad. The fear returns — but in a whole new way.

I fear this new life without my husband.

I fear for my children’s life.

I fear for mine.

I fear that I’m not strong enough to do this by myself.

I fear for my heart — that if I open it up it will break again.

I fear that there is no going back — no return to “normal.”

I fear my own grief — it’s power to trap me or transform me.

I fear what other’s think about my grief — how I’m handling my loss.

I fear for my children’s grief — for their life without their father.

I fear that this is all too much.

I fear that I can’t survive.

I fear that I’m losing him.


I feared Ian’s death, and now that my worst fear became my reality — I find myself fearing my new normal without him. But what I’ve learned (and grief expert David Kessler puts so well) is that fear doesn’t prevent death. Fear only prevents us from living!

Luckily, Ian knew this secret all along because in the month’s leading up to his ultimate death, he chose life. Death was already certain for him — so why fear it? He chose life and made the most of it.

Same with my hospice nurse experience. Once she told me that Ian would die that night, all of the worrying, the waiting, the guessing, the speculation — the anxiety — was gone. It just was. Ian was going to die. So what could I do with the remaining time I had left with him?


Death is the ultimate change, the ultimate end. It is a change we think we can’t understand and an ending we think we can’t survive. But although the change happens whether we want it to or not, we can find freedom in accepting it., and in understanding it as a prelude to something else. – David Kessler


We fear death. We fear for the day that we will die. We fear for the day that our loved one’s will die. We fear for what our lives will be like in the aftermath of such a loss.

We fear death in an anticipatory sense — like in the case of Ian’s terminal illness — or even right now, as the whole world fears the potential risk of COVID-19.

We fear death both for its finiteness, but also for the unknown aftermath. What happens after someone dies? — for both the person dying, as well as their survivor.

Yet, much of our fear surrounding death is attributed to how we perceive it.


Fear is an emotional response induced by a real or perceived threat. – Psychology Today


Fear is valid — it’s a response — meaning, we don’t always consciously control it. Yet, what intrigues me about this definition is also the word “perceived”.

Yes, death is an ending. A painful ending. An ending to someone’s life. A life we don’t want to and can’t imagine living without. The threat is real — no one wants to say goodbye to someone they love, or feel the hurt of loss.

But the threat of death is merely a fact of life. Our perception of death is what makes us truly fear it.

Kessler explains that the way our society views and even talks about death — he lost the fight to cancer, heart failure, he left us to soon (ie. Like abandonment), she didn’t make it — adds an element of choice to the experience of loss. Like if he tried harder, we would still be here — he would have beat it!

Death is not a choice. In fact, death is a certainty! It’s not something that we can opt-out of or defeat. Death, just like birth, is another phase of life. Yet, society positions death as the ultimate enemy. Something to be feared, conquered and destroyed.

So if a loved one dies we — death wins. We lose.

This perspective does a major disservice to anyone facing a terminal illness or for survivors of a loss.

For those facing death, it ignites fear. If shifts the focus to fighting a battle that cannot be won (in some cases, not all); instead of focusing on how to live more in the remaining time left. For survivors of loss, it sets us up for regrets and blame — for getting stuck in all the should haves, would haves, could haves; for finding a doctor, a person, or higher power to blame; or for asking “why me?” as we try to make sense of the loss when most of the time it’s senseless. It’s an uncontrollable outcome of life.

Once we accept that somethings just are, that there are no choices to make, no winners or losers, and that life will unfold in a meaningful way despite the meaningless nature of such tragedies — it takes away the element of fear.


Now, I think it’s important to point out that I never would have considered this perspective or written these words before Ian died. But, the experience of his death and the grief that has followed has taught me how to surrender. To let go of control. To stop fighting and accept the gifts and challenges that each day brings me. I’m still learning, but this mindset is honestly my survival mechanism for navigating life without him. (I even dedicate an entire module on Surrender in my new moveTHRU Grief course — it’s that powerful!)

So if you are facing a terminal diagnosis, supporting someone who is, or have lost someone and are wallowing in the darkest depths of grief asking yourself what just happened to my life? — please remember that your fear is valid!

My advice is to lean into your fear — FEEL IT! My safe place for experiencing emotions is through movement — yoga, hiking, or jumping on a spin bike.

Then once you’ve felt it, challenge it. Ask yourself:

  • What are you truly afraid of?
  • What is the threat?
  • Is the threat real or perceived? (It can be a combination of both!)
  • How much control do I have over this threat?
  • And most importantly, is this fear potentially limiting me from experiencing life fully?

Fear isn’t about avoiding death. It’s is about missing out on life.


Thank you to my late husband Ian who inspired me to live fearlessly even though there are days I’m scared shitless of my new life without him, and to his mom Leslie who sent me David Kessler’s book Finding Meaning – The Sixth Stage of Grief. It’s helping me make sense of the senseless.

LONELINESS

February 7, 2020

About six months after my husband Ian died, the loneliness of my world without him really started to sink in. I would begin and end the day alone — waking up and going to sleep in a king size bed that felt so empty and vast without him. His sink in the bathroom vanity was crystal clean, untouched. His clothes (the majority packed up or given away) but, his special keepsakes — his favorite Aloha shirts, Broncos jerseys and wedding suit — just hung in our closet collecting dust.

Ian and I loved cuddling together on our couch to watch movies and shows at night once the kids went to sleep. But after he died, I couldn’t bring myself to sit on it without him there. I didn’t have someone to snuggle with, to laugh with or to figure out the plot twists with. The empty couch was just a reminder my loneliness — like so many things I encountered throughout the day.

Sometimes when I drove in my car I literally reached over to the passenger seat to rest my hand on his. But it wasn’t there. I wanted to call him to ask for his advice, but no voice would answer. I wanted to wrap my arms around him to share my contentment for life and feel a warm body against mine, but all I felt was air. A profound hollowness. Almost one year later, I still feel like this at times.

Loneliness is a feeling often experienced in the grieving process. When someone who we interact with — whether its for infrequent holiday get-togethers, weekly phone calls, or seeing them daily — just disappears from your life, there is nothing but emptiness left in the space they once filled. All of the activities and milestones you shared with that person are just reminders of that person’s absence. Even certain clothing, special songs or favorite restaurants can be reminders that your special person is missing. And this emptiness leaves us feeling so alone.

During a playdate, I expressed some of the struggles I had been experiencing as a newly single-mom. Another single-mom (by divorce) chimed in and said that she totally “got it” and continued to share in my misery. While a lot of our challenges were in fact similar, her divorce was not the same as my husband’s death. “How could she not get this? And, how could she make such a comparison?” I thought to myself. Although she was just trying to level with me and help, it actually had the opposite effect.

This sense of aloneness is not only caused by someone special in our lives dying, but also from the feelings of isolation that arise when we think that no one else understands our situation. People often say “Oh I can’t even imagine what you are going through.” And, it’s true! They probably can’t. Nor, do many people know how to talk about death. Unless you’ve experienced a loss, it’s difficult to fully empathize with someone grieving. When no one seems to understand, it can feel like we don’t belong and that we are truly in this struggle alone.

At the peak of my loneliness, I decided to download a dating app. I needed a distraction — even if it wouldn’t necessarily lead to anything. And it worked! I contently swiped away, messaging prospects and getting excited over potential dates — maybe even a future together! But, after a few months of casual dates that were really just plain bad, and then a three-month-long relationship that came to an abrupt end over a text message (future blog post coming. Stay tuned.), I realized that the only person who could fix my loneliness — was me.

I read this post from Mark Groves (aka @createthelove) and everything clicked. I was looking for all of the answers to my loneliness outside of myself. But, what I needed was to focus the attention within. I needed to identify the thoughts that drove these feelings of disconnectedness — the fear that I would never find love or feel whole again; the illusion that we only get one true love; the discomfort of physically taking up space — alone. These were all thoughts that I was telling myself, which in turn, fed by loneliness!

As I started to identify what thoughts triggered my loneliness, I was able to change my perception of them. I asked myself how I could enjoy being alone? How could I use my alone time to learn something new about me, about my passions, or the world around me? When I felt physically alone, I turned to my fitness communities — moving together on a spin bike or at my barre studio — which reminded me that even though I was alone without my partner, I had an entire community who loved and supported me.

Our loneliness is often what we make of it. Sometimes its hard to separate the stories that we tell ourselves from reality, and when we don’t, they become our reality! Sometimes we just need some space to feel our feelings to recognize what’s really going on inside our minds.

STUCK (Again)

January 27, 2020

When Ian first died, it felt like my entire world was falling apart. The range of emotions that surfaced combined with the fear and anxiety of starting a “new normal” without him left me feeling paralyzed — left me feeling stuck. 

Fast-forward to now — almost 10 months since his death. I’ve taken time to process his loss, feel my feelings, explore my core values, and redefine my self-identity and purpose in life. I’ve started a new business, dipped my toes into the dating world, and feel more and more confident as a single-parent in my family of three. I’m turning a corner in my grief journey and moving forward in so many exciting ways, but am now stuck in an entirely new way.

Right now, I’m stuck between past and present.

Between honoring my tragic history that has brought me to this point, and giving myself permission to get excited about this new chapter. This state of limbo that I’m stuck in affects so many aspects of my life.

Relationships with friends and family that Ian fostered in the past, are different without him. I’m navigating how I preserve the bonds that Ian created between the significant people in his life, and figuring out I fit in without him moving forward.

Relationships in terms of dating are far more complex than I imagined. I feel like there is room in my heart for both old and new love, but potential partners don’t necessarily understand that. How do I honor the love in my heart for Ian, without scaring away potential new love?

Redefining myself — transitioning from stay-at-home mom, caretaker to sick husband, to becoming a widow, head-of-household, single mom and entrepreneur — is an exciting, second-chance to make an impact and bring something into the world that I care so much about. But when I think about how I got here, it’s by tragedy. By losing Ian. How do I not feel a sense of guilt about the new story that is unfolding for me?

I’ve written about how tragedies like loss are defining moments. Do we stay stuck in tragedy and let the defining moment define us? Or do we move forward and keep living?

Right now I’m stuck right in the middle of remembering my tragedy and moving forward with my new life ahead. It’s a process and I’m sure I’ll get unstuck and stuck again. For now, I’m exploring what this space feels like and learning how to moveTHRU the stuck.

The feeling of being stuck is a universal theme. Whether we have experienced a loss or not, there are moments in life where we simply feel powerless. We know the necessary steps to achieve our goals — to lose 10 lbs I need to eat healthier, workout more and cut down on alcohol. Yet, despite having all the tools and steps necessary to achieve our aspirations and telling ourselves that we can do it, sometimes we just don’t. And, when we don’t, we beat ourselves up for it.

When we focus on our failures and the associated shame, then we do in fact get stuck. We get stuck in a negative thought cycle that continuously loops, sending the message that we are incapable of making productive change in our life. Powerless. Paralyzed. Stuck.

So how do we break this cycle? We move!

Feeling STUCK

After my husband Ian died, my entire world fell apart. I went from being a loving, supportive wife who stayed at home to raise her children, to assuming several new roles and identities including widow, father and head of household. I felt lonely raising my kids alone and totally incompetent trying to navigate our finances, household handy-work, and the various internet, gas & electric, insurance and other accounts and bills that had been set up in Ian’s name. I was overwhelmed tackling the “to-do” list of a deceased spouse, not to mention worrying about getting a job so that I could make money after being a stay-at-home mom for four years! The sadness of losing Ian combined with the fear and anxiety of starting a “new normal” left me feeling paralyzed — left me feeling stuck.

When we lose someone special in our lives, we feel a range of emotions — sadness, loneliness, despair, emptiness, numbness, fear…the list goes on. The compounded effect of so many emotions in addition to the navigating life without that special someone can be overwhelming to the point of feeling helpless. We feel stuck because we don’t know how to move forward.

I remember one morning when the profoundness of my feelings left me crying in bed all morning. I decided to go to a yoga sculpt class and just start MOVING. Although my thoughts told me that I was stuck, my body disproved them. While I felt trapped in my mind, I felt a sense of freedom with every burpee, a hint courage with every rep of a heavy weight, and a glimmer of hope with every drop of sweat fleeing my body. As I laid in shavasana the instructor left us with three words — I AM ENOUGH. It was all I needed to hear.

I was no longer stuck, because I had just MOVED. And, although everything outside of me was unraveling, I was reminded that I HAVE ME. Even though I didn’t know all the answers to resolve my external situation — solo-parenting, career, being single again — I realized that all I really needed was inside of me. Through movement and intention I discovered that I AM ENOUGH.

Whether we believe that we are capable of moving forward from tragedy or not, the mere act of exercising moves us. Our bodies physiologically change when we workout and no matter how devastated, how paralyzed, or how hopeless our circumstances might feel, our biochemistry has shifted! We’ve movedTHRU!