No Longer Teaching? Are you Experiencing Grief or Depression?

Giving up teaching, whether short term or forever, can cause professional grief. Know the 7 stages and how to cope if you are ever unable to teach.
When the music stops, but the beat goes on: Getting over grief and depression in group fitness.

Grief is mostly associated with the death of a loved one, pet, mentor, friend, etc.  when in fact, the loss of anything important or essential to our individual existence can elicit the grief response.  This could be the loss of a relationship not involving death, the loss of a job, the loss of ideals, the loss of innocence and many other losses people experience.

This article specifically deals with group exercise career loss, whether voluntary or involuntary.  The loss could be due to illness, injury, lay off, firing, burn out, or changes in life circumstances.  It doesn’t matter the cause, the grief response can hit in any one of these situations.

Most of us get into the fitness industry because we love how exercise and healthy living make us feel.  We tend to be people oriented, generous, and giving. We want to share what we know, and what we love with others.  Those of us fortunate to make a career in this business are generally convinced we will do this job until the day we are put in the ground. Teaching or Directing Group Exercise is a calling.  We may not be able to imagine a life or career in anything else.

We are passionate about what we do, and we can’t remember a day when teaching, program design, or training wasn’t part of our daily existence. We take pride in our work. We are creative, so we create. What we create is part of us, and fulfills us. We receive adulation, and validation from our students. We perform, share and educate. We feel needed and successful when our class loves what we give them. Our egos are stroked and our self-esteem boosted every time we nail a class.

What happens when it’s over?

What happens when the music stops? What happens if we are not ready to stop and we still hear the beat of the music? The response is different for everyone. There are those that will move on with few issues, and never look back. Some of us will hit rock bottom and feel like life has been turned on its head, or that the rug has been pulled out from underneath our feet.  If our identity is wrapped around teaching group exercise for example, when that ends for whatever reason, we may feel lost, we may feel guilt, and we may experience an identity crisis. In some cases, seemingly normal, healthy individuals that are confident, and decisive end up incapable of everyday decisions. We may wonder who we are if not an instructor.  There may be a loss of self-confidence that can be devastating. We may feel we don’t have control over our life or that a damn of emotions has broken and the flood overwhelms us.

If you or anyone you know has had to give up teaching group exercise you may have experienced physical and emotional signs and symptoms of grief.  You may not have recognized it as grief at the time, but grief, even for job loss, is real and in severe circumstances may need professional help to resolve.

Physical and Emotional Symptoms of Grief                  

According to individuals experiencing grief may exhibit any or all of the following signs and symptoms:

The Seven Stages of Grief

There are seven stages of grief a person can experience according to Jennie Wright-Parker, RN, MSCC, GC-C, and webmaster and editor of Each individual stage may occur in no particular order, or may overlap.  Some may not experience all of the stages of grief before they are able to recover from their experience. The seven stages of grief are as follows:

  1. Shock and Denial: a person may feel numb, or experience disbelief
  2. Pain and Guilt: when the shock wears off, the person may start to feel pain. It is important to experience the pain and not avoid it.
  3. Anger and Bargaining: This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion. You may find you transfer anger and blame to others. You may try to bargain your way out pain. (“If I just had another chance, things would be different”)
  4. Depression Reflection and Loneliness: You feel the magnitude of your loss. It can bring on feelings of emptiness or despair.
  5. The Upward Turn: You begin to adjust to life without your students, classes and responsibilities. You feel less depressed.
  6. Reconstruction and Working Through: You begin to become more functional, you can start restructuring your life moving on to realistic solutions to problems caused by the loss of your job.
  7. Acceptance and Hope: You learn to accept and deal with your situation and move forward. Acceptance does not mean instant happiness, but it is a start to your new normal.

Strategies to Deal with Professional Grief

Depending on the circumstances that result in the loss of your job, there are many strategies you can employ to help deal with the grief and move on with your life.  The following are good initial strategies to try when first dealing with grief.

  1. Time and plenty of rest: These are important elements for healing. Give everything time to run its course and one day, you will find nothing hurts quite as much as it did at the beginning. This requires patience and a willingness to let time to do its job.
  2. Journaling:  Writing can be very cathartic and can help you organize or clarify your thoughts and emotions.
  3. Protect Yourself: Avoid situations or people that may result in emotional flooding. Anything that upsets you to a degree of losing control of your emotions can be a setback in the healing process.
  4. Social Support: Friends and family can be a great source of comfort when suffering grief. They can be a shoulder to cry on, someone to advise you, keep you busy, or to help steer you away from anything that may upset you regarding your former job.
  5. Contingency Plan: Because life and circumstances are unpredictable, have another marketable skill in your wheelhouse. Plan ahead by asking yourself, “If I ddin’t have Group Exercise anymore, what would I do” and make sure you have that in your back pocket.
  6. See a Doctor: If you feel like you are slipping into a depression from which you cannot emerge, or experience feelings of panic, or hopelessness, it is advisable to seek professional help.  The loss of a job in group exercise may not seem like a big deal, however if your identity, time, and happiness had a direct link to that job, losing it can be more trauma than you are prepared to deal with.

Many will see the loss of a job as something that people just have to deal with. In the business of group exercise however, an instructor or program director pours love, heart, soul, and a lot of time into the creations that become their classes or programs. It is a very personal job to serve others in this manner and see the trials and successes of members and students. The loss of a job that has so much impact on your life personally and professionally can be devastating.

Seek help

Anyone experiencing the signs and symptoms of grief must work through the process and stages of grief in order to heal and move on. It can be a lengthy and difficult process, but ultimately a person may emerge on the other side a stronger person able to move on to their next adventure.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.

Are You Experiencing Grief or Depression as a Retired Fit Pro?

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