18 Sep 2017
Add mindful walks to your pet loss exercise and mental health plan

Add mindful walks to your pet loss exercise and mental health plan

If there's one thing I've learned since my cats passed away it's that there’s no going over, under, or around your pet grief. The only option is to go through it. And mindfulness gurus and mental health experts would agree: resisting pain only deepens it. It reveals itself as physical illness, sleep problems like insomnia, panic attacks, dissociative behavior, and other crippling maladies. 

Life is full of upsets like this – whether they’re expected or not. They’re simply parts of being human. When tragedy strikes - in my case, when Tia and Spartacus passed away - the devastation can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, as we cope we don’t always do so in healthy ways. Some of my friends slept excessively or refused to eat, while I have turned to overeating and sleeping very little. Still others turn to alcohol or other substances. Incorporating healthy concepts into your grief self-care plan is therefore crucial during pet loss. Mindful walking should definitely be in your list.

Simple exercises, such as walking and mindfulness, are much better alternatives to these unhealthy habits when learning how to heal from grief and loss. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of mindfulness, let me explain: it’s a non-religious and easy-to-implement form of training the mind. It helps people connect with their in-the-moment bodies and emotions. It’s all done free of judgment. Through consistent practice, mindfulness lessens stress while strengthening the immune system and improving overall well-being.

It isn’t easy to find the energy for much when entrenched in grief, so a small stroll is a great place to start. During the grieving process, stress hormones are high and emotions are difficult to manage. Fatigue is common during mourning, but a bit of exercise can boost energy and mood (through the release of endorphins). Of course, some other bonuses of walking include decreased risk of stroke and heart disease, as well as an increase in good cholesterol. It’s an all-around answer to good self-care during a period of bereavement.

The physical and emotional benefits of exercise are well known, but there are also plenty of positive health outcomes that come through a practice of mindfulness. Even short meditative walks can be self-nurturing while mourning - read on to find out how. And you never know - the immediate relief you feel may be just enough to encourage a longer walk next time.

Mindful Walk Pet Loss Tiny Pet Memories

Exercise Your Mental Health by Taking a Mindful Walk

First, let’s focus on the dynamics of walking. Remember to wear comfortable shoes and clothing, and keep the distances short at first.

Now that you've laid a good foundation for your walks, we'll give you some basic techniques that will help you foster a good mindful walking practice:

Observe Your Breath

Stress and anxiety lead to shallow breathing, which disrupts the circulation of oxygen in your body. Not only does it make you feel worse physically, it further exacerbates the initial stress and anxiety of losing an animal friend. Paying attention to your breath will encourage slow and deep inhalations, and it will help you focus on what is happening in the moment.

Cultivate Positive Visualizations

After you’ve had some practice observing your breath, it’s time to take things a step further. As you inhale, imagine your breath filling your body. Think of the air as a healing energy. Be aware of the sensations you feel, from your head to your toes. There’s no need to assess or try to change them. Just notice.

As you walk, do your best to clear your mind. Try to focus on nothing but the things you see around you. In Japan, this process is known as forest bathing. Several research projects revealed that this type of walking helps burn off unneeded adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone).

Then, when you exhale, imagine that you can see the sadness, anger, and other pain leaving your body. Continue the process for 10 to 15 minutes.

Take It Outdoors

If possible, try to select scenic places to spend your time. Green surroundings will inspire a sense of peace in the midst of your mourning. A study from Stanford University tested people who walked in natural surroundings for 90 minutes. According to their reports (and their brain scans), those who were outdoors enjoyed a decrease in preoccupation with negative feelings. People walking in busy urban areas did not experience this result.

Learning How to Note Your Surroundings

As you stroll along, practicing mindfulness, slowly allow your attention to move to your other senses. Is the air cool, and the sun warm? Do you hear birds chirping? Are there colorful flowers in bloom? Is the ground firm or soft beneath your feet? If feelings of grief creep into your consciousness, give them a symbolic nod and allow them to pass you by just as if they were nearby traffic. Don't judge. Take your time. 

Go Alone or With a Friend

In many cases, people prefer to walk alone. Doing so may be easier to practice their mindfulness. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so, tap into your pet loss support network the connection that comes with walking alongside a loved one may be just what you need. Your community’s grief support program may even organize walking clubs. An exercise companion will ease your loneliness – a common effect of grief (especially if you used to walk your pet). Knowing that someone is waiting for you to take a stroll may be exactly the motivation you need.

Two Specific Mindful Walk Techniques to Aid Pet Loss Healing

So you now have some basics of how mindfulness and walking can be combined. Once you gain a little firmer grasp on walking mindfully, try introducing the following exercises into your routine:

  • Colour Mindfulness: Before you begin, stand firmly so you feel the connection between your feet and the ground. Open your stance by pushing your shoulders back and lifting your chest. Then move at a slow pace for approximately five minutes, noticing your breathing all the while. As you move, look around for primary colors – red, green, yellow, and blue. Be grateful for the things hosting each color.
  • Counting in Threes: This is another five-minute exercise. While you walk, identify three sounds you hear. Try to note three smells. Then touch three things, with awareness of their varying textures. If possible, taste three things as well. These are methods of calling yourself to the present moment. Be grateful for each of the items that stimulates your senses.

After you’ve completed these walks, discuss the experiences with people in your support group (either online or in-person). They will offer valuable insights and help you process your feelings.

4 Mindfulness Apps for Walking to Ease the Grief of Pet Loss

In today’s high-tech world, there’s an app for just about everything. And so it's no surprise that there are even several tools to help you cope with the loss of your pet through mindfulness and meditation. Here are a few examples:


Description: This tool offers each user a new and personalized three-minute meditations daily, targeting depression and anxiety. If offers relaxing sounds and a breather feature too and includes many walking meditation tracks.

Pricing: Free with in-app purchases

Platform: iOS and Android

Insight Timer

Description: Insight Timer offers over 4,000 meditations, which are guided by more than 1,000 teachers. They cover topics like stress and self-compassion, and include podcasts too. Check out the many walking mindfulness practices you can use.

Pricing: Free with in-app purchases

Platform: iOS and Android


Description: Omvana is heavy on images. The app provides thousands of options for meditation, approximately 75 of which are free. Focal points range from connection to gratitude. There are a few walking meditations you can purchase.

Pricing: Free with in-app purchases

Platform: iOS and Android


Description: Calm is true to its name. Along with relaxing sounds, there are about 16 free meditation sessions. Numerous other sessions are offered via a monthly subscription of $4.99. They've got a whole walking meditation series option.

Pricing: Free for 7 days, then monthly or annual subscription

Platform: iOS and Android

Stop, Breathe & Think

Description: This app helps users get familiar with mindfulness before diving into it. After the orientation, you will receive 30 free meditations on different subjects and at varying lengths. Use the "Connect With Your Body" option to try out mindful walking options.

Pricing: Free with in-app purchases

Platform: iOS and Android


I hope you'll embrace the physical and mental health benefits of walking combined with mindfulness. These apps - or your own self-guided walking mindfulness meditations - are great ways to weather any of life’s experiences, but especially valuable in the face of grief over pet loss. I've gone into much greater detail about mindfulness and meditation in another article, so be sure to check that out to learn more and discover even more meditation and minefulness apps you can use. Let me know how you do.


Images: Jeremy Bishop, Jamie Street

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Health Disclaimer: I’m passionate about wellbeing and health but I’m not a medical professional, nor am I a licensed therapist. Any content you read on this site is intended for inspiration and for information only – by not means am I providing medical advice. Please consult your certified professional for personalized recommendations on the mental health or physical health ideas I write about.