Coping with the death of a loved one can be one of the most challenging and pivotal experiences of our lives. Whether it’s a grandparent, friend, or pet, we might experience deep, and often debilitating emotional pain. Here are sixteen tips for coping with grief and managing loss.
Grief is deep and poignant distress.
WHAT IS GRIEF?
So what exactly is happening when we experience grief? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement.” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the renowned psychiatrist, was famous for her work with terminal cancer patients and determining five stages of grief:
Grief is expressed in a wide variety of emotions.
A person who is experiencing grief might suddenly behave very differently. This change might be disturbing for friends, co-workers, or family members. For example, he or she might be more or less friendly or more inclined to emotional outbursts. This distress can be expressed using a wide variety of emotions, such as:
Grief is a normal, healthy reaction to loss.
WHAT TRIGGERS GRIEF?
We know that grief is a normal, healthy, reaction to loss. This loss can be a dramatic or unexpected change of lifestyle, the end of a relationship, an unexpected financial burden, or a life trauma such as a car accident or physical injury. The most devastating loss, of course, is a loss of life. Sometimes this feeling of grief resurfaces long after a person has experienced loss. This emotional feeling can be triggered by current unrelated events that bring back old memories. Sometimes we experience empathetic grief by observing others who are experiencing loss. This most commonly occurs when someone receives information (generally through news media) of a devastating mass murder or a natural disaster of great magnitude.
Any life occurrence, object, or event that triggers a painful memory can result in grief.
Sorrow and mourning can be triggered by any life occurrence, object, or event that is associated with a painful memory. These triggers might include:
- Books, magazines or newspapers
- Television, movies or video
- Treasured Objects
Triggers can open the floodgates to a wide variety of painful emotions, but with time, these triggers will develop into happy experiences. For example, driving by a park or hearing a favorite song will eventually bring back happy memories that warm the heart.
Remembering happy times will
eventually warm the heart.
16 TIPS FOR COPING WITH GRIEF
It’s helpful to understand what grief is, how it manifests, what triggers it and how to cope with it. Here are sixteen tips for coping with loss from the death of a loved one or personal trauma
1. Find a grief community. Many of us tend to suppress our grief as a means of coping with pain and suffering. Suppressing emotional pain can lead to serious medical and mental problems. Join a support group or community such as a church, faith-based groups, local grief groups, or online chat communities.
2. Share your emotions privately. This might be a life coach, minister, counselor, psychologist, or family therapist. You might also prefer to reach out to a family member or friend and share your grief. Choose someone who is safe, trustworthy, and allows you to share openly while he or she listens.
3. Start a daily exercise routine. Studies show that physical exercise to be highly effective in reducing depression. Find an activity that is fun and easy for you. It might be bowling, tennis, dance, swimming, yoga, or basketball. You might prefer to do something alone or with others. If you are not in the habit of exercising, take small steps.
A healthy diet is significantly important in maintaining emotional, mental and spiritual strength.
4. Eat balanced healthy meals. During this time of enormous stress, a healthy diet is significantly important in maintaining emotional, mental and spiritual strength. If you are unable to properly care for yourself, get help (see #12 below).
5. Get plenty of sleep. Grief and stress can be very fatiguing. You may find that you need more sleep than usual, or you might have insomnia and find yourself not sleeping, long hours. If this is the case, try taking naps throughout the day. Consider talking with a trusted therapist or health-care professional about natural sleeping aids such as Valerian Root, Chamomile
6. Postpone making any additional life-changing decisions. It is not advisable to take on any additional stress while coping with loss. If possible postpone other stressful events such as: planning a wedding, starting a new job, moving into a new home, or launching a new business. Allow time to adjust and heal from your current situation before adding more responsibilities.
Creating a scrapbook or memory album
can help heal the sorrow.
7. Create a scrapbook, photo album, slideshow, or video of happy memories. Share your creation with a trusted friend or family member and talk about these memories. Accept that this may not be easy and ask a friend or family member to help you create this or to create it for you. Be tolerant and patient with yourself. It is normal to avoid looking at items that trigger more grief.
8. Create a music playlist that lifts your spirits. Choose music that addresses your unique personal loss, lightens your load, expresses your feelings, opens your heart, or celebrates the life of a loved one who has died. Schedule a time to listen to this music when you feel safe to express your feelings.
9. Allow yourself to grieve in your own way. Don’t listen to others who try to persuade you to stop crying, move on, or get over it. Ignore advice that doesn’t fit with your personal approach to dealing with loss. Accept your own unique way of mourning.
10. Know the consequences of unresolved grief. Suppressing emotional pain can result in health ailments, destructive behavior, depression, drug or alcohol abuse, or gluttony. Be mindful and aware of any physical, emotional, or mental symptoms you are experiencing, such as unusual weight loss or weight gain, dizziness, nausea, severe headaches, suicidal thoughts, etc.. Know that it is important to admit that you are experiencing these worrisome symptoms
You might choose to write a personal letter
to yourself or a loved one.
11. Express your feelings through writing. You might choose to write a personal letter to yourself or to the loved one who has passed on or write your thoughts in a journal. You can create a gratitude book, listing all the happy memories, characteristics or blessings that you are grateful for. Conversely, you may find it helpful to write down the painful memories or thoughts and then throw them away or destroy them
12. Invite friends or family members to help you. Asking for help isn’t always easy. Start by making an effort to ask for help with small things: babysitters, shopping, cooking, driving, running errands, cleaning, making phone calls, organizing your life, etc. You will most likely find that your request is met by enthusiastic family members or friends who are grateful for the opportunity to help you in any small way.
13. Do things that have brought you great joy in the past. Make a list and create opportunities for you to revisit those joy-filled activities. If your life has changed and you are no longer able to participate in these types of activities (for example, you were a football player in high school but now find yourself unable to walk or actively participate in sports), then find a related way to enjoy this activity (enjoy watching football on television, or playing video sports games).
14. Volunteer to help others. Studies show that helping others, even if only in a small way, is an effective way of bringing about the healing of mind, body, and spirit.
Nature heals the heart.
15. Spend time outside in nature or with plants and animals. Breathe the fresh air, bathe in the sunlight, and listen to the natural sounds of the birds singing, children laughing, and the wind blowing. If you are unable to get outside, ask for help. Call someone to drive you to the beach, a local park, or to a lake, or ask someone to help you plant a memorial garden in your back yard or to decorate your home with living flowers. Nature heals the heart.
16. Seek out spiritual practices, techniques, or tools. Research shows that those who live a faith-based life are less likely to suffer from depression and more likely to recover quickly from traumatic life events or personal loss. Whether you practice meditation, prayer, daily affirmations, attend a local church, or listen to audiobooks, taking time to surrender your life to a higher power or to experience a higher state of consciousness, can bring peace, contentment, and sense of well-being.
Grieving personal loss is a normal process of life. You might experience a wide variety of emotional reactions. Be patient with yourself and welcome help from family members and friends. Take the time to listen to your feelings and share your emotions through writing, physical activities, or with others with whom you feel safe. Notice emotional triggers for you (holidays, particular music, personal objects, etc.) and protect, support, and comfort yourself during these situations. Care for your physical, emotional and spiritual bodies by eating healthy foods, getting enough rest, organizing your life, and getting out of the house to enjoy the blessing around you, when you are ready. Notice if you are experiencing serious symptoms such as overindulgence of alcohol, drugs, dramatic weight loss or gain, suicidal thoughts, dizziness, or any other serious mental, emotional or physical symptoms. Allow others whom you trust the opportunity to love and support you. Remember that you have the right to grieve at your own pace and in your own way. You can get through this.
Jean Dart, M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University, is a published author, speaker, and life coach, and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.” She is a Registered Music Therapist (RMT), Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder, and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance, a 501(c)3 health education nonprofit organization. To find out more about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance visit www.montereybayholistic.com
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