Spread the love

For anyone who has lost someone, they know that grief is always there, sort of lurking in the background. I spoke with a widow the other day who shared with me how different the holidays are for her since her husband passed. I read an article about a widowed husband who knew that his wife’s death was coming, and he still expressed that he could have never been prepared for it. This type of grief is known as anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is when we receive a terminal diagnosis for ourselves or our family members. This type of grief layers the grief process.

I also had a conversation with a mother who is grieving the loss of her son. Life is not the same for her or for her children. She is approaching the holidays by both honoring the memory of her son and incorporating new rituals, as the old ones are a reminder of his absence.

We all know that there are no words that can take away pain. There are however basic things that we can do to take good care of ourselves as we are navigating grief. If you read this and are going through the grief process, remember that everyone that is grieving is at a different place. Some are a month out and others are years out.

A Learning Process

Psychologist Mary-Francis O’Conner at the university of Arizona has done extensive research on grief and grieving. One of the things that she mentions is the fact that grief is a learning process. You are learning how to live without someone. In her work, O’Conner explains that when we love someone, our brains encode a bond. Our brains envision our lives as a WE instead of an I. Our brains encode the fact that we have 4 children, not 3. It takes times for our brains to rewire this new information.

The Body

As reported in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, a recent study suggests that relaxation techniques can be an effective coping technique when we are grieving. The outcome of the study showed that participants who engaged in progressive muscle relaxation had significant benefits. What can we take from this? I think the takeaway here is to focus on our bodies. Symptoms of grief can be stressful for our bodies and our minds. Relaxation is the opposite of our fight or flight response. When we focus on relaxing, we give our bodies some relief. Heather Stang, who is a thanatologist (the study of death, dying and bereavement) talks about the physical experiences of grief. Insomnia, muscle tension, nausea, joints that ache, etc. If you are in the beginning stages of grief, focus on the basics, such as sleeping, eating and taking care of your physical body. If you are at later stages of grief, you can engage in other activities that focus on healing the body.

Here are 4 things that may be helpful in the grieving process:

1. Drop the timeline

Give yourself permission to be wherever you are. There is no set timeline for grief

2. Take care of your basic needs

We cannot control the loss of our loved ones. We can however control how we take care of our bodies.

Work with your body. Incorporate body work into your healing. Give yourself water.

Stretch, breathe, swim, and practice guided meditation before bed.

3. Seek out what soothes you

While there is research and best practices, each person has their own experience of grief.

According to Heahter Stang, “Only one person can honestly know what we need, you”.

Spend some time reflecting on what you need right now. Take up a journaling practice where you check in with yourself and your needs regularly.

4. Have language for your grief

Lauren Herschel created an analogy to explain grief and why it hurts so much. Lauren’s analogy tells you to picture a ball in a box with a pain button in the box. “When your first faced with a loss, grief may feel heavy and large filling out every corner of your life.” In these moments, the ball is hitting the pain button all of the time. Your pain is big and ever present. As time goes on. the ball gets smaller, and it doesn’t hit the pain button all of the time. However, there will still be days where the bouncing ball gets really big and slams against the pain button. There are days where this will surprise you and take you off guard. It may be that you hear a song at the grocery store, or it may be an anniversary date, a holiday or a certain time of year. What I love about this analogy is that it gives us language. On the hard days, we can say, okay the ball is big today. Today is a really hard heavy day. What do I need today?

5. Be compassionate with yourself

As a therapist, I see that people often have more suffering because of the ways that they speak to themselves about their grief. “I should be over this by now”, “I should be further”, ” Why am I still in this place”

Compassion is incredibly healing. Dr. Kristin Nuff’s research on self-compassion found that self-compassion can foster resilience and reduce psychological stress.

When we can be compassionate with ourselves, we can remind ourselves that we are doing the best that we can. We can remind ourselves that we are relearning life without a part of ourselves and that this is incredibly hard.

Modern Therapy and Wellness is a Therapy practice offering specialty services to individuals and couples. We have specialists in the areas of grief, addiction, Anxiety, chronic illness and couple’s therapy. We provide in person and virtual Therapy in Louisiana. Contact us for a free phone consultation.

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