In Curiosity of Grief

by Catherine DeAngelis
InCuriosityofGriefOutofPocketEmotions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pueblo Blessing
*Nancy Wood

Hold on to what is good
Even if it is a handful of earth
Hold on to what you believe
Even if it is a tree that stands by itself
Hold on to what you must do
Even if it is a long way from here
Hold on to life
Even if it is easier to let go
Hold on to my hand
Even if I have gone away from you.

Grief is a complex matter bringing us deep sorrow; above all, when caused by the death of someone we know and love. It comes to us suddenly, accidentally, traumatically, tragically and sometimes expectantly or prematurely. We learn as part of our natural life we will undergo grief of different kinds then that related to a physical death. Respectively, a loss is a cause of emotional inner conflict while coming to terms with someone or something we love or attached to taken away from us. The bereavement occurs and we mourn as we begin the getting through toward our healing.

As we age, at some point, we will realize it is inherent we all die. As sharp as this might sound, what a part of life to grasp no matter how much we are aware and vibrantly we live. At this bend, it is where we innately pick up as we go and carry on with grief. It will present itself to us no matter how much we protect ourselves. More, it is here where we do not isolate. We open up, encircled by a community coming together in this time of discord. Now it is at this place, we can believe it is possible our suffering will lessen and we will carry on.

Teenage girl praying outdoors at twilight. Shallow DOF.

Looking for comfort during time of grief is personal for each of us from a child, older youth to adult, seniors and vulnerable seniors. We need the coping skills to endure. We may find ourselves suddenly called upon to serve as a guide or a mentor to the young or old during this time of discomfort.

Grief is a word synonymous with many emotions: anger, sorrow, misery, sadness, anguish, pain, distress, heartache, heartbreak, agony, torment, affliction, suffering, woe, desolation, dejection, despair and from mourning, mournfulness to lamentation and more. To help make sense of it, we may describe it as an emotional reaction to the loss, compared to bereavement, which is an emotional event, and mourning is the process toward healing.  During these times, the lead emotion we most feel is anger.

Anger is a legitimate and a normal healthy emotion that comes to alert us we have an inner conflict to manage and decide if we need some backing to help us gain a footing during these days.  Open to Hope Foundation® is a non-profit foundation with its mission for helping people find hope after loss and offer a free webinar on understanding anger.

A death of loved one of the most traumatizing is when someone takes his or her own life. For surviving family members and friends, it is not easy to accept this suicide. A sense of anger and deep shame transpires. Along with this, family members may feel guilt and blame themselves, or covertly made to feel liable for being unaware of the signs that led to the taking of one’s own life. The subject of suicide is taboo in many cultures. Religiously and publicly unacknowledged, honestly making the cause of death of the loved one unknown. Families needing solace instead feel shame during their grieving and bereavement and familial mourning occurs in isolation.

When we have experienced grief, we are better able not to be overcome by it as we allow ourselves to continue with the bereavement and accept the time of mourning. As we become the bereaved, we inevitably face sadness. Sadness is the unhappiness we feel around this time of grief and the emotion in which we express our sorrow over the loss.

InCuriosityofGriefOutofPocketEmotionsSadMan

Grief of Another Kind

During our lifetime, we suffer losses that have nothing to do with death as we more commonly know it, and yet find it hard to cope due to situations that challenge us and to give us pain. We are unable to explain what is happening to us, but we are hurting. If it is hard to explain, our emotions are likely reminding us we are upset due to what is going on in our life to create a huge shift from our normal routine.

When no one died, we are alive, but human as we are there are reasons we might have for grief due to losses of another kind:

  • Life-changing or life-threatening illness
  • Loss of a healthy childhood
  • Aging/retirement
  • Children going off to college
  • Move to another country/refugee status
  • Divorce/loss of in-laws, familiar friends and home
  • Friends distancing, breaking up, arguing, or outgrown one another
  • Loss of spiritual connection, life objective or dream that didn’t shape up to what we had hoped
  • Developing a disability
  • Financial loss
  • Job loss/fired/career transitions
  • Loss of a beloved pet-companion

Grief, Bereavement and Mourning

While the terms grief and bereavement are often used interchangeably, bereavement refers to the state of loss, and grief is the reaction to loss. Grief is a natural response to loss and with it comes various stages. Whatever time is given to the process of bereavement can vary on how close we are to the person who died, and if the death was an anticipated loss.

Additionally, mourning is by way of how we adapt and cope with the loss. Many cultural customs, rituals, and even society’s rule commands how our mourning is influenced. When a death takes place, we want to express our needs. We accept words of condolences as support at a time when life appears to us confusing and fragmented we feel emotionally numb and out-of-place unknowingly, while we contend with the reality we are grieving a loss.

Vulnerability is an emotion during this time that makes its presence known in us. It is vital we are honest as much as it is possible even if it is not easy to understand. We are struggling with what in unknown to us, about how we feel, our fears, what we need or even how to go about asking for what it is we do need. Instead, we center on barely coping and stave off unhealthy habits we think soothe the unexplainable pain we are feeling. Sudden addictions may arise such as emotional eating or bingeing, added use of prescription medicine, alcohol or gambling. These dependencies are emotional fixes for a while, however to postpone the inevitable, emotional pain may likely appear again in the distant future due to unresolved grief from a past loss. Grief counsellors or support groups or both will benefit us at this time.

Hand ReachingHow can we give all that we have and move through with our basic living?

  • We will cope day-by-day with the belief time will heal – we can accept things will be rough for a while.
  • We will eventually feel better — might not be today, tomorrow, but soon.
  • We reach for backing to aid us with the unfamiliar ground we stand on until we feel it is doable to live through this and accept the personal changes that comes with it.
  • We work hard every day to look after ourselves.
  • We may resist and be unrealistic by doing too much or think we are able to do as much as we used to before the loss.
  • We will find time difficult and need to give ourselves the pause needed from the usual activities so we may gain momentum of living with a another kind of memory.
  • We promise we will not go it alone, we will reach out and seek comfort in the people we know we be there for us.

The Stages and Phases 

Many grief theorists who have studied grief presented either similar, comparative or opposing views on the stages and phases of what we may go through during our grieving.  Erich Lindemann is a psychiatrist who in the late 40s developed his grief theory developing a grief work model. From the model he surmises the bereaved has to accept grief as an adaptive response and to take to heart, we are not the person who has died, but our beloved who has died. He also agrees death will change the bereaved from the point of death forward. The pain of this initially hurts terribly. Yet his belief is to adapt and see grief as not the adapting to a loss, but the emotion or the emotions around the loss we are getting through.

We never know as a family member, friend, or acquaintance, when the right time is to approach the knowing of what to do to show support. Intentions are to help ease the pain of the loss during mourning.  However careful we tread, we want to make sure to place an offering of care and present ourselves with astuteness and higher sensitivity than usual. MP900227519

The bereaved will experience cognitive confusion and their ability to concentrate is lessened. Many may experience anxiety, disorganization, or pre-occupation about something. The behaviors we witness from the bereaved are sadness, withdrawal, a crying or constant weepiness. Sometimes hostility surfaces and usually erupts in anger rejecting thoughts a loved one has died.

Grief theorist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross known for the 5-stages and phases of grief and David Kessler, grief expert, explain denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are part of healing phase. They remind us at times, people in grief and bereavement will often show more stages, justly showing us, our grief is as individual as we are. Though our emotions are unexplainable at times, we are vulnerable. The stages represent the responses to the loss. There are many tools available to aid in these stages that block us in our healing and may need to seek counselling or group therapy to guide us forward.

Having compassion is the best way to go. We start by asking permission and genuine concern for the bereaved suffering. We can try in our way to relieve the hurt, however try as we may, it must come with the bereaved having openness to this. If such as, you recommend a book or a piece of healing music as a kind gesture— should I go ahead and ask.  Of course, do this by making sure it is with heartfelt consideration. We may offer can we meet to chat about the book or the piece of music when it is more proper. Awareness and attention to the receptiveness of our actions negative response maybe minimized as we go about this with careful intention and timing.

Getting Through and Healing

InCuriosityofGriefOutofPocketEmotionsMan2

The healing process is not linear and more than a simple “getting over a loss.” To say to the bereaved, getting over it will sound dismissive to them, and their process of healing in their loss is unimportant. It can pose meaningless stressors, as if simply asking to step over a bucket of water in their way and get on with it.

Taking care of ourselves is the best option no matter how uncomfortable grief feels.

If the grief becomes too difficult and suicidal thoughts start to surface in our mind, tell someone, and immediately go to hospital emergency – opting out of life is not an option.  Getting through a loss, we need to go through and get out on the other side and continue walking no matter how messy it feels along the way.  Imagine surgical sutures or stitches when removed. What remains is a scar. We are not the same person we were before the loss and will be reminded often how much has changed. We can only move toward acceptance and healing is allowed to take its own course. In tow during this journey we go with loving compassion to our bereaved and ourselves.

The Harvard Medical School reports, “If prayer hearten or sustains you, set aside time for it. Read spiritual texts that you find comforting, attend services, and share your circumstances with a religious leader who can help place the death in the context of your faith. Gardening or communing with nature, which offers many opportunities to observe the rhythms of life and death in the natural world, is also soothing to some people. So, too, is meditation or yoga.”

Some suggested teachings follow by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, author, educator, and grief counsellor, known for his inspirational messages for people who are grieving, taken from Grieving Person’s Bill of Rights by Wolfelt:

  • No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do.
  • You have the right to talk about your grief.
  • You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
  • You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.
  • You have the right to experience grief “attacks.”
  • You have the right to make use of ritual.
  • You have the right to search for meaning.
  • You have the right to embrace your spirituality.
  • You have the right to treasure your memories.
  • You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

Hope and Resiliency

Dedicated belief and a stronger tDSC_7463 (1)han usual support system in place, will bring us hope and emotional reconciliation to the inevitable – we are resilient!

Resiliency comes to us not only by way of healing from the love of a beloved we’ve lost to death, but as well loss can happen too for the family, who have left their country upon escaping war, persecution, or natural disaster, as well moving beyond hope and toward resilience.  Here is where being able to adjust in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or tremendous stressors can exist.

If we feel we must bounce back from pain quicker than we think, opening up our mind and heart and showing kinder than usual personal and community care, the road to healing is less isolating, painful and a sense of belongingness exists for all of us

Pueblo Blessing previously published in Many Winters: Poetry and Prose of the Pueblos by Nancy C. Wood, Doubleday, 1974

~ All Rights Reserved ~

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Improving Emotional Health

Strategies and Tips for Good Mental Health

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A. and Jeanne Segal Ph.D.
Last updated: May 2016 (Reprinted with permission)

Improving Emotional Health

People who are emotionally healthy are in control of their emotions and their behavior. They are able to handle life’s challenges, build strong relationships, and recover from setbacks. But just as it requires effort to build or maintain physical health, so it is with mental and emotional health. Improving your emotional health can be a rewarding experience, benefiting all aspects of your life, including boosting your mood, building resilience, and adding to your overall enjoyment of life.

What is mental health or emotional health?

Mental or emotional health refers to your overall psychological well-being. It includes the way you feel about yourself, the quality of your relationships, and your ability to manage your feelings and deal with difficulties.

Good mental health isn’t just the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental and emotional health refers to the presence of positive characteristics. Similarly, not feeling bad is not the same as feeling good. While some people may not have negative feelings, they still need to do things that make them feel positive in order to achieve mental and emotional health.

People who are mentally and emotionally healthy have:

  • A sense of contentment
  • A zest for living and the ability to laugh and have fun
  • The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity
  • A sense of meaning and purpose, in both their activities and their relationships
  • The flexibility to learn new things and adapt to change
  • A balance between work and play, rest and activity, etc.
  • The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships
  • Self-confidence and high self-esteem
  • These positive characteristics of mental and emotional health allow you to participate in life to the fullest extent possible through productive, meaningful activities and strong relationships. These positive characteristics also help you cope when faced with life’s challenges and stresses.

The role of resilience in mental and emotional health

Being emotionally and mentally healthy doesn’t mean never going through bad times or experiencing emotional problems. We all go through disappointments, loss, and change. And while these are normal parts of life, they can still cause sadness, anxiety, and stress.

The difference is that people with good emotional health have an ability to bounce back from adversity, trauma, and stress. This ability is called resilience. People who are emotionally and mentally healthy have the tools for coping with difficult situations and maintaining a positive outlook. They remain focused, flexible, and creative in bad times as well as good. One of the key factors in resilience is the ability to balance stress and your emotions.

The capacity to recognize your emotions and express them appropriately helps you avoid getting stuck in depression, anxiety, or other negative mood states. Another key factor is having a strong support network. Having trusted people you can turn to for encouragement and support will boost your resilience in tough times.

Physical health is connected to mental and emotional health

Taking care of your body is a powerful first step towards mental and emotional health. The mind and the body are linked. When you improve your physical health, you’ll automatically experience greater mental and emotional well-being. For example, exercise not only strengthens our heart and lungs, but also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals that energize us and lift our mood.

The activities you engage in, and the daily choices you make, affect the way you feel physically and emotionally.

Ladies working out

  • Get enough rest. To have good mental and emotional health, it’s important to take care of your body. That includes getting enough sleep. Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep each night in order to function optimally.
  • Learn about good nutrition and practice it. The subject of nutrition is complicated and not always easy to put into practice. But the more you learn about what you eat and how it affects your energy and mood, the better you can feel.
  • Exercise to relieve stress and lift your mood. Exercise is a powerful antidote to stress, anxiety, and depression. Look for small ways to add activity to your day, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going on a short walk. To get the most mental health benefits, aim for 30 minutes or more of exercise per day.
  • Get a dose of sunlight every day. Sunlight lifts your mood, so try to get at least 10 to 15 minutes of sun per day. This can be done while exercising, gardening, or socializing.
  • Limit alcohol and avoid cigarettes and other drugs. These are stimulants that may unnaturally make you feel good in the short term, but have long-term negative consequences for mood and emotional health.

Improve mental and emotional health by taking care of yourself

In order to maintain and strengthen your mental and emotional health, it’s important to pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Don’t let stress and negative emotions build up. Try to maintain a balance between your daily responsibilities and the things you enjoy. If you take care of yourself, you’ll be better prepared to deal with challenges if, and when, they arise.

Taking care of yourself includes pursuing activities that naturally release endorphins and contribute to feeling good. In addition to physical exercise, endorphins are also naturally released when we:

  • Do things that positively impact others. Being useful to others and being valued for what you do can help build self-esteem.
  • Practice self-discipline. Self-control naturally leads to a sense of hopefulness and can help you overcome despair, helplessness, and other negative thoughts.
  • Learn or discover new things. Think of it as “intellectual candy.” Try taking an adult education class, join a book club, visit a museum, learn a new language, or simply travel somewhere new.
  • Enjoy the beauty of nature or art. Studies show that simply walking through a garden can lower blood pressure and reduce stress. The same goes for strolling through a park or an art gallery, hiking, admiring architecture, or sitting on a beach.
  • Manage your stress levels. Stress takes a heavy toll on mental and emotional health, so it’s important to keep it under control. While not all stressors can be avoided, stress management strategies can help you bring things back into balance.
  • Limit unhealthy mental habits like worrying. Try to avoid becoming absorbed by repetitive mental habits—negative thoughts about yourself and the world that suck up time, drain your energy, and trigger feelings of anxiety, fear, and depression.

More tips and strategies for taking care of yourself:

  • Appeal to your senses. Stay calm and energized by appealing to the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Listen to music that lifts your mood, place flowers where you will see and smell them, massage your hands and feet, or sip a warm drink.
  • Engage in meaningful, creative work. Do things that challenge your creativity and make you feel productive, whether or not you get paid for it—things like gardening, drawing, writing, playing an instrument, or building something in your workshop.
  • Get a pet. Yes, pets are a responsibility, but caring for one makes you feel needed and loved. There is no love quite as unconditional as the love a pet can give. Animals can also get you out of the house for exercise and expose you to new people and places.
  • Make leisure time a priority. Do things for no other reason than that it feels good to do them. Go to a funny movie, take a walk on the beach, listen to music, read a good book, or talk to a friend. Doing things just because they are fun is no indulgence. Play is an emotional and mental health necessity.
  • Make time for contemplation and appreciation. Think about the things you’re grateful for.Mediate, pray, enjoy the sunset, or simply take a moment to pay attention to what is good, positive, and beautiful as you go about your day.

Everyone is different; not all things will be equally beneficial to all people. Some people feel better relaxing and slowing down while others need more activity and more excitement or stimulation to feel better. The important thing is to find activities that you enjoy and that give you a boost.

Supportive relationships: The foundation of emotional health

No matter how much time you devote to improving your mental and emotional health, you will still need the company of others to feel and be your best. Humans are social creatures with an emotional need for relationships and positive connections to others. We’re not meant to survive, let alone thrive, in isolation. Our social brains crave companionship—even when experience has made us shy and distrustful of others.

Social interaction—specifically talking to someone else about your problems—can also help to reduce stress. The key is to find a supportive relationship with someone who is a “good listener”—someone you can talk to regularly, preferably face-to-face, who will listen to you without a pre-existing agenda for how you should think or feel. A good listener will listen to the feelings behind your words, and won’t interrupt or judge or criticize you. The best way to find a good listener? Be a good listener yourself. Develop a friendship with someone you can talk to regularly, and then listen and support each other.

Tips and strategies for connecting to others:

  • Get out from behind your TV or computer screen. Screens have their place but they will never have the same effect as an expression of interest or a reassuring touch. Communication is a largely nonverbal experience that requires you to be in direct contact with other people, so don’t neglect your real-world relationships in favor of virtual interaction.
  • Spend time daily, face-to-face, with people you like. Make spending time with people you enjoy a priority. Choose friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members who are upbeat, positive, and interested in you. Take time to inquire about people you meet during the day that you like.
  • Volunteer. Doing something that helps others has a beneficial effect on how you feel about yourself. The meaning and purpose you find in helping others will enrich and expand your life. There is no limit to the individual and group volunteer opportunities you can explore. Schools, churches, nonprofits, and charitable organization of all sorts depend on volunteers for their survival.
  • Be a joiner. Join networking, social action, conservation, and special interest groups that meet on a regular basis. These groups offer wonderful opportunities for finding people with common interests—people you like being with who are potential friends.

Risk factors for mental and emotional problems

Your mental and emotional health has been and will continue to be shaped by your experiences. Early childhood experiences are especially significant. Genetic and biological factors can also play a role, but these too can be changed by experience.

Risk factors that can compromise mental and emotional health:

  • Poor connection or attachment to your primary caretaker early in life. Feeling lonely, isolated, unsafe, confused, or abused as an infant or young child.
  • Traumas or serious losses, especially early in life. Death of a parent or other traumatic experiences such as war or hospitalization.
  • Learned helplessness. Negative experiences that lead to a belief that you’re helpless and that you have little control over the situations in your life.
  • Illness, especially when it’s chronic, disabling, or isolates you from others.
  • Side effects of medications, especially in older people who may be taking a variety of medications.
  • Substance abuse. Alcohol and drug abuse can both cause mental health problems and make preexisting mental or emotional problems worse.

Whatever internal or external factors have shaped your mental and emotional health, it’s never too late to make changes that will improve your psychological well-being. Risk factors can be counteracted with protective factors, like strong relationships, a healthy lifestyle, and coping strategies for managing stress and negative emotions.

When to seek professional help for emotional problems

If you’ve made consistent efforts to improve your mental and emotional health and you still don’t feel good—then it’s time to seek professional help. Because we are so socially attuned, input from a knowledgeable, caring professional can motivate us to do things for ourselves that we were not able to do on our own.


Red flag feelings and behaviors that may require immediate attention

  • Inability to sleep
  • Feeling down, hopeless, or helpless most of the time
  • Concentration problems that are interfering with your work or home life
  • Using nicotine, food, drugs, or alcohol to cope with difficult emotions
  • Negative or self-destructive thoughts or fears that you can’t control
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you identify with any of these red flag symptoms, consider making an appointment with a mental health professional.

If you want your relationships to be more satisfying, fulfilling, and supportive, FEELING LOVED can help. Read: Feeling Loved: The Science of Nurturing Meaningful Connections and Building Lasting Happiness 2015

 

Resources and references


The Road to Resilience
– Guide to resilience, including ten ways to build your resilience, how to learn from your past, and how to stay flexible. (American Psychological Association)

Mind/Body Connection: How Your Emotions Affect Your Health – Learn how emotions affect your health and what you can do to improve your emotional health. (American Academy of Family Physicians)

Mental Health: Keeping Your Emotional Health – Defines good emotional health, describes how stress affects emotions, and offers tips for avoiding problems. (American Academy of Family Physicians)

Making and Keeping Friends: A Self-Help Guide – Offers practical advice and tips on developing supportive friendships. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

What Every Child Needs for Good Mental Health – Parenting advice on how to provide the love, security, and boundaries every child needs for mental and emotional health. (Mental Health America)

Download Meditations – Download or stream a dozen free meditation recordings to help you cope with life’s inevitable hurdles. Comes with handouts. (Sitting Together)

Emotional Health – Written for college students, with special sections on adjusting to college life, how relationships factor in, and why it’s important to reduce stress. (Princeton University)

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Robert Segal, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: May 2016.

~All Rights Reserved~