Grief is a universal experience of life; the natural healing process we experience as a result of loss. The “loss” can be anything we perceived as significant in our lives – a person, a situation, an animal, our health, financial loss, freedom or even a change in our life’s direction. Our grief is a useful tool to help us process our loss and can have both subtle and significant impacts on all aspects of our wellbeing – mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. This process of grief is normal and universal, yet it can often feel very overwhelming. In my work with grieving individuals I often hear people say that they never realized how difficult a significant loss would be until they themselves experienced it.
Unfortunately, in our society, grief is not often discussed openly. We are not educated about its impacts on our wellbeing and in our lives, what to expect or even how to process it. We are left feeling confused as to whether what we are feeling and experiencing is “normal”; sometimes we may not even realize that we are in the grieving process. Grief is far too often seen as a problem to “fix” rather than a natural and universal process and tool for healing. We are often expected to “move on” and to just return back to normal faster than the reality of our experience will allow. These misguided beliefs place an expectation that we “should” process and heal in a particular way and that grief has a set timeline; however, this could not be further from the truth!
Grief does not have a timeline; it is not predictable or linear. Rather, it ebbs and flows through our life in various ways over time. It is a journey of feeling and processing, acceptance, healing, and readjusting to a new life after the loss. Grief may look different for everyone and many factors such as past history, social network, type of loss that may influence how each person moves through their grief. The experience and expression of grief are unique to every person, and thus the tools that may help will vary. Below are some tools that can be supportive after a loss or major life change.
Tools for Coping with Grief and Loss:
Grief can feel very confusing at the start. It can impact us in ways we may not understand or did not expect. For some, seeking a deeper understanding of grief can help with the healing process. This can be done by connecting with a practitioner trained in grief support – such a counselor, naturopathic physician, death doula. There are also some wonderful books available which offer some education and support. You can access a list of resources at the end of this article.
Mindfulness exercises such as guided meditations, breathwork and gentle yoga can help support grief. Mindfulness is the practice of bringing one’s awareness to the present moment. These practices can help to calm the nervous system, reduce anxiety and stress, bring us into our body and support us while we feel painful or difficult emotions. Through the use of these practices, we can become more present and recognize what we are feeling.
Note: if you are suffering from PTSD or panic attacks, mindfulness exercises may not be suitable for you. Consider connecting with a trauma-informed yoga teacher or therapist to support you in your healing and exploration of these tools.
This tool can be very helpful for processing the many thoughts and emotions you may be feeling. There are a few ways to use journaling in grief.
- One way is to sit and write whatever it is that comes to mind in the moment. There is no right or wrong format. Just write freely. This form of journaling can help release emotions and thoughts onto paper, offering an opportunity to acknowledge what we are experiencing and relief.
- Another way is through writing a letter to our loved ones. This can help communicate some of the things we may not have been able to say or what we have been feeling as we move through grieving our loss.
Rituals play an important role in the grieving process. They help bring action into our grief and honour our experience. It also allows us to stay connected with who we have lost by honouring them. Rituals help bring us into the present moment through intention and can be used as needed and/or on special dates or anniversaries. Simple rituals include lighting a candle, writing a letter, creating an altar, visiting a grave site. Be creative with your ritual!
Connecting with others who may be experiencing a similar type of loss can be helpful for some. Although everyone’s grief experience and loss are unique to them, connecting with others, who may be feeling similar emotions or having similar thoughts, can help us feel less alone in our grief. It also provides a space where we can be heard and better understood.
Everyone can benefit from some form of grief counseling or grief support. Even a few grief awareness sessions, with someone you feel safe talking to, can offer education, support and sometimes a space for deeper healing. This may not feel like the right option for everyone, however, if your grief is causing severe anxiety, depression, PTSD or affecting your ability to cope with life, then reaching out for professional support is important.
These are just a few examples of tools that may help someone coping with loss. This article is not meant to provide any medical advice. If you require additional support, please reach out to a medical professional or counselor who can offer individualized guidance.
Dr Geneviève Brûlê, ND RYT