Working Through Grief Emotionally, Physically and Spiritually
Hope for the Journey
The road of life is paved with many sorrows. The loss of a loved one through death or divorce is among the most painful experiences humans face. Fortunately, there is help for the most difficult journeys. There are a number of steps and resources that may help you through this time and offer you help, courage, and hope.
How to Work Through Acute Emotional Pain
Grief and sorrow can come on so strong that they almost feel physical. A two-pronged approach—working through both emotional and physical pain—can help more than neglecting and ignoring these powerful needs.
- Inform friends and other family members about your needs. Ask close friends to come sit with you, even if it's just while you sleep or cry or listen as you talk. Choose people who will be there for you without giving advice or trying to "fix" you. We tend to isolate so we don't have to mask the pain in front of others, but a good friend can help you process by just listening.
- Allow your feelings to surface and work through them. That means identifying them, then allow them to pass, like a speeding freight train. Try to verbalize them (i.e., "I feel so sad," or "I am so mad right now!") You'll notice how they come, grow in intensity, then start to fade. This process honors your feelings.
- Uncensored journaling is an excellent way to work through feelings. Start writing about how you feel and keep writing (or typing) without stopping to re-read, edit or change anything. Keep writing for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Assure yourself. If crying becomes uncontrollable, you can quell the wracking sobs by saying to yourself, "There, there now. Let's feel this feeling again later," or "Wow, this is intense, but it's going to be OK." Repeat the affirmations and try to calm your breathing until you are at a manageable level again. Let someone hug you or hug yourself.
- Seek help. Find an online support group or one in the community. Some churches offer programs, such as Griefshare, to help people cope with loss.
- Read about the five stages of grief. You'll find you are not alone.
- Resist the temptation to blame yourself or second-guess your actions. This can hurl you into a shame cycle that can compound the discomfort.
- If you must be alone, go ahead, but try to keep those times short. Ask a friend to call you in two hours or make an appointment that you'll have to keep later in the week.
Coping with Grief Physically
Where to Start to Work Through the Pain
Grief is experienced whenever you lose something important to you. The emotion is so powerful that people sometimes look for ways to go around it, such as deny it or numb it with drugs or addictions, rather than experience it. This approach will not work. The best thing you can do for yourself is to work through pain and express your feelings. The following are specific ways to help yourself work through this powerful emotion so it doesn't turn into suffering.
- Don't abandon your healthy habits. Eat, sleep and exercise. Just don't overdo any of them.
- Avoid overeating sugar and fast food. Allow others to bring a home-cooked meal, so you have something nourishing and tasty on hand. Avoid numbing out with alcohol.
- Rest is important. During times of duress, medication can help. Ask your doctor for something non-habit forming. Meditation, perhaps in the form of prayer or reading, may help. "Imaginative dumping" can replace counting sheep. Imagine all your thoughts, concerns and worries being dumped into a large container. Imagine putting a lid on the container and saying to yourself, "These can all wait until tomorrow." Inhale and exhale deeply and allow yourself to fall asleep.
- After you've rested, physically be with someone. Ask a friend to come over instead of texting them. Go for a walk with a buddy instead of channel-surfing. Most of all, avoid social media sites that inundate you with messages that everyone else's life is perfect.
- Continue exercising but don't try to lose weight or train for a marathon. If you haven't been exercising, start by taking short, daily walks.
How Grief Affects You Spiritually
One of the first things you hear from people who experience great loss is, "Why, God?" Immediately, the spirit feels the loss because it was not meant to be this way. However, gods are strange things. The Christian God, the Lord, says, "My ways are not your ways, nor are my thoughts your thoughts." He does and thinks differently than we do. Other gods may have a punishing aspect or a haphazard, selfish nature that allows him or her to do as they please. But if these gods would just answer and tell us why this event was in the plan, we might be able to make better sense of it. Unfortunately, most modern gods don't tell us much about the "why." It helps to have a source of spiritual strength in these times, a rock to run to who will whisper, "I know what I'm doing. It's not all for naught." In those quiet moments, when our soul can say, "Not my will, but yours be done," we can find healing balm for the searing pain, even if we don't know the reason. We can trust that a Higher Power is working for our ultimate good.
- Pray, meditate, or just walk through nature and see the way nature works. Use mindfulness techniques to center your heart to the here and now to break rumination and cyclical thinking. These practices can restore peace.
- Continue attending your place of worship and let the clergy know to pray for you.
- Surround yourself with the healing power of beauty and let your soul soak it in. Humans crave beauty and respond positively to it. Music, art, flowers, poetry, symmetry, color, and uplifting aromas all work to relieve stress and evoke peace.
- Use your mind to remind your soul that loss is not natural and that grief is the response to disappointment. Let your soul grieve. It means that not all is as it should be at the moment, but then trust that God can make it all right.
Long-term Help for Emotional Pain
Once you are over the initial anguish, take steps to care for yourself in the long run.
- When you are ready, offer to help someone else.
- Attend meetings that help you release long-held beliefs or behaviors. Try Al-Anon, CODA, OA or AA. Attend support groups in your neighborhood. Some groups even meet online.
- Plan for holidays. Planning who you'll be with or what you can do as an alternative to your regular traditions can help you avoid some of the inevitable pain.
Let Love in
If you are in an intimate relationship, allow your partner to know what you are feeling. Ask her to just listen and be there without trying to fix it then be willing to listen to what she is going through as well. Try to be present for each other.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.