Even though we are all confronted with loss throughout our lives, the grieving process is not something that is commonly discussed or taught in our culture. There is an expectation that we are supposed to stay strong and return to normal within a few days to a few weeks. Many people believe that if they allow themselves to fully give in to their grief, they will never be able to move beyond it and will be stuck in their grief-stricken state forever.
According to one therapist, this is not the case. In fact, quite the opposite is true. “When we give ourselves permission to feel how we feel – sad, hopeless, lost, confused, worried, angry – we actually move through the grieving process, as opposed to simply avoiding it,” said Avery Neal, a practicing psychotherapist at The Women’s Therapy Clinic in The Woodlands, Texas. Grieving is a very healthy response to any type of loss; even life losses such as a divorce, a move, the end of a friendship, illness or any life transition. “We cannot expect ourselves not to have feelings around these types of events.”
According to Neal, there is no magic formula for moving through the grieving process, but there are some things that can help. She offers some points to keep in mind:
• The mind-body connection. “Loss reminds us that life is finite. The stillness that comes from being alone can feel uncomfortable. Rather than drowning out the stillness with noise, try embracing it. Quiet your mind for a few moments and allow yourself to observe the sensations in your own body. This simple practice can help to center you when it feels as if everything around you is falling apart.”
• Get out in nature. “Nature has a way of lending perspective. It nourishes us in a way that nothing else can, while gently reminding us of the cycle of life. In addition, getting exposure to natural light can help our overall mood. Even something as simple as taking a walk or going barefoot in the grass can soothe us during a difficult time.”
• Exercise. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers. “The brain automatically releases more endorphins during grief to help us get through the initial phase of the loss. After about six weeks or more, the endorphin release wears off and we are left with more depressive symptoms. By exercising, we are tapping into the body’s natural healing system. Exercise can give us a clear focus as we become more in sync with our body. As we feel stronger, we begin to feel less helpless and more capable. A feeling of helplessness is a common experience after a loss.”
According to Neal, grieving is not something that can intellectualized. “In trying to do so, we only set ourselves up for prolonging the process rather than surrendering to it. Trusting the process gives us permission to surrender, which ultimately leads to acceptance.”
This article first appeared in Woodlands Online, The Woodlands/Conroe Bubblelife and The Paper Magazine