Lately, I've been talking to quite a few people who've lost loved ones. It's got me thinking about how we cope with loss, especially the loss of a young person, and how we keep going forward in our lives in the face of such a tragedy.
Grief is a weird experience; it's not what you'd expect. You'd think that it's all about crying and feeling sad, but in reality, acute grief is a potent combination of mental fogginess, deep hurt, anger, agitation, forgetfulness, impatience, lethargy, apathy and extreme vulnerability.
When we lose someone very close to us, there's a period of time, early on, when it can be difficult to function. It's unsettling, even scary, to feel so out of control, especially if we're usually a high-functioning person.
That was certainly my experience two years ago when I lost someone very close to me. I felt like I was in an altered state of consciousness, swimming through a thick soup of paralyzing emotions, with no idea how long it would last.
Fortunately, within three months I was doing a lot better. I wasn't back to myself -- that took the good part of a year--but I was more functional, to be sure.
I think that for me, I was able to come back from the state of devastation I was in because I turned to the four coping strategies that always get me through hard times.
These four strategies are super simple and enormously helpful, and I want to share them with you.
Coping strategy #1: Turn to your loved ones for support. This is fairly obvious, but I've noticed that too many people withdraw during grief when they need to reach out and ask for help. No-one should be embarrassed to ask their friends and family for support while they're grieving. It helps so much.
Coping strategy #2: Immerse yourself in creativity. I've found that making art of any kind is an excellent salve for grief. You can make art specifically about your loss -- one of my cousins did an amazing series of paintings and sculptures about losing her husband to ALS, a few years ago -- or you can do what I do, which is to throw yourself into art for the sake of it. It's deeply therapeutic.
Coping strategy #3: Exercise. When I've experienced loss, I've always upped my level of exercise. I find that it gives me an outlet for all the intense emotions I'm experiencing and is a great way to blow off steam. Instead of sitting on the sofa, eating ice cream and being miserable, I'm out running in the park, getting fresh air and feeling more alive.
Coping strategy #4: Try yoga, meditation, or prayer. You can turn to God for relief and sustenance when you're feeling terrible grief. Yoga, meditation and breathing exercises will calm the mind and help you find inner peace. I like yoga and meditation as a regular practice, and find that they provide me with additional grounding and peace when I'm going through difficult times.
When I utilize these four coping strategies, they help me gain perspective on my loss. I appreciate everything so much more and feel happy for my morning cup of tea, a funny pin sent by a friend, or a cuddle with a pet. I take more pleasure in the simple things, like the blue sky and the bright sun, and I'm grateful to be alive to experience them.
My loved ones become that much more important to me when I'm experiencing grief, but I also have less tolerance for those who want to drag me into their drama. When I'm coping with loss I have limited energy, so I prioritize who I'm willing to spend time with and choose uplifting, positive people who give me energy rather than drain me.
Using these four strategies, I'm able to see things more clearly and understand everything more deeply. The pain of loss transforms into a greater awareness of myself, others and the world around me.
These coping strategies enrich my life, even when I'm not experiencing acute grief. Art, exercise, contemplation and loved ones are the four pillars that keep me grounded and strong, calm and peaceful, loving and grateful.
Grief is devastating and debilitating but it's also somewhat like a cleansing. Using my four coping strategies, I can go through the process of grieving and come out the other side a better person, knowing that I'm strong and resilient, and so grateful for my life.
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