We’ve been looking at resilience this month and for our final blog we are tackling the topic of grief.
It’s common to associate grief and loss with the death of a loved one but there are so many life scenarios that can leave us feeling heartbroken and bereaved.
Divorce or relationship break-up, job loss, close friends or family moving away, the death of a pet or homelessness and loss of possessions, as many New Zealanders experienced during the recent floods and cyclone, can all cause feelings of grief.
Dealing with loss can be a long, difficult process but we’ve collected some advice from experts that can help you get through this tough time.
There is no set time for dealing with grief, so don't rush it.
The first thing to remember is that grief is a natural response to loss. It's normal, and it doesn't mean you're weak.
Experts often talk about five stages of grief - commonly denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. You may experience some or all of these and it’s not a linear process. People can experience these aspects of grief at different times and they do not happen in one particular order.
Grief can also come in waves, sometimes when we least expect it.
There is no right way or wrong way for dealing with loss; everyone experiences things differently.
Rather than trying to supress your feelings, embrace them. It’s okay if you feel very sad right now and there really isn't anything wrong with crying when something makes us sad!
It's also important not to hold back emotions because this could lead to depression.
Recognise the signs of grief. Most people expect to feel sad, anxious or numb during times of loss. But grief can cause many different emotions and behavioural changes including exhaustion and inability to sleep, irritability, restlessness and trouble concentrating, nightmares, loss of appetite, headaches or stomach aches and even clumsiness.
Don't let guilt make you feel worse.
Guilt is a normal part of grief. However, it can also turn into self-blame if left unchecked which is why this is something that needs to be monitored closely when dealing with grief and loss.
If you find yourself feeling guilty after the death of someone close to you, or start blaming yourself for your loss, try talking through what happened with someone who has been through a similar experience.
You can't control what happens to you, but you can control how you react.
Don't waste time on things that are out of your control. Instead focus on what is within reach: improving the situation for yourself and others. Don't get angry at other people for something that was beyond their ability to change (even if they should have done more).
Do things that bring you joy and help you move forward from the past.
Do something that makes you feel good or gives you sense of satisfaction, even if it's small. Maybe it's making your bed or cleaning out a closet, or calling a friend, or taking time out to read a book - whatever makes you happy!
If you are dealing with the death of a loved one, you might like to try doing something that reminds you of them. This could be anything from visiting their favourite spot to wearing their favourite shirt as an homage to them (and remembering all the great times). It also might mean going through old photos with someone else who knew them well; this can be an especially powerful experience for both parties involved because it helps keep memories alive.
Focus on the present by working on projects and making plans.
When you're grieving, it's easy to get caught up in the past and focus on what might have been. But this doesn't help anyone. Instead, focus on the present by working on projects and making plans for the future (you never know what tomorrow will bring).
If you find yourself getting stuck in a loop of thoughts about how things used to be or could have been different, remind yourself that no matter how much time has passed since your loss - or even if it was yesterday - it's never too late to start moving forward again with your life.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
Everyone responds differently to grief, so don't compare yourself to others. Take time to heal and focus on the present as much as you can. Remember that it’s normal for feelings of loss to come and go and that there will be better days ahead.
Exercise regularly (or at least try). Exercising helps reduce stress levels by releasing endorphins into your bloodstream, and these feel-good chemicals may help lift your mood.
Eating well is also important, even if you don’t feel like food. If friends offer to make you a meal, say yes. If you can’t face preparing food, a bowl of Te Atatu Toasted muesli with fruit and yogurt is a nourishing meal you can eat any time of the day.
Ask for help.
You may be able to deal with your grief and loss on your own, but it's important to know that there are other people who want to support you. If you don't feel comfortable asking a friend or family member for help, consider seeking professional assistance. Your GP is a good place to start. People often find that talking through their emotions with a counsellor or therapist helps them figure out how they're feeling and how best to cope with their situation.
There are also some great websites, books, videos and podcasts that can help, including:
The Grief Centre which offers counselling, information and resources and links to helplines.
Talkshow host Stephen Colbert and Anderson Cooper's beautiful conversation about grief, which is available on YouTube.
For support during the loss of pet, check out counsellor and social worker Kate McGahan’s website – she has written several books that will help you heal.
Dealing with grief is a challenging and emotional process, but it is possible to work through it with time and support. Remember to be patient with yourself and seek the help and guidance you need to cope with your grief.