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Practical Help for Grief and Loss

Losing someone or something we love is one of the hardest parts of life. As the holidays draw near many people feel this loss more intensely. Counselling Psychologist, Beverley Teixeria, looks at practical tips to help deal with grief.

Grief and loss are unpleasant experiences that are, unfortunately, inevitable in life. Sometime in one’s life it is unavoidable that some kind of loss will be experienced. Usually when we think of the word grief it is paired with the word death. While this is probably the most extreme kind of grief, the process of mourning is initiated whenever we lose something that we hold dear to us – be it a loved one, a relationship, a pet or an object that holds sentimental value.

If you were to google “How to deal with grief”, it is more than likely that you would come across the 5 stages of grief. These are the ideas first put forward by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book “On Death and Dying” and then expanded on in her later book “More on Death and Dying”. These stages are, of course:

1. Denial

2. Anger

3. Bargaining

4. Depression/Despair and

5. Acceptance.

While it may be intellectually helpful to know what to expect, when someone experiences a loss, hearing and talking about these stages isn’t very helpful. This is because when someone is in mourning they are running on emotion, rather than with rational and intellectual thought. When looking at these 5 “stages” of grief it is also important to note that the stages are not completely linear and are rather just the 5 most common experiences of people who are grieving. Often people will go through a loss experience, and may seem to reach the stage of acceptance only to experience something stressful or painful and be thrown back into anger or bargaining or depression.

As I have said above, understanding the stages of grief is only helpful in part. In coping with loss it is important to look at some practical or tangible things that you can do to help you through this difficult time. So let’s look at a few things that you can do to cope with grief.

· I would like to suggest that you look up information on mindfulness exercises for grief (you can just Google the term and look through the results and see which result you feel most comfortable with). This is just to assist you in staying in the moment and not allowing yourself to get caught up in the cycle of hopelessness that comes with projecting too far into the future and reflecting too deeply on the past. Mindfulness is about realising that “this too shall pass”. Putting it simply, when you are feeling overwhelmed with negative feelings, it is helpful to break your day/week into smaller, more manageable chunks of time – just focussing on the next hour or the next day rather than thinking about the next week or month.

· Now is also a time when you need to look after yourself. Self-care becomes very important. I would suggest that you listen to yourself and to what you need. If you need to speak to be with a friend for comfort, contact them and ask them to come or go for a coffee (for example). You don’t need to speak about the feelings of loss and distress that you are currently feeling, but you certainly can if you want to. Sometimes just having company is helpful and makes you feel less lonely. Sometimes – though – you need the complete opposite. So, it is alright if you don’t feel like being around company. Consider giving yourself a limit of alone time (in order to not completely shut everyone out), but still permit yourself time to be alone with your thoughts and feelings.

· Part of self-care is also about looking after your physical wellbeing. This is important because we, as humans, carry our stress, anxiety and feelings in our bodies. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to exercise a crazy amount or eat especially healthily. It means that regular exercise may allow your body to release anxiety and stress. It also allows you to clear your mind for that period of time.

· Another thing that happens when we feel distressed or low is that we ruminate (our thoughts become repetitive). When we’re in a low mood our ruminations are very negative. It is important to try and break that pattern. You can do this in simple ways – watching T.V., reading a book, speaking to a friend, surfing the internet. Often, when we are going through a difficult time, we feel guilty for not feeling absolutely terrible all of the time. Sometimes, you need to permit yourself to have positive thoughts as well as feelings.

· Lastly, you can ask for help. You can ask for help from the support structures that you already have in place in your personal life. You can also contact Meaningful Minds Psychologists, on 011 615 1030, to speak to someone about the loss and the feelings which accompany it.

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