What do I do with re-stirring grief?

May 6, 2020 | 0 comments

On Tuesday, we discussed cumulative and anticipatory grief, both in general, and in our current climate of COVID-19. I noted that the goal of dealing with grief losses is adaptation. You may want to throw me off a cliff for this idea, and honestly, I also dislike this idea at times. When a limb is cut off, per-say, where does a desire to “adapt” come from? May I kindly suggest that this is a gentle internal process that is indeed about allowing yourself to be where you already are. 

When you lose someone or something meaningful to you, widespread effects on psychological and physiological regulation take place. Grief affects your body and mind.  One form of therapy is called “self-determination therapy” and it states that 1) Autonomy (feeling that you are free) 2) Relatedness (sense of belonging/connectedness) and 3) Competence (ability to face and meet challenges) are all needed for a person to survive, and all three are undermined in the midst of loss (Ruan and Deci 2000). 

Let’s pause and repeat those so they really stick: made in the image of God, to survive you need autonomy, relatedness and competence. So, how do you begin to put these essential elements back into balance when they are knocked off? 

First off, we need to know that we are resilient. 

“Like tiny seeds with potent power to push through tough ground and become mighty trees, we hold innate reserves of unimaginable strength. We are resilient.” (Catherine DeVrye, The Gift of Nature).

Please note with this said, grief also has may “derailers” and COVID-19 is full of them. As we discussed in the complicated grief post, some loss experiences are more full of them. But resilience can be fostered in the midst of grief. Think of the following as a “grief workout.”

Your Grief Workout: 

1) Begin to integrate rewarding activities into your daily life. 

Your intrinsic motivation is related to genuine interests and values. These activities hold the promise of deep satisfaction for you. When you focus attention on something that is important to you it gives you enthusiasm for your life.

Action Step

Make a list of simple things that bring pleasure or satisfaction into your life. This has more of a future orientation then current. What goal can I move toward? Turn this into a daily ritual.

Tips for arriving at this goal—

  • Ask yourself—If you were calm, relaxed, productive and happy, what would you then want for yourself?
  • How would you know you were making progress on this goal?
  • How open are you to doing something to make progress toward this goal?
  • What would be the obstacles to stand in your way? 
  • Who are the people in your life that could help you?

Please note the key here is to allow yourself to dream; doing something you enjoy it is not the focus or end goal. For now, it is truly about the process of making your list. Being able to think about the future gives you energy and helps you to accept the reality you live in. It assists you in the adjustment of what wasto what is

2) Flex your emotion regulation skills.

Learn what calms and comforts you and the ones you love, almost as if you are a student of yourself and the ones closest to you. You may need to be creative in your part of the world, so, be creative, try and have a little fun with this. 

Action Step

Make a list of things that calm you when you are distressed. Focus on what makes you more comfortable and relaxed, especially when you are upset. 

Tips for arriving at this goal—

  • Ask those closest to you what you have done when upset that seems to help.
  • Think about the last time you were angry, sad, frustrated or anxious; what brought you to status quo or closer to it?
  • Use a scale of 1 to 10 to track your emotions. 1(calmest, happiest, most relaxed) and 10 (most distressed, angry, agitated, anxious). 
  • Test your tools to see if your number goes down.
  • Ideas that have worked for others—listening to music, taking a hot bath, cooking, dancing, breathing, laughing, talking, sitting in a window of sunshine. Dreaming about the future, drawing, crafts, writing, gentle or intense movement. 

3) Allow your emotion and grief to be present. 

Please work on emotion regulation in order to help yourself regulate from distressing emotions. (Important– if you have any concerns for your safety or the safety of someone else, contact a professional for help with this). 

Action Step

  • Allow what you feel to be present. If you move, move into the emotion, not out of it. 
  • Give yourself much self-compassion.

Tips for arriving at this goal—

  • During this stage, “We do not try to lower grief intensity; we do not consider its surges problematic, nor applaud its quieting. How often do we place values on how we manage grief or any emotions? Regulating emotions means attending to both painful and pleasant emotions. Accepting grief means we do not try to lower its intensity” (Dr. Katherine Shear).

4) Talking to others and creating spaces to state what you are experiencing and to find common ground in your experience. 

I love this one, because when you do this well you are honoring and empathetic to others in their experience and a sense of belonging and interconnectedness is developed. 

Action Step

  • Find a safe place to be honest and express yourself.  

Of course, there is more that could be said. But that is why we have specialists at Global Trellis, so that these conversations are ongoing. Try out this “grief workout” this week. How did it go? As I close, here are a few musts for living in, with and through grief and loss. 

  • Treat yourself and others with compassion! It really is a painful process that takes time and energy. 

Continue to live in Hope and Belief as much a possible—we are beautifully and impressively made. You have an enormous capacity to heal, as do your friends, family and the communities around you. We have been given the gift of resilience. 

I’m doing my grief workout with you. As the Psalmist reminds us, “Even in darkness light dawns for the upright.” (Psalm 112:4a) 

What questions do you have about this workout or other aspects of grief? 

Photo by Iris Oblee on Unsplash

Katie Brown

Wife, Mama, Counselor, Friend, Grief Specialist




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