A Baker’s Dozen When Grief is New

headache backgroundThough they can inspire similar feelings, depression and grief are different. Grief is healthy while depression is not. Grief involves coming to terms with a loss. Depression involves needless suffering secondary to believing painful things that are not true (you can find several articles I’ve written regarding depression using the search bar above). The more important the loss the more intense the grieving. Healthy grieving is regularly remembering and feeling the loss of the person, across a wide array of memories and experiences, while simultaneously (1) memorializing the person, (2) maintaining effective engagement in life (including self-care) and (3) avoiding unhealthy. self-numbing behaviors. How long it takes to get to the other side of grief varies wildly from person-to-person. But, a general guideline is that it can take one year for the worst of it to be done and two years until it seems like life is mostly okay again. Here are 13 tips for those who are within the first two years of grieving:

  1. Find ways to memorialize the person who died. This can be extravagant (e.g., starting a foundation, creating a golf tournament) but certainly need not be. Indeed, sometimes people have made their grieving harder by taking on too much labor too soon after the loss. So, creating photo collages, works of art, videos and so forth can be helpful to memorialize the person.
  2. Don’t resist. When it comes to grieving suffering = pain x resistance. Allow the grief to come if you don’t have something you must do (e.g., go to work, attend a child’s recital). This feels counter-intuitive as we fight depression when it comes, as we should. But, grief is not depression. Each tear drop brings you that little bit closer to getting to the other side.
  3. If you have a hectic life, schedule time to grieve. When the time rolls around, bring upset man, black backgroundout mementos of your lost love and let the waves come.
  4. Try hard to get eight hours of sleep a night. If you can’t, consider tip #13. Everyone has sleepless nights but try to trend towards the eight. A rested body can grieve more effectively. (See this blog entry for some other tips regarding insomnia that might be easily adapted for your situation.)
  5. Limit numbing. Try to maintain a healthy diet and keep substance use to a minimum. Comfort foods should really be called numbing foods, and a numb person is not a grieving person. Again, we’re talking about trends. Everyone numbs some of the time.
  6. Be active. Try to get daily doses of physical activity. Sleep, diet and physical activity are the legs of the tripod upon which effective grieving is built.
  7. Be kind. While it’s helpful to be kind to others (of course), this tip is primarily referring to yourself. For example, don’t allow yourself to beat yourself up for mistakes, including–and couple, happymaybe even especially–ones that may be haunting you regarding the person you lost.
  8. Lean into spirituality. If you are a spiritual person, tap into your Higher Power daily. People do this in different ways: praying, reading, writing, meditating, going to services, talking with a spiritual director and talking with friends can all be helpful.
  9. Set boundaries. Set these up with people in your life. For example, you may need to tell co-workers that you prefer to be the one to bring up the topic of your loss. Having someone else bring it up, when you are trying to do something else, could be counterproductive.
  10. If others are experiencing the same loss, open up to each other about your shared experience on a regular basis. However, if either one of you doesn’t want to talk about your loss in a particular moment, it’s important to respect that also.
  11. Stay engaged. Try to socialize and have fun regularly. You may not feel like doing this much of the time. And, certainly give yourself permission to curl up into a ball with a blanket some nights. But, as a trend, try to do fun things with others on some regular basis.
  12. Tap your wisdom. New problems will surface during this difficult time as that’s the nature of life. Each of us have deep wells of wisdom within that we can tap in these moments. For example, ask yourself how you would decide about a problem you are facing if you were living the last week of your life. Or, if you have a child, ask yourself what you would counsel your child to do in the same situation 20 years from now. Another very helpful technique is problem solving, which I describe here.
  13. Consider CBT. We all battle with internal enemies. Sometimes we use friends, or therapy etchingself-help books or mentors or prayer or other personal assets to help us with these battles. At other times, meeting with a therapist to do an evidence-based and skill building therapy can be extremely help. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is often the treatment of choice for dealing with grief related challenges. (If you enter “cognitive behavioral therapy” in the search bar above you’ll find a few articles I’ve written describing this treatment approach).

In subsequent blog entries I’ll write some tips for helping a child to grieve, suggestions for those whose grieving is further along, as well as a few other grief related topics.


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