Good Reads

Opening up to Grief

Grief is no doubt a deeply personal thing. Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, author of On Death And Dying, and the psychiatrist who introduced what we now call the “five stages of grief” model, eloquently puts into words how we all experience grief differently by saying that “there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss”. This means that a person experiencing the loss can at any time bounce from bargaining, denial, anger, depression, or acceptance. Some people only experience a few of these strong emotions, while others will hit all five.  Keep in mind that a person may grieve differently from situation to situation. Think of the “five stages of grief” model as a general guide as to what to expect. Grieving, also known as mourning can occur in response to the loss of a close relationship, platonic or romantic, to the death of a loved one such as a person or pet, or to an individual’s own terminal illness.

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If you’re reading this, it’s most likely that you have experienced a deep loss in your life, or are reading for a friend family member who is experiencing a similar situation. When understanding the effects of grief, you must take into account that it is different for each and every person due to personal belief, social ideals (how society says you should grieve), family ideals (how your family says you should grieve), religious ideas (how your religion says you should grieve), memories of the particular person you have lost, and other such factors. What is important, and you will hear this a lot, is that there is no set time to grieve. Be kind to yourself instead of feeling like you should “be over it” by now. Understand that the grieving process may take longer if it is interrupted and could be an unresolved issue that will have to be worked out later.  An example of being interrupted in your grieving is when you give your all to those around you so they are taken care of, but do not allow yourself to have some time to process because you never let your mind fully sit with your loss.  Now, keep in mind that your feelings will never really go away about what has happened, especially if we are talking about the loss of someone who means a great deal to you.  What will happen is that you will go longer and longer without those deep and sometimes debilitating thoughts of sorrow.  You will think about the happier memories more often rather than dwell on all the unresolved issues.

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           Look around the next time you are near other people.  Most of those people you see have experienced a profound loss in their lives.  Maybe they lost a job where they felt accepted.  Or perhaps they lost a childhood pet and longed for that beloved pet to visit them in their dreams.  They could have just lost a relationship that made them feel special, or at the least, know what the next moment would entitle.  Those people you see could have lost a Grandparent who taught them how to tie their shoes when they were small.  They may have lost a parent who has spent their lifetime trying to prepare them for the world outside.  They could have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and now are grappling with the loss of self.  But whatever it is, you can see that we as people have always known loss since the first cognitive human.  It’s part of the deal we have with the world around us.  Our psyches are well equipped to handle most loss so that we can still function and take care of what is important to us.

My advice is and always will be, to practice self-care and focus on the special moments. Since we understand that perspective is the way we view the world around us, we know that if we focus on how much it hurts, how much we want it to be different, we will continue to feel horrible.  Let people do kind things to help you out.  When you say “no thank you” because you don’t want to bother them, you’re actually not allowing those kind people to be a part the group healing process.  Let me tell you, there is nothing like group healing.  It’s one of the most wonderful things we do as people.  I can remember a time where I was at a party shortly after I had lost a very dear friend to cancer.  Something someone said sparked a memory and a strong emotional response.  I tried to quietly walk out to my car so I could cry by myself and sit with my feelings until I could pretend I was okay. I’ve always dealt with all loss by myself.  But the most amazing thing had happened.  Two of my amazing friends noticed the change in me and caught up to me at my car.  The next thing I knew, there were three other guys there who I had just met.  All five of them were comforting me and sharing their stories of their own personal loss.  Lots of man hugs and man tears later, and I didn’t feel isolated and debilitated with grief.  The kindness of others will always help heal the person in need.

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Over the years, I, like most of us have experienced profound personal loss.  The kind of loss that you never thought you could recover from.  I’ve lost beloved pets, marriages, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a brother, friends close and not so close.  And it all still is a very important part of me that has helped me grow and understand myself in a deeper way.  I’d be lying if I said that I don’t think of all the loss and get sad.  But sad isn’t how I’d describe myself.  I have also had the opportunity and honor to work in the nursing field and funeral industry for most of my adult life.  I have worked with the young and old in nursing home and hospital settings.  I have worked very closely with hospice and been there for people’s dying breath.  I have cared for children who had left this world.  On the other end of the spectrum, while I was working in the funeral industry, I was the first person families saw from the funeral homes after their loved one just died.  I took their loved one into the care of the funeral home and did what I could to comfort the family while taking their mother, father, sibling, or child with me when I left.  I learned a lot about other people’s loss over the last few years. I agree with Dr. Kübler-Ross that there is not a typical response to loss since no loss is typical.  It’s damn near impossible to compare my loss to your loss, except that I can say we both share loss in our lives and we can now relate to each other over it.  Each loss I have experienced was the worst loss I have ever experienced in my entire life.  But how can each one be the worst experience in my life at the same time?   Simple, it’s how I feel.  And I imagine it’s how you feel too.  Just know that you are not alone, and you can always find someone near you to help shoulder these feelings.  Grief doesn’t have to be experienced behind closed doors.  That’s the trap we often fall into. Don’t get me wrong, taking the time to just sit with your grief is very healthy.  Just make sure that you have more than one way to grieve.  Imagine if all you did was sit in a dark room and cry, then pretended to be okay when you went to work.  Fine for a while, not the rest of your life, however.

mother-1327186_640Here are a few things that can really help you while you are grieving:

  • Write a letter to your loved one, read it out loud then let it float away in a river or a stream.  Bonus points for using paper that dissolves in water.
  • Set 20 minutes aside in a quiet place to give yourself a space to grieve.
  • Restart, or start a new hobby that makes you happy.
  • Talk to the ones that are no longer with us out loud.
  • Plan ahead for important dates so they don’t hit you out of the blue.  Comfort food shared with loved ones helps a lot.
  • Never judge yourself for grieving
  • Don’t assume your grief is the same as those around you.  You are unique.
  • Join a yoga class or go on walks.
  • Light a candle, set a positive intention and let it burn all the way down.
  • Find a guided meditation on YouTube that helps you.
  • Seek out a counselor you trust.
  • Know that you are not alone.

Each of us will experience loss in our lives, there is no way around it.  What matters is how we manage it and grow from it.  The word resilient comes to mind.  Resilience is the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.  A good technique is to create a positive affirmation that you can repeat when you need an extra nudge in a better direction.  Since the world resilient holds a special meaning to me I have choosen to repeat out loud or in my head the folowing several times when needed:

I am resilient, present, and at peace.

Go ahead and use my positive affirmation, or create your own.  To create your own, make sure it is in present tense, simple, and positive in nature.  Good times to do this are right before bed, when you are about to close your eyes.  Right when you wake up, or when you are feeling upset.  And remember to be kind to yourself during such a hard time.  If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of anyone else?

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It’s all about the small things

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We all have experienced self-talk, which is an ongoing, internal narration of what happens any given moment in a person’s life.  Self-talk can take a positive, negative or neutral tone.  If left unmonitored, this inner commentary can work overtime to create different versions of reality that may or may not be serving you anymore.  What if your self-talk was always kind?  Imagine how good that would feel.  I bet your sense of Self would be very positive and secure, and your stress levels would be very low.  What would it look like if you never thought a negative thing about yourself?  Looks pretty good, right? Unfortunately, this is not the case for most of us. Over a lifetime, we slowly and subtly use more and more negative self-talk.  I see it in my three-year-old daughter.  Every time I hear her say something negative about herself I can’t help but wonder if I had taught that to her through my example, or if she had picked it up somewhere along the road of life. Regardless of how and why we develop negative self-talk, it’s important to me that I get rid of it for both of our sakes.

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It’s so easy to have all these pre-loaded insults just waiting in your head for a mishap. When you stub your toe: I’m such a wreck! Drop your pen: What’s wrong with me today? Forget something important: I’m so stupid.  Sometimes you just don’t like the way you are looking and all of a sudden:  I am always ugly.  You justify it with ;  everyone thinks like this.  It’s normal to think like this because I can’t remember not doing it.  It doesn’t affect me at all. In actuality, everyone does NOT think like this.  It does not have to be the norm, just because you don’t remember not doing it.  Even though it takes less than one second to totally insult yourself, the impact on you is abrasive, serious and lasting.  

Sure, those around you may not see that you are constantly down on yourself. But what matters is that you are seeing, hearing, and feeling that you are down on yourself because you take those hits and carry them with you 24 hours a day.  What if I told you that you don’t have to have negative self-talk anymore?  Could it be as easy as just noticing when you do it, then correcting it on the spot?  You catch yourself throwing this one:  Gah, I’m such a hot mess!  Instead of letting that self-talk sit, correct it:  Actually, I’m just tired because I stayed up too late last night.  I’ll get more sleep tonight.  

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These micro stories seem like nothing at all, but I challenge you to total them up and keep a tally for one day.  How many times do you belittle yourself in a week?  A month? A year? Your whole life?  Imagine if you were able to save all those insults from just one day, and instead of saying them to yourself, you were saying them to a six-year-old.  What do you think the impact would be on that child?  What if that six-year-old heard these things every day?  Well, that six-year-old is your inner child.  That playful, innocent side you have.  You have been telling that child all these seemingly small, negative things as far back as you can remember and, over time, this pattern has created a burdenous weight that gets in your way; yet, that child is worthy and lovable and deserves to hear the best things.

This brings us to our second challenge.  For the next seven days, I want you to notice every time you start to get down on yourself.  When you notice it, flip it to something positive, or just laugh at yourself.  If you are successful at doing this, you will see the true impact of self-talk as you start feeling better with all of the praise you’re showering on yourself and your psyche.  Have compassion on yourself, and you will have it for all those with whom you come in contact with.  Trust me, you’ll be happier for it, and others will be happier to be around a more confident, radiant you…  Also, drink more water. Your inner child is thirsty. cup-939479_640.jpg

White Lies

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I woke up late, plain and simple.  I had a massage appointment that I was supposed to be at in ten minutes.  The first thing that went through my head was whether I should just not call and go sit in a coffee shop to steal this time for much-needed work.  I’m always on time and dependable, so I can get away with it, is the story I began to tell myself.  Then I noticed a negative sensation in my body.  Nope.  Not doing that.  I’m going to go to my appointment, just late.  But what should I say?  Over the years, I have trained myself to be able to come up with many things to say in a moment like this. Sure, it was a lie, but a small one that makes everyone get along better… Traffic.  I was stuck in traffic.  That’s what I’ll say.  No, I needed something less generic.  My kid.  She made me late.  No again.  I had car problems.  It may be my battery or alternator.  No, I needed something more extreme.  I know what I’ll say.  I locked my keys in the car and am waiting for my family member to bring my other key!    My mind went on like this for some time.  But all this felt wrong in my body.

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What would I tell someone in my situation?  What am I always saying to people around me?  Tell the truth.  Don’t make up a lie.  Lies don’t feel good in your body. You never have to remember the truths you say, but you always need to remember the lies you told, so you can keep them straight.  It’s too much work to live like that.    My body was trying to remind me of something I already knew.  I didn’t notice all the stress and anxiety that I had created in myself until I had decided to speak the truth and say what happened.  I called, apologized to the receptionist and told her facts.  I was in luck. No one was scheduled after me and I wouldn’t have to pay the $50 inconvenience fee. It could have easily gone the other way, but I’d still be free of guilt.

5832764969_a82e5a6ae6_zIt is important to understand the risks associated with the dark side of storytelling. There are dangers that come with being stuck in that rut and using this powerful tool to evade the truth of a situation.  On the flip side, you can use storytelling to create many positive things in your life.  It is my hope that I can help you identify the difference between the light and dark side of storytelling. We’ll discuss that further in another post but, I’ll tell you, the best way to tell the difference is to know what is a positive or negative story and why you are telling it.  For instance, if you are telling a story to avoid a situation, it’s most likely negative.  But if you are using your imagination to overcome  a repeated story, a fear of public speaking perhaps, and you tell yourself that you can speak to a room full of people and not feel like a deer in head lights, even though it scares you just the same, then this is a positive story.

Things to remember for now

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  • See the situation for what it is.  Some people call this being present or stepping back from the situation.
  • Ask yourself, how does this help?
  • Eliminate negative self-talk from yourself.  I can’t, is no longer something you say or even think in your head.
  • Remember to take a deep breath.
  • Role play: What advice would you give to someone in the same situation?

How to Relax in a Modern World

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It’s no secret, relaxing is good for you.   But knowing how to relax is a whole different concept.   I used to think that I needed a cup of tea and calm music to relax at home. When I heard the word relax, I’d see my favorite camping spot near the river.   I never noticed how much I misunderstood the concept.   To me, there was only one way to relax, and it was a drawn out ritual. This mindset actually told me that relaxing was a hard thing to do because the conditions had to be just right.    Luckily over the years, I have learned a few things along the way that I would like to pass on to you.   Personally, I need facts before I can really get behind concepts.   So, here are a few beneficial things to know about relaxing.

Relaxing can:

  • Reduce stress hormones
  • Slow your heart rate
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Slow breathing
  • Increase blood flow to major muscles
  • Reduce muscle tension, which can help alleviate aches and pains
  • Improve concentration and mood
  • Lower fatigue
  • Reduce anger and frustration
  • Boost confidence

The great news is that anyone can learn to relax with very easy and simple techniques. You also only need a few minutes in your day to relax, but the effects are long lasting. Look, I know what you’re thinking.   You’re thinking it’s easy to say that it only takes a few minutes to relax and count your breath, but that you simply don’t have enough hours in the day.   You don’t have time to relax.    So from one very busy person to another, I will share where I have found the moments already present in my day, as well as quick techniques I use to relax when cultivating these moments.

Right after I park my car

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That’s right.  I find that it is important for me to get to work at least ten to fifteen minutes
early so I don’t feel rushed.  I close my eyes and count backwards from 20 down to 1.  While I do this, I imagine myself writing the numbers on in the sand, and erasing them before writing the next number.   Once I count from 20 down to 1, I just hang out in my mind and let it drift from thought to thought.   But, if I start thinking about the things I need to do, or things that I don’t find calming, I make a mental note and put it on a shelf in my mind so I can get it later.    After a few minutes, I open my eyes, show up to work early and am unfazed by the stresses life has to offer.   This whole process takes anywhere from three to five minutes. If you are worried about getting too comfortable, you can either make a voice recording with your mobile device of this process or download a meditation timer. My favorite meditation timer is Insight Timer.

I pay attention to my shoulders

They tell me very fast when I get stressed or uncomfortable.   When I notice that my shoulders are not relaxed, it tells me to pay attention to why they are not relaxed in the first place.   Once I identify that, I make sure I take deeper breaths and slow my breathing down.   I imagine that my slow deep breaths relax my shoulders.   I focus on the shoulders and notice how good it feels to have them not be tense. Once they relax I just enjoy a few deep breaths and go along with my business.   The more you try this, the easier it becomes do while you are talking to people.   They may not notice what you are doing, but if you watch them, they visibly relax too.   You can do this for any muscle tension as well.  Just breathe into the tension and will it away.

I remember a really, really good memory

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For me, it’s usually a really funny, relaxed, or loving memory.   Whatever it may be, I just recall everything about that really, really good memory.   I close my eyes and see it as if it was happening right in front of me for the first time.   I hear the sounds and feel the good feelings in my body.   At this point, I’m already feeling really good.   But it gets so much better.   Once I have locked on to my happy thought, I make the image bigger and brighter. Colors more vivid.   The wonderful feelings more intense.   I start to notice where the feelings are located in my body.  For me, it’s a warm feeling in the center of my chest.   It also spins in a certain direction.   So I make the warm spinning feeling spin faster and faster and notice that good feeling just intensifies.   By this time, I have a huge smile on my face, I’m feeling super happy, and super relaxed.   This whole process only takes a minute or two.   The feeling stays with me for a very long time throughout my day.

I’m all about finding the path of least resistance in my life.   Finding quick shortcuts to feeling calm and relaxed has been so beneficial and exciting for me.   When you do these exercises a few times and find a good routine you begin to notice how much time in the day was devoted to feeling stressed out for no good reason.   When you really think about it, it’s easy to see that we all have the power to transform a bad day into a good one with little effort.   To me, it makes the art of feeling good so much less intimidating because it means I don’t have to meditate on a mountaintop, or seek out a Zen master.   But both will tell you exactly this, you already have everything you need to be happy.