(Health Secrets) During evil times of mounting terror attacks meant to frighten us into accepting change, it is necessary to remember the words of Rob Zucker, grief counselor, who says “We don’t come into our grief as a blank slate. What you bring to the table will impact how you process your loss.
Zucker, author of The Journey Through Grief and Loss: Helping Yourself and Your Child When Grief Is Shared, describes several patterns or themes that individuals may experience when faced with grief. Following loss, some experience a deep sense of disbelief, which may serve as a buffer in processing the harshness of reality. For Zucker, high levels of anxiety are also common and some individuals experience an absence of emotion, questioning “What’s wrong with me?”
We tend to accommodate and recover after loss more quickly than previously thought, says research. For most people the intense grief accompanied by symptoms such as depression, anxiety, shock and intrusive thoughts tends to subside within six months. However, other studies show that although these symptoms dissipate, we still continue to think about and miss loved ones for decades.
The word ‘resilience’ describes the individual’s ability to adapt or rebound quickly from change, illness, or bad fortune. In the past, resilience was considered rare and reserved for particularly healthy people. However now, according to psychologist George Bonanno, “Resilience to the unsettling effects of interpersonal loss is not rare but relatively common…and does not lead to delayed grief reactions.” For him there are many different ways to cope with grief. Often it is about simply just getting it done, putting one foot in front of the other, or doing what feels right to you at the time.
Only about 15 percent of people experience complicated grief, and only people who are doing poorly with grief should have treatment. Effective treatments focus on getting people back into their life and moving forward.
Research by this author, Crescence Allen Ph.D., shows that coping activities need to be consistent with one’s personal style. People confident in their ability to affect change will benefit from activities such as journaling, listening to music or reading self-help books. Those not so confident they can go it alone will gravitate to self-help groups, confide in friends and appreciate group projects. Both personality types respond to and benefit by spiritual activities.
Grief is work. The tasks are to accept the reality of the loss; work through to the pain of grief; adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing; and emotionally let go and move on with life.
There is no magic in the one or two year healing date following a loss. Death does not end a relationship. Moving forward is a dynamic process that may continue through the life cycle. Personalized meaningful commemoration and rituals may facilitate the healing process. The death of a significant loved one is not something to just get over.
The work of grief involves learning to live with and adjust to the loss. The goals of grief work include regaining an interest in life, feeling hopeful again, redefining and recreating a purpose.
Grief encompasses spirit, mind, emotion and body
Grief is of the spirit, mind, and emotions while stress is the body’s response. When the self or significant other is in peril of physical death, the body reacts with fight, flight, or freeze behavior. This fear sets off a biochemical chain reaction leading to feelings of panic, such as dizziness, rapid breathing, or a racing heartbeat.
We often are more compassionate to other’s emotional and physical needs than we are to our own needs. It is essential to watch for and keep aware of the body’s post-traumatic stress reactions, that include inability to work or function, fears that you cannot control, or recurring traumatic memories.
The brain is hard-wired with a protective protocol. During threat, the brain signals the body to release a burst of hormones that fuel the capacity for a response. Once the acute threat is gone, the body is meant to return to a normal relaxed state. However when feelings of threat are chronic, it is essential to develop strategies for dealing with biochemical stress, hyper-vigilance and anxiety.
Symptoms of such stress include
Muscle tension or pain
Change in sex drive
Lack of motivation or focus
Irritability or anger
Sadness or depression
Overeating or under eating
Drug or alcohol abuse
When the body is always on high alert, high levels of stress eventually lead to serious health problems. Develop and practice a range of stress management techniques before stress adversely impacts your health, relationships, and quality of life.
Coping skills for grief and stress
*Identify your thoughts and feelings and express them in some way
*Share your process with someone you trust
*Journal you’re feelings and thoughts
*Reach out and talk to loved ones
*Express your grief through physical activity or art
*Consider how you’ve managed and handled tough times in the past
*Develop new tools, such as meditation, physical activity or deep breathing
*Laughter is tremendously helpful
*So is meditation and prayer
*Participate in rituals that honor your loss and help in the search for meaning
As we are anchored in our spiritual beliefs, we know we will see our loved ones again. We know also that no matter how much we miss them, they would not choose for us to live in sorrow, or guilt.
For more information:
Maslow, A. (1998). Toward a psychology of being, 3rd edition. New York: Wiley.
Worden, J.W. (1991). Grief counseling and grief therapy: A handbook for the mental health practitioner, 2nd edition. New York: Springer.