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Emotions

After The Heartbreak: Eight Tools to Heal from Devastating Loss

Loss is a crisis, no question. It’s also a specific point in time when everything changes. The Chinese word for crisis — weiji — combines the characters for danger and incipient moment – or that moment when things start to go awry. A heartbreaking loss is just that kind of crisis: it changes everything, and it can feel impossible that we can ever change back. We plunge into the darkness of grief, feeling discouraged, feeling stuck. But whether we can free ourselves often depends on our capacity to find the resources we need – both internal and external — to help us cope, develop resilience, grow, and even thrive. In some cases, we may try to honor our loved ones by facing backwards, in the past, for as long as we can. But we all need to find ways to face forward and head down a path toward healing.

Here are eight tools we can lean on to help overcome the pain of a heartbreaking loss, and begin to feel better:

  1. Willingness. We may want things to go back to the way they used to be before the loss. But holding on to “what used to be” actually makes the pain and suffering worse. We need learn to let go of our resistance and be willing to let change come. To incorporate willingness, be flexible — like a Gumby toy.
  2. Play. Grief is a heavy emotion. While we don’t want to avoid processing our sorrowful feelings, being with them all the time is a burden. Take breaks from grief. Try asking, “What can I do now or what did I used to do for fun?” Listen to music, play a game, watch a comedy, go to an improvisation class, play with a pet, hang out with favorite children, or get some exercise — whatever lightens our mood and lifts our energy.
  3. Inspiration. Sustained bereavement has a way of bringing down our energy levels, making us feel unfocused and unmotivated. It’s important to be inspired again. We may find inspiration in an uplifting podcast or a religious service. Consider developing some kind of spiritual practice, or try a mindfulness App, likeCalm, InsightTimer, or HeadSpace. Read an inspirational book. Get out in nature and breathe in the energy of plants, trees, green space, water, and sky. It won’t take long to notice the difference!
  4. Blessings. Loss is a wound, from which blessings arise. And in emotional pain there are certainly potential gifts. We need to ask ourselves What in us is yearning to be born? What do we want to create? What is possible now? Focusing on blessings creates new neural pathways in our brains that change our mindset and mood. Write down several blessings of the day each evening for at least thirty days, and observe any mental and emotional shifts. Become a blessing to others. Practice random acts of kindness, and find ways to contribute and provide service to the neighborhood and community.
  5. Education. Curiosity and learning are wonderful antidotes to sorrow and despair. It’s hard to be sad when we’re engaged with learning something new. Make friends with Google. Take a class at the local college, library, senior center, or community arts center. Go to a lecture or read a book on an entirely new topic. When we’re engrossed, we’re not as grief-stricken.
  6. Connection. Our brains are hardwired to have at least one to five close companions in whom we can confide our deep secrets. Neuroscience found that the brain releases oxytocin when we connect with a loved one, leading us to feel calmer and safer, and to increase our sense of belonging. The release of oxytocin provides relief from cortisol — the stress hormone. Having trusted companions to whom we can tell our story is necessary for healing. Find a competent therapist or support group, instructional class, or social group. The form this takes doesn’t matter. What’s critical is developing trustworthy connections. Following loss, it’s the quality as well as the quantity of social support that help overcome sadness.
  7. Balance. We can feel literally knocked off our feet by that initial shock of heartbreak. Work to stay in balance, and resume normal rhythms and typical routines, by practicing good self-care. Eat nourishing foods. Get consistent exercise and sufficient sleep — loss inflicts tremendous stress on our bodies. Seek out complementary alternative medicine practices, such as massage, Reiki, and acupuncture. These can be effective for helping regain equilibrium in body and mind.
  8. Transformation. Loss signifies the end of one chapter. But it also heralds the beginning of another. After experiencing such a wrenching change, we can’t be the same person we were before. Pay attention to this, noticing what has shifted? How can we make the prospect of the future larger than the past? The poet and philosopher Mark Nepo reminds us that there is little difference between burying and planting. In that way, our sorrow becomes fertilizer for our growth, helping us thrive after loss.

Loss leaves us traumatized and reeling. But it’s important to know that it is possible to regain our equilibrium and rediscover ourselves after heartbreak and grief. We can recognize that something deep within ourselves has shifted — we have changed, grown, possibly even thrived. When that happens, we’ve regained our footing, and come back to the land of the living, while holding the memory of the loss within our hearts.

 

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