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The Truth About Grief

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"While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain."

In the final video of our three-part series on mental and emotional health, Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD holistic nutritionist, looks at mourning and grief. We’re going to learn how to deal with grief, discuss some misconceptions surrounding grief, as well as five specific stages of the grieving process, and how and when we should seek support. Dr. Nancy will also provide some important tips to naturally help deal with grief.

Video Highlights.

  • 2:20: What is grief?
  • 3:35: Common Stages of Grief
  • 5:03: Common Causes of Grief
  • 8:24: Common Misconceptions Associated with Grief
  • 12:23: Symptoms of Grief
  • 12:57: Emotional Symptoms of Grief
  • 16:00: Physical Symptoms of Grief
  • 16:30: The Grieving Process
  • 17:31: Five stages of Grief
  • 20:19: What can you do when you’re dealing with grief?
  • 34:11: Wrap Up

What is grief?

Grief involves sadness, sometimes feelings of hopelessness, depression, and stress. All of these are emotions associated with grief and mourning. They are all common and normal when we experience a tragedy. Grief usually occurs because of loss: often the loss of someone or something that is significant to you or that you love. The pain of loss can feel overwhelming and debilitating, and it can be very difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Common Stages of Grief

We all experience grief in different ways and with different intensities. Don’t compare the way you experience grief to the way someone else does, or think that how you feel is wrong if someone else feels differently. People are different, and they feel and deal with grief in different ways.

It’s common for people to experience a wide range of difficult and unexpected emotions, from initial shock, to anger, to disbelief, to possibly guilt and profound sadness. The pain of grief can also disrupt your physical health. You might find it difficult to eat, sleep, or even think about anything other than your loss. These are all normal when dealing with grief.

While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that in time can possibly ease your sadness and help you come to terms with your loss, find new meaning, and move on forward with your life.

Common Causes of Grief

Grief is an emotion we feel when someone or something that we love is taken from us. While death certainly causes us to experience grief, there are many other life events that cause us to experience grief as well. Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is gone. The greater your connection to that someone or something, the more intense your grief will be.

Besides death, other common causes of grief include:

  • The end of a serious relationship, or a divorce
  • Loss of your health: cancer, or a chronic disease
  • Loss of a job
  • Financial Instability
  • Death of a pet
  • Loss of a cherished dream, or disappointed hope
  • A friend or loved one’s serious illness
  • Loss of a friendship
  • Even experiences we typically associate with happiness, such as retirement or moving on to a new opportunity can cause grief as we say goodbye to the previous chapter in our lives

Even losses that are not as intense as the ones mentioned above can cause you to experience the feelings associated with grief. It’s common to feel grief for a wide range of reasons. Remember that this is your own personal experience. No one can tell you how you feel, you just feel it, and grief is legitimate, even if the loss you experienced doesn’t seem “serious” enough to you. You should never feel embarrassed or ashamed of what you’re grieving or how you’re grieving. There is no checklist of what is appropriate or what’s inappropriate for you to feel grief over.

Common Misconceptions Associated with Grief

MYTH: The emotions you experience while grieving will just go away faster if you just ignore them. That is a myth.

FACT: Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. Avoidance that can only work temporarily, but for real healing you have got to face your grief and actively deal with it.

MYTH: It’s important to be strong in the face of loss.

FACT: Feeling sad, frightened or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying or otherwise feeling pain doesn’t mean that you’re weak. Don’t apologize for grieving. Showing your true feelings can help you, and may help your family members and friends as well.

MYTH: If you don’t cry it means you aren’t really sad about the loss.

FACT: Crying is a normal response to sadness but it’s not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply or even more than others. They may simply have other ways of showing it and feeling it.

MYTH: Grieving should last about a year and then it’s time to get over it.

FACT: There is no specific time frame for grieving. How long it takes differs from person to person.

MYTH: Moving on with your life means forgetting about your loss.

FACT: Moving on means you’ve accepted your loss but that’s not the same as forgetting. You can move on with your life and keep the memory of someone or something you lost as an important part of you. In fact, as we move through life and as we go forward into our days, these memories can become more and more integral to defining the person that you are.

Symptoms of Grief

Loss affects all of us in different ways and while no one grieves the same way, there are common symptoms, both emotional and physical that people experience when grieving.

Emotional symptoms of grief

When you’re grieving, you may experience any and all of the following emotions:

  • Shock and disbelief – Right after a loss, it can be very, very hard and you may be unwilling to accept what happened. You may feel numb and you have trouble believing that the loss really happened or even deny that it did.
  • Sadness – Deep-seated sadness is probably the most common symptom of grief. You may have feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning, or deep loneliness. You may also cry a lot or feel emotionally unstable.
  • Guilt – You may regret or feel guilty about things you did or didn’t say or have time to do yet. You may not have gotten to say goodbye or you didn’t do that one thing, or you may have said something you regret. You may also feel guilty about certain feelings like feeling relieved that a person died after a long illness. After a death, you may even feel guilty for not doing something to prevent the death.
  • Anger – Even if the loss was nobody’s fault, you may still feel angry and resentful. If you’ve lost a loved one, you may be angry with yourself, God, doctors or even the person who died for abandoning you. You may feel the need to blame someone for the injustice that was done to you.
  • Fear – A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fear. You may feel anxious, helpless, and insecure. You may even have panic attacks. The death of a loved one can trigger fears about your own mortality; you may start thinking about death a little bit more, or you may experience significant fear of facing life without that person or the responsibilities you now face alone.

Physical Symptoms of Grief

Along with the many emotions you might suffer, grief comes with physical symptoms too, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Aches and pains
  • Insomnia

The Grieving Process

There is no wrong or right way to grieve; the process is very personal and tends to depend on many things, including your personality, your experiences in life, how you were raised, your culture, and how significant the loss was to you. One thing is for sure though; the grieving process does take time. There is not a start or an end time for the grieving process. Healing and accepting loss takes time. What’s important is that you’re patient with yourself and you allow yourself the time, however long it takes, you allow yourself the time needed to naturally grieve and let the process take its own natural and needed course. Don’t force it and try to fix it or speed it up, just let it happen.

Five Stages of Grief

The five stages of grief were actually developed in the late 1960s by a psychiatrist who observed a general grieving process demonstrated by patients facing terminal illness. These five stages have been widely recognized as being associated with all types of grief. These stages are:

  • Denial – This can’t be happening to me.
  • Anger – Why is this happening to me? Who is to blame?
  • Bargaining – I’ll do anything to make this stop happening.
  • Depression – I’m too sad to do anything right now.
  • Acceptance – This might take some time but I am now at peace with what happened.

If you experience any of these emotions following a loss, it may help to know that your reaction is normal, and in time you will heal. However, not everyone goes through all of these five stages in a linear way and then at the very end they are healed. Everyone is on a different course, so not everyone who grieves goes through all of these stages and especially not in a linear way.

What can you do when you’re dealing with grief?

Seek support for dealing with grief and loss

It may be fine to be alone when dealing with grief. However, eventually because we are social beings and we are human, we need the love and support of others to really help us deal with the pain of grief. Support from our loved ones, friends, community, and from a trained professional, is really vital to help process and heal from profound loss. You need to be able to communicate what you need to your support system so that you are not dealing with it alone. Rather than avoiding them, draw friends and loved ones closer. Spend time with them face to face and accept the assistance that they offer.

You can also join a support group as grieving can be very lonely. Talk to a therapist or grief counselor, especially if you are finding grief too much to bear. An experienced therapist can help you work through intense emotions and overcome obstacles to your grieving.

If you feel that grief is too much to bear—if you feel like life isn’t worth living anymore, or wish you’d die instead of your loved one, or if you blame yourself for the loss or failing to prevent the loss, and feel num and disconnected from others for more than a few weeks or unable to perform your normal daily activities—it’s especially important to seek help and support.

In addition to reaching out for help there are several all natural ways to support the grieving process.

Practice deep breathing

Inhale and exhale through the nose or practice a deep sigh; inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. This is a fantastic way to quiet your mind and refocus on your thoughts as they dissipate. This helps you to relax and you can do it anywhere and for any amount of time. When you exhale, the breath through the back of your mouth while your mouth is closed is called Ujjayi breath that kind of creates a humming sound, which will really help to calm your central nervous system and bring you to the present. It slows down your heart rate and decreases your blood pressure.

Yoga or tai chi

You can use these mind-body activities with inhaling and exhaling as you’re moving. Both of these activities have been shown time and time again to reverse the effects of stress and anxiety at a cellular level. A study in the June 2017 Frontiers in Immunology, showed that people who regularly engaged in yoga and tai chi consistently had fewer genes that create inflammation in their body. Not only does yoga and tai chi help you focus as you work through the grieving process, it also protects your body and mind from the harmful effects of chronic inflammation. Examples of some of the yoga poses that you can include in your work out include:

Downward facing dog: This is an upside-down V which you perform by pressing your feet and hands down and pressing your tailbone high to the sky, relaxing your neck so that your head hangs down. Do this pose for about 10 breaths and just close your eyes and just relax.

Forward fold: This is a really a great inversion that calms the central nervous system and brings you into the present where racing thoughts and anxiety can begin to dissipate. You can sit in a chair and cascade your torso onto your thighs and relax. If you don’t have a chair, do it standing up. Just try to touch your toes, but you can bend your knees as much as you need to. Do this for 10 to 20 breaths.

Maintain a healthy diet

Grieving is a very stressful time. Your body is going to more likely or more possibly crave foods that are high in fat, sugar, and salt—all comfort foods. When grieving, it’s easy to grab cookies or chips and use food as a way to make us feel better. But keep in mind that the trans fats, excess calories, additives, salt, and sugars are going to make you feel worse. They affect your blood sugar and your energy level. They also contribute to inflammation and affect your gut health, both things that are closely connected to mental and emotional wellness.

Instead, when grieving or feeling stressed, anxious, or sad focus on keeping up with a well balanced diet; that means eating plenty of organic vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats, and drinking plenty of filtered water to stay hydrated.

Healthy Comfort Food

If you are craving the comfort food, here is a quick health hack that you can use when you crave fat, salts, and sugar when stressed. Make sure that you have lots of healthy fats such as avocados. Cut the avocado in half, squeeze a little bit of lemon juice onto it and sprinkle some crunchy sea salt or put some walnuts on top of it. You can also eat this with one or two egg whites. This will give you a nice crunch, lean protein, and healthy fats. It is delicious and it will take out your cravings.

Times of stress and grieving also cause the body to be more inflamed. It’s important that during this period you do everything that you can do to get your inflammatory load down. One of the easiest ways to do this is to take Smarter Curcumin by Smarter Nutrition every single day. It has support ingredients that make such a big difference to eradicate the inflammation producing gunk out of your system.

Wrap Up

Grief comes in all shapes and sizes and it affects all of us differently. There is no right or wrong way to mourn or to grieve, and it’s a highly personal process. Most people associate grief with the death of a loved one and while this is certainly a major trigger, it’s also common to experience grief when experiencing a divorce or end of a relationship, losing a job, financial security, health issues, loss of a friend or a pet and a host of other situations.

We dispelled some common myths associated with grieving and reviewed the five stages of grief, which are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

We also looked at ways to seek support during periods of grief including talking to friends and loved ones, joining a support group, or even seeking help from a trained therapist or mental health counselor.

We also shared some tips that help during periods of grieving, depression, stress and anxiety, including practicing deep breathing, using yoga and tai chi, and maintaining a healthy diet. You can download Dr. Nancy’s anti-inflammatory guide which is the perfect diet to support your physical and mental health.

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