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How to Navigate Grief

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, LPC, NCC

There are few things that affect the human soul as grief does. It cuts deep and has the potential to bring even the strongest person’s life to a standstill. We all have persons whom we love deeply, and whether it is by death, divorce or any other permanent end to a relationship, grieving these losses can take a significant emotional and physical toll. It is indeed one of the greatest fears we as humans know: to have to face such immense pain. Many people first experience grief at an early age: The death of a pet, a grandparent, or sometimes a parent. At that point, we form our first opinion and impression of loss. Sometimes we believe that the person chose to leave us deliberately by dying, or that God was angry at us and decided to punish us through the event. By the time we grow up, most of us come realize that death is a part of life and there is no escaping it no matter how hard we may try.

If you are currently navigating your own loss, there are ways of coping that can support both your emotional and physical well-being as you adjust to your new normal. One of the most important steps in navigating a loss is to seek out support. Humans were created for fellowship and this is especially true of grief and loss. Often, we find strength and healing in talking about our experience and allowing ourselves to feel the subsequent emotions. Support can be found through family, friends, church, co-workers, or grief support groups. If you would prefer to talk to a professional, seeking out the support and guidance of a therapist who specializes in grief can be helpful as well. The important thing is to not venture into grief alone, as you may put yourself at greater risk to cope using unhealthy avenues such as substance abuse.

Another important step in the grieving process is to establish a self care routine. This includes maintaining proper hygiene which may be difficult at times, eating balanced and proper meals, getting adequate rest (while avoiding sleeping excessively), exercising, and getting sunlight. This may seem straightforward and relatively simple; However, during a period of intense grief, the simplest thing such as brushing your teeth may take all the energy and focus you can muster due to your mental state. There is no shame in struggling with these things. Grief can feel all-consuming and it may take time until you feel like yourself again.

Another exercise that may help to support someone who is grieving is journaling.  Allowing yourself to feel and ultimately process your emotions is important to the healing process. Some individuals may find it more difficult to outwardly discuss or express their feelings about their loss. Some even believe that showing any sign of negative emotion such as sadness is indicative of weakness. This notion causes many to suppress their emotions and deny them, which only complicates the grieving process and puts undue stress on your body.

There is also value in seeking psychological and psychiatric support if necessary. If you begin to experience a loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, feelings of hopelessness, or even suicidal ideation, it may be time to check in with a professional for counseling and possible medication.

Finally, many persons choose to resort to faith-based coping strategies when they find themselves in the throes of grief. This can be a very healthy tool to navigate grief. Self-help/inspirational books, songs, prayer, community and positive affirmations all provide support and encouragement to people struggling with loss.

If you are presently grieving and know that if you need a little extra support and encouragement, the therapists at Symmetry Counseling in Chicago are here for you.

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