Grief: Beyond "Just" Emotions
On the surface, some see grief as just an emotion-filled rollercoaster. While that is partially true, there are so many other aspects of grief that we may try to attribute to other issues. These more “hidden” aspects of grief can cause some frustration, as others may not see the depth of our struggle and/or progress with grief. Let’s look at a few ways grief can affect us:
Sounds strange, right? Many individuals who are grieving the death of someone in their lives report feelings of confusion, forgetfulness, shorter attention spans, isolation, heightened anxiety and/or depression, racing thoughts, lack of concentration, as well as other functions of what may look and feel like lowered productivity. Death and all of the other losses that surround it take a lot of time and energy to understand, process, and grow from. It can be taxing, emotional work. The good news for many of us is that it will not always be like this. Grief can bog us down in so many ways, but as we attend to and experience our grief, these things may start to lighten.
What can help?
There is no “right” answer for lessening the feelings of grief brain. A great start is looking at how you are caring for yourself. First and foremost, are you? If so, are those self-care practices working? If not, can you identify some other outlets to try? We know the last thing you may want to do when you aren’t feeling your best is try to come up with healthy self-care practices. We suggest coming up with three ways you can start or improve your self-care, while being gentle with yourself on the harder days. Practice makes progress – not perfection.
A somatic issue is just another term for a “bodily” issue. Grief can manifest in different ways throughout our bodies. While these issues can be quite unique to the individual, many people will report symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, sleeplessness/restlessness, lack of or increased appetite, and exacerbation with pre-existing health issues. There may be an increase in these somatic symptoms if we are not allowing ourselves to grieve openly or do not feel safe doing so.
What can help?
How can you best express yourself and your grief? This self-reflection can help you uncover outlets that can be set up throughout your grief journey. It could be finding a support system where you are able to talk about your person, your experience, and your grief. Some find it helpful to identify an outlet to physically release some pent up grief, such as exercising, working outside, taking walks, stretching, etc. It may even look like giving back. There are many different outlets to give back that can help release serotonin in the body – a natural “feel good chemical” that can help us feel a bit brighter.
Even with this information about grief’s effect on our bodies,
we advise checking in with a healthcare professional if health issues arise and/or worsen.
It’s important to note how both grief brain and somatic issues may come together to affect simple daily life tasks. Can’t seem to make it through a previously normal workout routine? It could be grief. Perhaps a normal task that may have been simple enough to do almost mindlessly before now takes more focus to see through. The brain and the body can sometimes feel as though they are working separately during more difficult moments of grief. Keep taking deep breaths and remind yourself that these will work themselves out slowly but surely.
What can help?
One of the hardest – yet most courageous – things a grieving individual can do is ask for help. While we hear many grieving individuals express how difficult it can be to reach out because they feel like a burden, we also hear many friends and family members feeling lost because they want to help, but do not know how. Sometimes having support for the small daily tasks can take a huge weight off. Whether or not you have help with these tasks, it’s important to pay attention to your self-talk. Are you hard on yourself? We tend to be our harshest critics! Remember to catch yourself on judgmental thoughts, and give yourself some grace during this difficult life journey.
Family Caregiving Advice Column
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