“The loss of a loved one is life’s most stressful event and can cause a major emotional crisis. After the death of someone you love, you experience bereavement, which literally means “to be deprived by death.” – Mental Health America
How we cope with loss affects not only our mental health but our physical wellbeing as well. In our society, many don’t have the tools to handle loss.
Why We Have Difficulty Coping
The American Institute of Stress attributes three reasons as to why people are not prepared to effectively cope after a loss:
- In our materialistic society, we’re taught to acquire things, not lose them.
- Society teaches us that “having things” will make us feel happy and more complete.
- We are taught by society that if we lose something, replacing it quickly will help us feel better and make the loss easier.
How Our Bodies Handle Stress
Many find it easier to numb out on substances, keep a stiff upper lip, or bury their emotions rather than face death head-on. Refusal to acknowledge and process through emotions leads to internal stress which can manifest in physical symptoms. Stress can trigger the body’s “flight or fight” response which increases heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. When stress leaves the body in this state over a period of time, we become more susceptible to muscle aches, headaches, ulcers, allergies, heart disease, lack of sexual desire, and colds and viruses.
9 Ways to Manage The Effects of Bereavement And Stress
Learning how to manage stress levels is imperative if we want healthy hearts and immune systems.
1. Exercise Self-Compassion
Give yourself permission to feel. Learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings is a process that becomes easier over time. One comes to understand that emotions come and go like tourists during the busy season. They stay for a while, and then they are gone. Understanding that difficult feelings will somehow eventually ease helps to lessen the fear that we will always be in this type of pain.
Suggested Read: 4 Comparisons To Explain Your Grief And Loss
2. Talk It out
Release your confusion, frustration, shock, and pain with someone you trust. Choose someone who is a good listener and empathetic. Feeling understood and heard is an important component of healing.
3. Write a Letter to or Journal About the Person You Lost
Writing is another way to release emotional pain. Writing down our thoughts and feelings helps us identify what we are feeling and why we are feeling that way. This, in turn, helps us understand ourselves, so we can improve our mental health by gaining insight into our thoughts and emotions.
Suggested Read: What Should I Journal About After A Loss?
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Laugh
It is not uncommon to feel guilty about experiencing joy in the wake of loss. Laughter is a natural stress reliever that releases feel-good chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in the brain. Laughter also relaxes muscles, eases tension, reduces cortisol levels, protects the heart, increases immune system functioning and replenishes the lungs. Needless to say, laughter can truly be the best medicine.
Suggested Read: Sometimes You’ve Just Gotta Laugh At a Funeral
5. Rely on Faith
Whether you are religious or spiritual, reading or listening to uplifting religious or spiritual texts and/or music can offer hope and keep death in perspective. Simply exposing oneself to positive and uplifting words creates a mind-shift away from dark and negative thoughts that can overwhelm us.
Suggested Read: Music Can Help Us Heal
6. Have Patience
We exist in a fast-paced society where instant gratification is coveted. Recovering from a loss cannot be forced. It is like buying a train ticket without knowing the destination. The journey is long and there may be stops and delays along the way. Practice patience and compassion as you navigate through each twist and turn.
7. Make Self-Care a Priority
Exercise, meditate, do yoga, or get a massage. These activities work to keep our minds in the present moment, and relax and rejuvenate the body.
Suggested Read: Is Self-Care Selfish Or Selfless?
8. Offer Yourself Forgiveness
It is easy to beat up on ourselves for the things we said or didn’t say to our departed loved one. Let go of guilt; nobody is perfect. Now is the time to forgive yourself.
Notice that life is all around you–plants, animals, people. The older one gets, the more we notice that life is fleeting. It is important to stay conscious of small, yet meaningful moments. So enjoy the sun’s warmth, a loved one’s hug, the squirrels giving chase to one another, the buds of new leaves in spring, a neighborly hello, or a smile from a stranger. Find comfort in being a part of something that is much bigger than all of us.
Suggested Read: Finding Gratitude In Life’s Ordinary Moments
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