Stress and Grief

The loss of a loved one is considered one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale— a ratings tool developed by psychiatrists in the 1960s that measures the particular “weight” of stress significant events have– places death of a spouse or close family member amongst the most taxing. Grief is the word we use to describe the overwhelming sense of loss and other complicated emotions that arise in the face of such stressful events. 

Grief is powerful. In fact, it can affect both your physical and mental health. People that are grieving are at a higher risk for clinical depression, anxiety, and issues with substance abuse. Plus, the amount of stress the body is under increases the risk of cardiac problems. That’s right; a grieving person can actually get a broken heart if they don’t take care of their mental health. 

Mental Health and You

The most important thing you can do to care for your mental health is to be gentle and love yourself. If you don’t care about yourself, you are not going to make good choices for yourself. Allow yourself to experience your emotions as you process your loss, but be forgiving when you start leaning towards self-criticism. 

Another important tool you have in your mental health kit is your support system. Whether it be family or close friends, turn to the people in your life who you love and trust for comfort and encouragement. Together you can heal and process difficult emotions without feeling alone. 

Expressing Grief and Honoring the Deceased

Everybody experiences grief in their own way, but experts generally agree that honoring the memory of deceased is an important step in the process. Bearing witness is personal– figuring out the best way depends on the person you are honoring and your relationship with them. But doing so can help provide a sense of closure as you recognize that person’s story. 

  • Hold a memorial party to talk with friends and family of the deceased. Share favorite stories and get lost in the good times. 
  • Write down your feelings about your deceased loved one or write them a letter where you can say the things you want to say.
  • Turn to music as a creative outlet that can help you express your feelings.
  • Invest in a memorial plaque that will keep their name alive forever.
  • Plant a tree in honor of the deceased.
  • Make a donation to a charitable organization pertinent to what the deceased cared about.
  • Create art– be it a painting, sculpture, collage, or digital art– that expresses your relationship with the deceased and the feelings you are experiencing after the loss. 

Whatever you do, avoid risky behaviors while processing your grief. It is easy to turn to things such as drugs and alcohol to cope with the stress of loss, but in actuality they make things worse as they increase feelings of depression and hopelessness. Instead of trying to escape feelings, allow yourself to experience them and grow from the pain. 

Losing someone you are close to is one of the most stressful things in life. That stress can have adverse effects on your overall health. It’s important to care for yourself and allow yourself to experience difficult feelings while going through grief. Be gentle with yourself and use your support system to get through this hard time with minimal damage.

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Coming to terms with the death of a loved one is no easy matter. It may take years to get past the grief and achieve resolution. However, a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Here are a few ways to help those who are hurting emerge from the darkness with their minds set on the future, not lingering in the past. 

Accept the Grieving as a Normal Part of Life

Every living things dies. Nothing can change this fact. Knowing that our time on earth will end makes each moment precious. Yet the inevitability of loss reminds us that our sorrow is neither abnormal nor wrong. Rather, it’s part of the price we pay for having lives worth living.

This fact is hard to grasp in our modern society. We believe sadness and despair are illnesses we can medicate away; and, in fact, depression is sometimes a sign of a treatable illness. In most cases, however, grief is something to accept with serenity, knowing it, like all things, will pass in time. So acknowledge and accept your pain. This will help you to move past it in time.

Give Voice to Your Feelings

Repressing grief by acting stoic or brave is an unhealthy form of denial. It makes others feel better, but only at the expense of the grieving person. Over the long term, it can even hurt society by suppressing the life lessons learned from facing reminders of our mortality. 

This may sound counter-intuitive, but research shows that unbridled happiness is harmful to human beings. Expressing your grief will not only help you, it will remind others to focus on what is truly important. So wear your feelings on your sleeve, at least for a little while.

Keep Up Routines

It’s important for those in mourning to resume their regular schedules after a suitable length of time. Expecting grieving parties to return to their career and other obligations after a loss may seem cruel.  In reality, however, the familiar routine that comes from work can help the surviving party to heal. Even if you’re retired, you probably have a set schedule revolving around housecleaning, exercise, volunteer work, and other productive activities. Renew those commitments as time and other factors allow. It may do you a world of good.

Resist the Temptation to Set a Timetable 

Countless myths have grown up around the grieving process. One of the most pernicious misconceptions is that grief acts according to a schedule. For example, you may have heard that 12 months is the “normal” amount of time to mourn a loved one. This is nonsense. Your sorrow is just that: your sorrow. Just as no one can grieve for you, so also no one can impose a time limit on how long you may mourn. 

Channel Your Anger

Anger is a normal part of the grieving process. It can help you to recover or it can cause further harm to you and others, depending on how you use it. Lashing out at well-meaning people or unknowing third parties will help no one. Neither will turning your rage inward and abusing yourself. 

On the other hand, anger can help you to turn the death into something positive. For example, let’s say you lost your loved one to cancer or some other horrible disease. You could channel your anger into raising money for medical research. This is a great way to honor the person who died while helping society.

One way to help resolve grief is to preserve heirlooms that memorialize the departed’s life and legacy. Taking care of these precious items requires special handling. This is especially the case with things made from wood, cloth, and paper.  Here are some general guidelines for preventing damage to these objects:

  • Use acid-free boxes, frames, and tissues for storage.
  • Keep heirlooms out of direct sunlight.
  • Avoid extreme humidity or temperature changes in the places where you store heirlooms.

Recovering from loss is never fast or painless. Nor is it ever complete. But the tips outlined in this post can help you to survive the ordeal as you put your life back together. Best of luck to you as your face the challenges ahead.

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When you are in the throes of grief, it is difficult to think about how to grow from the experience and honor your loved one. As time passes, however, it becomes easier to do just that. We share four ways you can use your grief to make positive changes.

  1. Rescue a Dog

Grief is not easy to deal with, and people work through their grief for several months and even years. One way to soothe your grief and ward off the depression and anxiety it brings is to rescue a dog from a shelter (instead of buying one from a pet store which can cost up to $1,500). Rescuing a dog is a positive experience because you will open your heart to someone new. You will have a reason to get out of bed, and you will develop a loving relationship with a dog who desperately needs a home and a new lease on life. Best of all, a dog will positively impact your mental health. 

Petting a dog releases oxytocin, the chemical that makes us feel good, and lowers your level of cortisol, the stress hormone. Oxytocin also promotes attachment, and connecting with a dog relieves your anxiety and depression and helps you see a more hopeful future.

After you rescue your dog, consider donating to the shelter in your loved one’s name. Rescue shelters typically are nonprofit organizations that rely on donations from the local community to keep their doors open and continue to provide care, medication, and food to abandoned animals. You can make a monetary donation, or you can donate supplies such as paper towels, blankets, pet food, leashes, cleaning supplies, cat litter, toys, and laundry detergent.

  1. Create a Memorial Garden

If you have space in your backyard, you can honor your loved one with a memorial garden. This is a beautiful way to symbolize growth, healing, and transition from loss to new life while keeping the memory of your loved one alive. Spending time in this garden can bring peace and comfort, and the process of creating the garden can keep you busy while going through the grieving process.

A memorial garden can be as big or small as you want it to be. If you’re planting trees or flowers, make sure they have adequate sunlight to grow. You can also add indoor lights, such as candles and lanterns, for evening visits. Water has a tranquil effect, which can be incorporated with a fountain or pond. Engraved benches and the musical sounds of windchimes can also provide comfort. 

  1. Volunteer for a Charity Close to Your Loved One’s Heart

If your loved one worked for a particular cause or held a charity close to his or her heart, consider volunteering there. When you volunteer, you establish relationships with other people and move through your grief and depression in a healthy way. You will feel good knowing that you are helping others, and you will grow personally by knowing that you are making a difference in your community in your loved one’s honor.

According to The Balance, volunteering improves your mental health and boosts your happiness, too. Volunteering gives you an increased sense of purpose. You will develop emotional stability and improve your self-esteem. Volunteering also boosts your resume and may lead to a better job.

  1. Organize a Fundraiser in Honor of Your Loved One

Putting your energy into a good cause is another way to soothe your grief and grow from the experience of losing a loved one. One way to stay busy and work toward a purpose is organizing a fundraiser in honor of your loved one. For example, if your loved one succumbed to cancer, you could start a Relay for Life team in his or her name to support the American Cancer Society. The American Cancer Society Relay for Life is an overnight community event that brings people together to fight cancer and help save lives. 

Your team will camp out, take turns walking or running around a track or path, and raise money in various ways leading up to the day of the event. You and your team may host bake sales, hold a community dance, conduct a raffle, send letters to area businesses asking for donations, or start a fundraising page online. The more creative you are, the more money you will raise in the name of your loved one.

Relay for Life is not the only way to organize a fundraiser in honor of your loved one. For example, if your loved one was a veteran, you could raise money for a local VFW or local wounded veterans who need financial assistance to modify their home or purchase medical equipment. You also could raise money to spruce up a local park he enjoyed visiting, a local library he enjoyed borrowing materials from, or a local school he used to attend.

It takes time to move through your grief after losing a loved one. You can start growing from the experience and honoring your loved one by rescuing a dog and donating to a cause. You also can create a memorial garden, volunteer for a charity, or start a fundraiser to honor his memory.

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The grieving process involves five stages: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Each person spends a different amount of time and experiences varying levels of intensity in each stage. In fact, you may experience the stages in a different order from someone else. Yet, life continues to move on around you after you lose a loved one, and you eventually need to learn how to manage your grief when your bereavement time ends. We share three tips below, in the hopes that we can help you navigate your grief a little more easily when you return to work.

  1. Communicate Your Needs to Your Boss and Colleagues

Many people find that their boss and colleagues want to help them transition to work after the loss of a loved one. The key is to communicate your needs to them to make your return to work easier and more comfortable for you. Call your HR manager, email your boss, or contact your closest work friend prior to your return date and let her know what she can do to help you. You also may work out a flexible schedule that allows you to work from home for a few hours a week or to work part-time until you feel more focused at work.

Alternatively, you may be more comfortable if you send a mass email to inform everyone of your loss and ask them to respect your privacy when you return, or you may ask them to feel free to talk with you about your loss because it will help you heal. You will feel more at ease if you remain in control of your return to work and communicate your needs to your boss and colleagues ahead of time.

  1. Take Care of Yourself

You spend so much time thinking about your family and your loved ones during a time of grief that it is easy to forget about taking care of yourself and your needs. One of the best ways that you can manage your grief and make your return to work more successful is to practice self-care. You need to be patient with yourself and give yourself grace. You may need to take a few extra minutes to talk yourself out of your car on your first day back. You may ask your spouse to walk you into work. You may need an extra-long break or lunch for the first few days back. Listening to yourself and your needs will help you ease back to work in a healthy way.

You also should eat healthy foods and drink plenty of water when you return to work. Grief is mentally and physically taxing, and you need the proper fuel for your body to survive the work day. You also should make it a point to rest and get enough sleep as you prepare to return to work. And, when you are at work, take steps to manage your stress: listen to soothing sounds or music or practice deep breathing when you feel anxious or overwhelmed.

  1. Take Advantage of Bereavement Resources

Another way to take care of yourself at work is to take advantage of bereavement resources that can help you manage your grief. Free online programs are available, and they come with advice, tips, and resources in weekly emails over the course of weeks or months. The advantage of an online programs are that you can access the content anytime, day or night, from home or at work, to find a way through your grief and experience peace. Knowing that you have a source of comfort available at your fingertips will help you through your work day as you transition back after the loss of a loved one.

You may never feel quite ready to return to work after the loss of a loved one, but you will be in a better position to make your grief more manageable if you communicate your needs to your boss and colleagues, take care of yourself, and take advantage of bereavement resources.

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