As a psychologist and bereavement trauma specialist, I know many people who have struggled mightily to cope with loss and grief. But I never lived this actual experience until the past 10 years—when I was hit with multiple losses, one after the other.
My beloved husband was diagnosed with Stage IV inoperable cancer and died six months later. I had just lost my father three months before. The deaths of my mother, my rescue dog and my only sibling followed. It was a decade of grief.
I had many dark days when I didn’t know if I would ever experience light again, whether as a sense of my own lightheartedness or the light of the world. I became a person addicted to worry, which prompted a friend to say, “If there wasn’t anything to worry about, you would find something.”
He was right. Peace often eluded me, especially at night as I was trying to fall asleep. But fortunately, with the help of Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture treatments and the regular practice of various forms of mindful meditation, I learned how to exchange my worrying for a sense of greater peace and equanimity.
Pause and breathe
The use of apps
When I have a few free minutes or when grief overtakes me, I turn to several apps on my phone to practice mindful meditation. Check any of these out: Calm, Headspace, InsightTimer, Breathe2Relax or Tactical Breather (I don’t endorse any one of these over the others.)
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction was developed a number of years ago by Jon Kabat-Zinn and is a science-based practice of mindfulness. It’s been found to be highly effective in reducing both stress and pain. It’s now offered as a class or training program in many areas around the world. Google your nearest location.
Like MBSR, I Rest is another science-based process for stress reduction. During my decade of loss, I was fortunate enough to receive firsthand training in I Rest from Dr. Richard Miller, the psychologist and Yoga teacher who founded it.
I Rest is now being used extensively to help veterans returning from war zones with post-traumatic stress. I still use the I Rest and Yoga Nidra practices as a way to decrease worry and take my mind off of sadness.
I had been a regular attendee at Yoga classes for many years previous to the last decade. Within a week after my husband died, I went back. It became the one hour during the week that I didn’t feel anxious and sad, and I was grateful. Having to focus on breathing and moving within various poses and postures kept me from dwelling on how awful I felt.
Stay in the moment
All four of these practices have one thing in common: they focus on breathing and staying in the moment. And there’s one more tool I recommend: It’s a type of Fitbit for mindfulness, called Meaning to Pause.
This is a reasonably priced device that can be worn or carried in a user’s pocket. It vibrates every 60 or 90 minutes as a way to remind us to breathe, pause and be mindful of the present moment. Stress arises when we make the future more important than the present.
With regular practice, these mindful steps above can improve disrupted sleep, help you manage the rollercoaster of emotions that accompany bereavement, decrease ruminative thinking and actually change the brain—by creating and strengthening new neural patterns that promote calmness and equanimity in the face of heartbreaking loss.