If you have ever experienced the serious illness or passing away of somebody close to you, you will know that this is a seriously difficult time for your own mental health. When we lose a family member, friend or partner, the grief process is long and arduous. When somebody dies in our community, we sometimes focus on taking care of others, trying to help them through the tough time without thinking much about our own wellbeing. Similarly, death brings up all sorts of logistical obstacles such as funeral arrangements, will-reading and sifting through the person’s belongings.
Even if the person who has passed was sick for a while, elderly, being given live in care or other assisted living arrangements, death still comes as a shock. If you have experienced this, you will know that this is a highly overwhelming time both practically and emotionally. So how can you take care of your own mental wellbeing when this happens?
Grieving is a time to look inward, as well as outward to the future. In this blog, you will find some common mental health troubles that are experienced during grief, and how best to work through them.
The Mind and Body Connection
Many people believe that mental health issues are completely separate to physical health problems or side effects. However, science disagrees. It is clinically proven that mental illness and trauma can manifest themselves in our physical bodies. It is important to remember that if you are experiencing grief, although this is seen as a purely emotional thing to happen, you could experience physical symptoms too. This is totally normal, and it is important to recognise when these things happen so you can best cope with these changes.
The Shock of Absence
One of the things that makes us feel the rawest and most difficult emotions is the sheer shock of losing a loved one. One minute they are alive in the world, the next they have moved on. The shock of the absence of this person can have seriously detrimental effects on your mental health, which can also bleed out into physical symptoms. Some of these effects might be:
- Loss of sleep. Sometimes when we are in emotional shock, despite wanting to sleep, we can’t seem to let our mind relax enough to fall into slumber.
- Excessive sleep. On the other hand, some people’s bodies react in the opposite way, by sleeping through the day as a way of escaping reality.
- Wildly varying emotions. You may experience a feeling like you can’t control your emotions or find stability within them. This is normal. Your body can’t feel full-strength emotions constantly, so it’s totally normal to have varied emotions at this time.
- Picking up the phone to contact the person, or referring to them as if they are still alive by accident. This is very common, and can make you very upset when reality hits. When you are so used to a person being in your life, your brain is wired to consider them alive and well, and so it will take a long time to readjust to the new reality. When these moments occur, try not to get angry with yourself, but instead try your best to accept it as a process of adjustment.
- Not eating or overeating. If you have an emotional connection to food, you may find that you lean on your eating habits as a coping mechanism. This could be eating less than usual, or relying on food for comfort. People will tell you that this is unhealthy, you can’t expect to be perfect when you are dealing with trauma like this. As long as you don’t take these comfort habits to a dangerous extreme, these can be relied upon through the grief process. If you feel this getting out of hand, you can use eating disorder helplines and therapy programs.
- Feeling joyless. When something bad happens, we usually defer back to the things that make us happiest. Our kids, our best friends, favourite movies, pets, yummy snacks… You name it, we seek it out when we feel blue. But losing a loved one can cause us to lose joy, even for the things that make our hearts happy most of the time. This can last a while.
- Having intense, vivid dreams. When somebody we love dies, it makes sense that they are on our mind most of the time in the beginning stages of coping without them. When we dream, it is our brain’s way of leaking all the information and emotions that it has processed during the day; when we experience something traumatic or particularly intense, our brains sometimes can’t fully process it all at once. Hence, you are likely to have some intense dreams about the person – or even lots of crazy dreams about other things!
Coping With These Effects
The above are only a small number of the wide range of emotions and physical sensations that can come with grief. So what can you do about it? Here are some solutions to the feelings you are experiencing, to try to make the transitional stages of grief easier. Although this time will always be hard, there are ways to alleviate some of the stress you are feeling.
- Seek Grief Counselling
If you have never been to see a therapist before or find the prospect daunting, this is to be expected. After all, counselling or talking therapy requires you to be vulnerable in front of someone who will be, at first, a total stranger. However, grief counselling will allow you to express your emotions without judgement – but even more than that, the therapist will give you tools with which to manage your stress and sadness. These can be breathing exercises, ways of staying connected to the person, techniques to help you sleep better and routine-based activities to keep you ticking over. You can get one-on-one counselling or group therapy sessions with others experiencing similar loss.
- Hold your loved ones close.
Grief sometimes propels people into a state of isolation. After all, it feels like nobody can be feeling what you feel, so some people react to this by shutting others out. If this is a tendency you are familiar with, make sure you work actively to combat it. Your desire to lock others away from your emotions is stopping you from getting the support you need. Start by reaching out to one – just one – person in your life who you trust. From there, you can gradually build a support network.
- Try to spark joy, even if it doesn’t work.
Even if you feel joyless, the search for joy should be constant. Try new ways of sparking tiny moments of happiness, even if it fades away in a split second. This could be through sex, food, seeing friends, playing video games, going for walks alone, or watching your favourite films. You can’t expect all the bad feelings to disappear, but you could be distracted from them just for a moment, giving your brain and body some much-needed relief.
4. Try talking to the person, if you want to.
Many people shy away from this for fear that they might look “crazy”. But there’s nothing “crazy” about wanting to feel connected to a person you have lost. If speaking to them helps, then try doing it. There is no shame in maintaining a spiritual connection.
Grief is a horrible thing to feel, and no amount of fun activities or therapy will totally eradicate those feelings. However, with time, persistence and kindness to yourself, you can learn to cope better with the aftermath of losing someone close to you.
This article was written by a freelance writer