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Loss – be it of a loved one, a stage of life or something symbolic – is an inevitable rite of passage for us all. Clinical psychologist Sarit Swisa provides some expert advice.
By Sarit Swisa*
Losing someone or something important to you can be incredibly difficult. It destabilises your perception of reality, creates a void and triggers pain that is often extremely challenging to manage. As such, many studies have been carried out to investigate how people cope with these difficult times and develop an inner reservoir of resilience.
While grieving may be difficult, many people find that they ultimately grow as human beings and discover meaningful ways to integrate loss into their lives – but achieving this requires an initial process of dealing with the grief. Here are a few tips to help you navigate this often-overwhelming experience.
- Accept your feelings
There are no wrong or right emotions. You might not like certain feelings that arise, but research shows that simply allowing them to exist – acknowledging and not suppressing them – goes a long way to processing grief. Trust that you will survive the feelings and that they will come and go again.
- Be gentle with yourself
Try not to judge yourself – there is no time limit on being sad. The intensity may vary over time, but it is normal to continue to have feelings about your loss. Mindfulness practices can help you create and tolerance for all your emotions.
- Seek support
Mourning may well be a lonely time in one’s life – no one else can do it for you, and no two people’s experiences will be the same. That said, avoid isolating yourself. Reach out and seek connection from people who feel “safe” – people who won’t judge you or tell you how to grieve.
- Learn about grief
Education is important, as we sometimes try to rush ourselves through negative emotional spaces because we think they aren’t normal. Understanding the different symptoms of grief, as well as the various stages you might be able to expect, can assist in normalising what you’re going through.
- Create rituals to facilitate grieving
Some cultures and religions have rituals to assist mourners with acknowledging the loss in their lives and with providing space to mourn. Rituals need not be religious, but can incorporate activities like journaling, visiting a graveside or attending a bereavement support group – all in aid of honouring the grief process.
- Express your feelings
Find ways to not just allow your feelings, but also to express them – this can be through rituals, sharing with a friend or therapist, journaling, music or art.
- Practise self-care
Exercising and worrying about healthy food may not feel very important at this point; however, caring for yourself is never more important than when you are having a difficult time. Grief is not only an emotional experience, but also a very physical one – one that, if you pay attention, is having a marked impact on the body. While self-care incorporates many of the above elements, your physical self needs care, too.
- Don’t numb out your feelings
Using alcohol and drugs to anaesthetise the emotional pain only prolongs the grieving process – and can sometimes add other havoc to the mix. People may also try to numb out the hurt through being overly busy, suppressing their emotions and avoiding anything that will trigger grief. Allow yourself to feel, and remember: it will pass.
- Ask for help
If it feels too hard to manage the pain of your grief, call for external support. Whether it’s a compassionate friend or a professional therapist or counsellor, there are many people with experience in assisting others to navigate this difficult time. Use them wisely!
- Keep it simple
You are going through a lot; this isn’t the time to make big, life-changing decisions, take on too many projects or push yourself harder. Recognise that your mind, body and soul need rest, time and space to process the changes.
- Sarit Swisa is a clinical psychologist in private practice, and coordinates the counselling services at Nechama, a bereavement counselling service in Cape Town.
- This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.
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