Coping with sadness and grief

Pain and sorrow are natural feelings that serve an adaptive purpose. Disappointment helps you change your perspective on life and learn from experiences. These feelings allow you to adapt to changed circumstances, such as after the loss of a job, or a loved one. These feelings deserve your full attention at first. Allow yourself to experience them fully for a while, because there’s no clock, no defined length time on how long you should experience sadness, disappointment, and grief. Healing, adjusting, recovering a zest for life, taking new directions, filling gaps, and exploring the new are processes that start as you experience sadness and grief, and all take time.

There’s not set time as to ‘how long’ is good enough. You only know this.

The issue is that you need to avoid prolonged grieving and watch for any sign that your feelings are persisting past their expiration date. If you find that you become stuck in a downward spiral of paralysis, and you are unable to move forward, then now is the time to distance yourself from sadness and start building resources to grow through life’s challenges. Watch out for signs of becoming depressed, like seeing the world as a hopeless place, isolating yourself, and feeling inadequacy, guilt, shame or low self-worth.

Some resources are demonstrated scientifically to work better than others. Among them:

Gratitude. Counter your sadness and the gloom and doom that accompanies it by listing, every day, three good things that happened today. Keep a journal, or write them on post-it notes, have them readily available.

Get grounded. Some call it living the present, or practicing mindfulness.   Simply take the time to notice what is happening in the here and now. Use your senses,  – vision, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling – to become fully aware of what is going on around you. It is a kind of stop sign, that tells you to stop thinking about the grief and feeling it, if only for a little while.

Get going. There’s a tendency to stop doing the very things that make you happy and it perpetuates the sadness. Write down your moments of fun, and pay attention to activities you used to enjoy. Build them back into your life. Actions and behaviors will impact your feelings positively.

Connect. We’re biologically wired to connect with others. It makes us feel safe, calm, secure, and happy. Grief does the opposite. It disconnects you from others and bring our attention fully to the self. List all the people who are your sources of support. Now reach out to them.

Help others. We’re also wired to give to something larger than ourselves. Grief and sadness collapse awareness and lead to brooding and isolation. Get out of your ego-system and embrace a greater purpose through various contributions of your time such as volunteering.

Value yourself. Take a chance to reflect on your values, strengths and passions, what you do and what defines you. You’ve come so far in life for a reason. Use your strengths to plan how you are going to move on.

Face your sadness. Efforts to numb the pain with alcohol, oversleeping or social media overuse will be temporary. You would be delaying the pain, not erasing it. Escapist behaviors might also have consequences that add to your bag of pains. You only heal by confronting the pain. Allow yourself to cry or grieve in any way that is best for you. Acknowledgement of the pain is the first step toward recovering from it.

Transforming Our Internal Universe: Changing our brains with the power of thoughts, emotions, and the body.

When we achieve congruence in speech, thought and action, we function at our peak, because our whole being is fully engaged, with all parts of ourselves working harmoniously and co-operatively toward a goal or a state of being.

However, how do we synchronise these three parts for peak functioning?

This comes through the integration of feelings, senses, and thoughts.

Such integration involves understanding and managing our inner world, which includes the rational mind (the thoughts) and our capacity to have and identify certain emotions. It also involves understanding the relationship between our environment and our body, through its ability to sense and self regulate. In this sense, all aspects are interconnected.

Once a thought exists in our mind, masses of physiological reactions occur in the body and emotions are felt.

Lets put it to the test: notice the sensations you feel when you recall a cherished event, or a person you love.  Then after a short break, do the same,but this time recall an intense moment, one of anger, frustration, fear, or sadness.

The  sensations are different and produce either well-being and relaxation or tension. These sensations are only the surface sensing of much deeper processes at play within your body.

The thoughts create a cascade of bodily reactions that in turn produce what and how we feel, and naturally how we act.  Each time we direct our attention or awareness to a given thought, feeling, event or situation, we set in motion subtle neurological processes that alter our blood flow, activate several glands and produce a chemical cocktail that is released in various organs and changes our physiological systems such as the respiratory or cardio-vascular systems, accelerating or slowing them down.  They also modify electrical impulses in various parts of the brain, and create new combinations and sequences in the neurological pathways.

All these processes remain unnoticed unless by our brain’s unconscious.  However, what we put our attention on, ultimately defines us on a neurological level: we become what we think and our body’s health is related to how and what we think.

Our habitual thinking trains our body to react to  certain habitual chemical processes.  Whatever the chemical releases, they become regular and reach a state of normality over time.  Some however become abnormal. For instance, increased arousal levels caused by adrenalin production, perhaps the result of a stressful life,  can over time lead to cardiac issues.  Yet we do not notice, because these conditions are our level of normal, that is usual and functioning.

Think of similar events occurring over time, such as the daily rush to work, and the way we think and react to this.  Chances are, we think and act in the same manner, time after time, without even noticing, and this in turn creates the same chemical processes that run repeatedly through our body.  Depending on the processes, rushing to work every day can be a fun and relaxing experience that can be nurturing to the body, or detrimental to our health. All depends on the feelings and thoughts associated with ‘going to work’ and the chemicals thus released internally.

Sometimes, we become aware of how we think and how we do things similarly and perhaps, how it may affect our body and our health.  Because we are versatile beings and are capable of thought, we can  then choose to keep our attention on the thoughts, feelings and actions that serve us,as opposed to those that, though once useful to us, we now recognize are detrimental to us.

For instance, placing your attention on pain in the body is beneficial: it tells you that you need to pay attention to an injury or illness, and take appropriate steps to heal.  However, if the pain becomes chronic, or if you worry about it , or get frustrated because the pain impedes your daily life, your focus makes the pain exist even more.  At that point, if you place your attention on something else, the part of the brain that processes body sensations switches off, and the pain goes away or its intensity reduces significantly.  If you pay attention to pain consistently, you wire your neurons strongly toward the pain, and you develop a more acute perception of it. Like a finely-tuned instrument, your body and thoughts are now able to feel the pain even more acutely.

Our attention brings anything to life.  We mold ourselves by the repeated attention we give to something: we are a work in progress, and through experiences, memories, fantasies, all information inputs alter our brain cells by neurologically rearranging and rewiring neural pathways through the various stimuli we get.

In essence, we become what we spend our time mentally attending to.  Hence, the thought that we have the ability to reshape our brain, and thus, reshape our destiny holds true.

Yet, can we unlock the means to manage our thoughts, feelings, and reactions to move from stress and pains toward regeneration and change?

The answer is yes and a stark contrast to older beliefs that the mind is static. 21st Century research shows us otherwise.

We have the neuro-plasticity to “break the habit of being my usual me.”  Our brain can and does evolve and it does so limitlessly.We are able to achieve congruence of thought, feeling, and action, as we move away from a state of stress and reactivity to a state of alert mindfulness.

Through our own stress, we exist in a primitive state of survival, one that limits our evolution.  We experience life, but do not reach our peak. Realising our potential demands alertness, flexibility and health.

Sometimes, we choose to remain in a situation that creates stress: a less than satisfying job, an unhealthy relationship or location, and so on…  Why is it so? Why do we stay in a situation we dislike? Why don’t we change what makes us suffer? We know intuitively that “this is not good for us”, yet we feel unable to change anything about it and “put up with it”.

The response is simple: because not only have we become accustomed to whatever conditions we live in, but we also have mentally become addicted to the emotional states they produce, and our bodies have come to assimilate that the chemical reactions that arouse from that state of being are normal and are to be expected.

As we become stuck in one mindset or attitude, genetics are partially responsible, but we have hardwired a part of our brain through repeated thoughts and actions. And these are difficult to change.

To consider changing is to accept becoming different: we are no longer who we used to be.

We first have to experience something that makes us feel uncomfortable enough to want things to be different, and we sense that to overcome our life conditions, we have to change something in ourselves.

So, how do we overcome this challenge of redefining ourselves? How do we change something in ourselves to create new connections in our brains, new habits, or new approaches to similar events? How do we create the principles upon which, from timid we become bold, from helpless with finances we become confident we can take care of our financial future? How do we move from feeling dissatisfied with our relationship or job, towards a stage where we can change their dynamics, or simply make a decision we may now still fear, that of leaving them?

Overcoming a challenge requires first that we demonstrate a will greater than our circumstances,and second that we adopt new habits, by initially breaking old habits, through the release of encoded memories of past similar experiences that are outdated and no longer apply to, nor serve us in, our present circumstances.

My next article will describe some of the methods we can use to build up will, release old habits and how to rewire our minds for greater efficiency and happiness by achieving congruence of thought, feeling and senses as we learn to integrate senses, thoughts and body responses.

Coaching and counseling can help and support you in this work. How about contacting me for obligation-free information and for assistance in devising a three to ten week plan to help you get there?

MBB (Mind Body Bridging) is the method we will use as you journey to transform your mind. It is a 21st Century modality, used in various medical, psychological and coaching practices, with techniques drawn from the latest findings in neurological science and psychology, and thoroughly tested in clinical settings.

A Simple Exercise in Reconnecting with Your Self

“An essential skill when time is scarce and tension is high, because a busy head cannot calm a busy mind.”

Do you feel highly stressed, with your mind overactive, parts of your body tense, and your thoughts spinning out of control?

  • Do you have a feeling of dissatisfaction or pain that you can’t quite pinpoint?
  • Do you encounter situations in your daily life that cause you stress, fatigue, anger, pain or irritation?
  • Worse, do you carry unresolved suffering from past emotional trauma, and can’t rid yourself of the accompanying numbness and tension?
  • Do you feel that your effectiveness goes as you find that your body can’t relax and intrusive thoughts won’t go away?
  • Is your energy sapped, but when you try the recommended remedies –– such as grounding and relaxing, starting an exercise routine, changing your diet, balancing your lifestyle, reading a self-help book, turning to friends, taking a weekend away­­ –– somehow you don’t have enough time or see the results quickly enough, with the result that you don’t stick to the routine, practice the exercises, of follow these regimens?

If you say yes to any or all of these questions, please try an exercise in Mindfulness and Awareness to reprogram your mind to emotional calmness and resilience.  The exercise doesn’t require you to run to the gym, become a meditation participant in a sangha, read books, take a holiday, or invest in anything but yourself, and it can be applied for a few minutes, anytime, anywhere.

Mindfulness is being used more and more in various health fields, both physical and psychological.  Research in Western countries now demonstrates that some simple and quick techniques that have been taught in various Far East countries for hundreds of years are extremely effective in giving your body and mind a rest.  These principles are now applied in Positive Psychology, motivation training, stress, burn-out and anxiety programmes, and many other areas of physical and mental health, such as cancer patient units and centres specialising in trauma recovery, e.g., army veteran centres.  And the same exercises are effective when applied to daily stress, tension, or emotional upsets.

Mindfulness consists of allowing troublesome thoughts and sensations to come and go.  It is the opposite of the traditional ineffective advice to “move on”, “just don’t think about it”, “let it go”,  “box it”, “keep a stiff upper lip”, and so on.  Instead, mindfulness involves simply relegating these thoughts to the background and observing them as they come and go.

To do this, you need to use the power of your senses to relax the mental and physical tension you feel because of difficult situations and bring your mind and body back to optimum and natural functioning!

“When in frustration, go back to your senses.”

Try this:

  1. Think of a frustrating thought (e.g., a stressful morning meeting, traffic jam on the road and missed appointment, issues with a partner, etc.)
  2. Feel how your body reacts and tenses up as you bring the thought to the fore.  Bodily sensations always associate with a thought about an event.
  3. Now immediately rub your fingers together or against your desk or your clothing – touch something.
  4. Don’t consciously fight to try to make the frustrating thought disappear from your mind — just bring your mind to the sense of touch.
  5. Notice how the thought and tension are somewhat minimised.
  6. Do this again and again throughout the day.

Repeat this practice over a few days and then broaden it to include another of the senses.  For example, follow touch by bringing in your sense of hearing:

  • Consciously bring your mind to become aware of background noises, such as the hum of the aircon, or of your computer, multiple faint sources of noise, e.g., conversations in the street, birds chirping, the sound of your fingers tapping on the computer, etc.  Background noises are not those of the TV, but subtle sounds and hums around you.
  • Let the noises in the background come to fill the foreground of your mind.  As you do this, you may notice how your current thoughts are still present, but minimised in your mind.

Then, do the same again, this time with your vision:

  • Notice what is around you, especially the texture of the objects you see, whatever those objects are, beautiful flower or trash on the street.

And do the same again with your sense of taste and smell.

  • Notice the taste inside your mouth, or the texture of the gum you chew, or the food you eat.  Concentrate on the smells around you, whether pleasant or not.

This may take a few minutes, or maybe just seconds.  The trick is to remember to do it.  Like any muscles, the more you practice being aware of your senses, the stronger and more effective this Mindfulness technique becomes.

Underlying this exercise is a fundamental principle: when our minds are overactive, our bodies tense up, and our senses close down.  Our senses are our connection to reality.  Reality lies outside of us, externally, not within our internal thought processes.  Deliberate moments of (re)connection to our external physical environment by bringing our sensory modes to the forefront of our attention appeases the mind, and hence appeases our body responses.

If your mode of taking in sensory inputs is mainly visual, try doing the exercise above with your other, less utilised senses: touch, hearing and taste or smell.  Do this each time you face a problematic thought or feeling.  Allow the thought or feeling to coexist with all of the background sensory inputs your mind is now absorbing.  The relief or melting away of thought and tension may be nearly immediate or may be a slower process, depending on the intensity of the problem and associated mental or body sensations and also how much experience you have using this exercise.

If you are interested in knowing more about this method and various exercises you can apply to calm your thoughts and tension, why not sign up for either an individual session or a workshop? Contact us for details.