The Healing Process of Grief

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Grief after experiencing a sudden loss can knock your feet right out from under you.

Whether from the death of a loved one, a trauma, a job loss or divorce, severe illness, surgery, or any other unexpected change, it can be hard to endure…

…both emotionally and physically exhausting.

 

In my healing work as a physician, I’ve found that real life experiences of trauma and grief don’t look like what I learned grief is “supposed” to look like from my training in medical school.

I still remember learning all about the classic model of the grief process, set forth by the amazing and brave Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.  You’ve probably heard of it, as they still teach it to this day.

She created the acronym DABDA for moving through the 5 stages of grief, representing:

D — denial

A — anger

B — bargaining

D — depression

A — acceptance

 

We learned in med school how patients go through this grieving process in any order, and may take as long as necessary in each phase before coming through to acceptance of the loss.

But what I found, through both patient experiences and my own first hand personal experiences, is that this model did not serve me (or my patients) very well.

DABDA never quite captured the true essence of what goes on during the grief process nor do I feel the final term of “acceptance” really captures the true beauty in the healing process that ultimately unfolds.

There are so many gifts that can accompany loss.

There are so many moments of breathtaking beauty, of love, of rawness, of support, of gratitude, all swirled into the moments of hurt, of ugly, of anxiety, of fear.

So I began to identify a new way to think about the grieving process, one that served me better, one that felt more accurate to my experience and the experiences of the patients I’ve worked with.

 

 

 

The new paradigm, for me, looks more like this:

Resistance —> Surrender

 

Not moving randomly through the 5 phases of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, but moving systematically from resistance to surrender.

Denial feels like:

“This can not (or should not) be happening.”

 

And surrender comes in breakthrough moments of:

 

“This *is* happeneing and yes, I am doing this, I just don’t know how.”

 

And what happens each time we surrender to what is happening, hope immediately returns.  Even if it is just a small sliver of hope.

 

 

The path from resistance to surrender ebs and flows like any painful healing journey…

…one step forward into surrender and then three steps backwards into resistance and then another tentative two steps into surrender.

Every single time we take a step backwards in the healing process, it is because we are resisting it.

And every single time we take a leap forward in the healing process, it is because we are surrendering to the transformation and ALLOWING IT TO BE something more beautiful than had ever stood in it’s place before.

The ugliest messes have a way of being the most necessary, meaningful, healing experiences possible.

And even when our gut is screaming:

“no, no, no, no, NO!”

 

… the entire time, our soul is singing:

“yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!”

and surrender happens.

And healing happens.

And growth happens.

And our ability to heal becomes directly proportional to our ability to surrender.

It turns out, stepping fully into the process of trusting what is unfolding is what real, deep, soul healing has been about all along.

Surrender into grief and allow it to show you the path through and out to the other side.  The other side you may not have wanted, may not have anticipated, may not have welcomed… but it will be a new you waiting there with gifts to unlock that you could not have discovered any other way.

Want more concrete help for specific grief symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, sadness and decreased appetite?

Here are a ton of holistic things you can do to support your journey through the transformation of grief:

 

1. Depression

 

  • Supplement with Zinc —   In the December 15, 2013, the medical journal Biological Psychiatry published the results of a huge study that found that zinc supplementation can effectively reverse depression… and that zinc added to antidepressant therapy may produce more rapid and more effective improvement in symptoms of depression than without zinc supplementation.   So if you or any of your loved ones suffer from depression, supplementing with zinc (even in addition to using a prescription medication) may provide more relief, better relief, and faster relief.
  • Add Probiotics — The natural flora of the gut is diminished in depression, so restoring the natural vitality and variety of healthy organisms in the digestive tract is a very powerful way to improve outcome in depression. A study published on Nov 15, 2013 in Biological Psychiatry, showed decreased depression when participants received probiotic supplements for 30 days, and another study reported clinically significant improvement in mood when participants ate probiotic-containing yogurt for 3 weeks. We know there is a huge link between the gut and the brain already — not only scientifically but also energetically. The gut is our major center for processing emotions, and this is inextricably connected to our mood. You already know this intuitively. How many times have you had an anxious thought that resulted in a knot in your stomach and nervous diarrhea afterwards? Or felt depressed and down, with resulting sluggish bowel movements or painful constipation?  Using probiotics as adjunctive therapy to support healthy mood as well as healthy digestive function makes sense both medically and energetically.
  • Consume Omega 3 Fatty Acids — shown in many different studies to impact brain health… from improving symptoms in ADHD, protecting brain volume as we age, and decreasing postpartum blues, omega fatty acids are a must have to soothe and support your entire body inside and out, from skin to brain.
  • Take Vit D — The link between low levels of Vit D and depression have long been established, but newer research suggests that Vitamin D supplements, taken for 12 weeks, can reverse depressed mood.  Most of us are Vit D deficient, so if you are experiencing depressed mood this is a great time to give Vit D supplements a try!

 

Find all of the supplement brands I trust most in my online dispensary right here.

 

2. Sadness

 

Sadness needs to physically flow through the body in order to release.

You must *feel* the sorrow.  Don’t try to resist it or put it off, instead get into the state of allowing the flow using this one simple trick: water.

Water is the ultimate medium of flow on earth, and comprises the majority of our body.

In fact, water is the body’s natural choice of release as well, in the form of tears. Tears often help facilitate the flow of sorrow through the body and allows it to release more easily.

So one tip is — allow the tears.  Let the water of your tears release your sorrow and lift it from your body.

Can’t cry?

 

You can still use the power of water to help facilitate the release of your sorrow, worry or grief.

  • Use a hot water bottle full of warm water and hold it on your body where you are feeling the sorrow (chest, abdomen, neck, back…)
  • Take a long hot bath (add some baking soda and apple cider vinegar to turn it into a detoxing experience)
  • Sit in a warm shower and envision the water carrying your sorrow down the drain for you
  • Go for a relaxing swim or soak in a jacuzzi
  • Use steam/humidifiers to help hydrate your head, clearing out the old mental fog and allowing room for the new
  • Drink water — hydrate hydrate hydrate during times of worry or sorrow more than any other time of your life. Let your body be flushed out inside and out and with every urination or bowel movement recognize you are flushing the old energy down the drain and making way for new healing

 

Just can’t get into the flow?

 

Take a nap. Just allow your body to do its thing and rest more than normal… repairing from grief and sorrow takes time and is exhausting… allow your body the down time it needs and don’t put any expectations on the process.

 

3. Fatigue

 

The feeling of heavy fatigue or draining depression means your body needs a break… NOW.

Not later.

You must to honor this sensation/symptom for the important information it is providing instead of ignoring or resisting it.
Fatigue and depression show up to alert us that we are in a time of healing/repair and not in a time of action.

Help it by:

  • Low key exercise. Respect your body’s need to slow down. Now is not the time for strenuous exercise… honor caring for your body in gentle ways such as yoga, stretching, long slow walks through nature.
  • Get help. You don’t need to do it all alone. Ask for help. Call a friend. Lean on family to help with some of the burdens you are seeking relief from.
  • Passive body work. Your body needs to get into receiving mode and not giving mode. Your giving mode is burnt out. What I’ve noticed is that most people who struggle with depression are the givers who are giving to everybody but themselves. You DESERVE to give your body the message that there is a time to stop and receive. Get a massage, acupuncture, reiki, physical therapy, a facial, a haircut. Anything that is a passive process for you — let others actively help move that energy through your body and help you on your way to release it.
  • Deeper sleep at night… see below

 

 

4.  Sleeplessness

 

You absolutely, 100% ***NEED*** deep, restorative sleep!

It’s non-negotiable… poor sleep causes:

  • memory impairment
  • shorter life span: decrease response time + decreased motor skills = increased risk of accidents
  • weight gain
  • anxiety and other debilitating mood disturbances
  • dementia and an increased incidence of Alzheimers
  • widespread brain atrophy and much much more!!!

For example, a recent study (published in Neurology on Sept 3, 2104) found a widespread change in brain volume with poor sleep over time.  If poor sleep causes the brain to atrophy, than high quality restorative sleep may help repair and protect the brain.

Here are some ways to get that much needed, deep restorative sleep you absolutely NEED to make your way through the process of grief:

  • Grounding — connecting to the earth has been shown in sleep studies to increase the amount of time we spend in deep sleep, as well as treat jet lag and other circadian rhythm disturbances.  Sleeping with a grounding product will support your body’s healing process from head to toe, all night long… find my favorite indoor grounding products in my Grounding Boutique right here.
  • Melatonin — Taken 1 hour before bedtime, melatonin allows my sleep to be deeper, less interrupted, and more restorative.
  • Daily activity — simply getting up every single hour of the waking day and walking for a bit (instead of spending several hours in a row inactive) just might be the best gift you could ever give your body.
  • Develop a nightly routine — turn off all the lights, make sure there are no computer screens or clock faces or nightlights lighting up the room while you sleep, and drink a soothing cup of warm milk, sleepytime tea, or take a hot bath to relax your body and transition into bed.
  • Sleep with an external source of warmth — we all have a deep seated, cellular need to be connected to others while we sleep — it comes from the caveman days of sleeping in groups to help increase survival. So especially if you have recently lost a spouse that you are used to sleeping with, insonmia might be a real struggle right now. Fulfill your instinct to sleep share by sleeping with a hot water bottle (the warmth provides that deep comfort your body is craving) or with a loved pet or pray to loved ones and angels to surround you as you sleep each night so you go to bed feeling connected and supported.

 

5. Anxiety

 

Anxiety is a very active state, where you have lots of energy building up inside, and the answer to this (as in all emotions) is to really allow the flow to open up and release it to find relief.

So with this energetic state you generally need to get into a more active state of allowing, in contrast to the passive allowing state required by sadness, grief, depression and fatigue.

Anxiety states respond to active release… so give some of these a try:

  • Meditation — this is a very active and aware state that puts you in the perfect open-but-alert mind-frame necessary for relief. Focus on taking 3 deep breaths in and out and choose a mantra for the in breathe and the out breath. If you can do 5 breaths, do 5. Work up to 10, 20, 50 breaths of focused openness:

breathing in: I am lovable
breathing out: I am loved
breathing in: I am safe
breathing out: I am taken care of by God
breathing in: I am protected
breathing out: I am healing

  • Movement and exercise — moving the body and quieting the mind is the goal of many gentle, healing practices such as yoga, tai chi, qigong. If your energy feels more intense and will not allow you to settle down enough to do those types of exercise, honor your body’s need for active processing by something a bit more intense like pilaties, karate, kick boxing, or going on a long jog.
  • Give to others — unlike depression and fatigue, the gift of anxiety is the gift of having energy to give and express… and one of the best way to off-gas this is to give to others in need. Volunteer at a cause that is meaningful to you, start a year of gratitude (doing one act of thankfulness to loved ones or strangers each week and record it in a gratitude journal) or just go out into the world each day asking that you be shown a way you can be of service. The point here is not to add any more stress into your life — do not do anything that doesn’t feel right. This is not a burden, it’s a very simple way to get rid of extra energy/tension. Consider doing simple things that don’t require a lot of preparation but will allow you to actively process and off gas extra energy. For example, walk along a road in your neighborhood and pick up litter for an hour after dinner. Pick up an extra pizza on your way home from work and give the extra one to a construction crew as you pass (this is my daughter’s favorite “gratitude attack”) or head to your local SPCA and take some of the dogs on a walk each weekend. In fact…
  • Care for a pet — caring for a pet is the perfect way to allow your energy to flow in a loving and active, yet low stress way. Simply walking your dog every day, spending 30 minutes petting your cat while she purrs on your chest, whistle to a pet bird and teach him your favorite TV show theme song… study after study has shown that pets improve our health simply by being in our lives. During times of anxiety and frustration, loving on a pet a little extra each day gives a heart-centered but simple way to open our heart chakras and allow excess energy to flow.

 

6.  Decreased appetite

 

It’s important to consume nutrient dense food even when your appetite is low-to-gone.

Your body needs healthy fats and protien in order to keep up it’s immune system and help get you through the intense and often exhausting grieving process.

Just when you don’t feel like eating at all is right when you need the nutritional support the most.

So here are three tips to help you stay healthy even when your appetite has left:

  • Hydrate — it’s really important to at least stay well hydrated during emotional times. Although you can go for days without eating, you can not survive for days without water. Drink non-fluoridated, fresh, filtered water and drink drink drink some more. If you simply you can’t eat a single bite… drink a glass of water and take a deep breath and stay well hydrated.
  • Gentle movement — while it is okay to want to curl up and not move while you are hurting, it’s also important to make sure you get gentle activity each day — going on a daily walk in nature is the best therapy. The movement stimulates gut perastalsis and will help gently nudge your appetite back into place.
  • Nutrient dense foods — when all you feel like eating is a few small bites, make every bite count. There is a reason folks deliver nourishing bone broths like chicken noodle soup to loved ones who aren’t feeling well… the healthy fats and minerals in bone broth is nurtirtionally sound and will help keep your immunity high (see side bar). Other options include easily digestible casseroles, stews, organic nuts and peanut butter (when my kids just don’t want to eat, we compromise on a scoop or two of organic peanut butter), healthy fats such as avadodo and coconut oil, organic yogurt, and organic butter (a comforting warm grilled cheese sandwhich with organic cheese and grilled in organic butter is wonderful, especially alongside a cup of bone broth!)

 

If your grief is particularly intense, lasting longer than a few months or accompanied by suicidal thoughts… or you simply want the support of a counsellor… be sure to seek professional help by a practitioner who is experienced in grief counselling.

There absolutely IS a way to the other side of grief… you will get there… ask for help when you need to and healing WILL happen.

This is one of my favorite poems of all time and has been very comforting to me during times of grief:

Letting Go, by Suzanne Lucas

Giving up is merely quitting, 
Letting go is sweet release.
Giving up is cries of anguish
, Letting go is perfect peace.
Giving up is hard and heavy
, Letting go is loose and light.
Giving up is simply failure, 
Letting go, success in sight.
Giving up is very human, 
Letting go is most divine.
Giving up is death at sundown, Letting go, the rising sun.
Giving up is “There, it’s over,” Letting go, “I’ve just begun!”

 

Want more direct support from me?

This week is the very last week to sign up for my Trauma Resiliency & Recovery Class

…click over here right now to saveyour spot.

xoxoxo, Laura