Grief Survival Guide

Grief Survival Guide
How to cope through the worst of it

Grief is so complex.  I am not a doctor or psychologist...but I have experienced profound loss and endured the long road of grief first hand.  And I think what I have learned could help others.  So, if you are experiencing grief yourself or know someone who is, read on.  You might find some of my suggestions helpful.  But please remember, this is just advice from my point of view based on my personal experiences, and although my intentions are well-meaning, it should never replace the advice of doctors or licensed professionals.

As you are reading this you may be profoundly hurting or know someone who is.  The first thing I want to tell you is it won't feel this bad forever, but it is going to take time.  How to best cope in the meantime (until that moment when you realize you are feeling a little better-whenever that will be) is the ultimate question in my opinion.  I believe strongly that grief is not cured.  You will never wake one morning and realize you are "done" grieving.  But I do think grief can be managed, and over time managing grief does become easier and easier to do.

The early phase of grief is so painful it is hard to even imagine healing so I found it helped me to change my focus to surviving. Sometimes you just have to figure out how to get through the day in front of you. During the most intense time of my grief I did a few things that I found extremely helpful.  My goals after the loss of my daughters were 1) to never give up and 2) to not use/require prescription anti-depressants. I am in no way implying that prescription medication is wrong or bad. That decision is between you and your doctor. But I didn't feel it was for me.  So I set out to employ every alternative means possible to help myself survive the most painful experience of my life.

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This survival guide is divided into two parts: What to do and what NOT to do. Before I get into what I did, I want to talk a little about what I didn't do.  Here are 5 things I strongly suggest you avoid while enduring profound emotional pain if you want to make it:

1) Alcohol and/or drugs- this my friend is a slippery slope.  They may numb your pain for a while, but will serve no purpose whatsoever to resolve the cause of the pain.  They simply help you AVOID dealing with your pain, not heal from it. And, overtime, you will require more and more until eventually it won't numb the pain anymore and on top of the emotional pain you are already experiencing you will have a very painful substance abuse problem to deal with as well.  Just do yourself a favor, stay way from drugs and alcohol.  Self-medicating will only make the pain worse.

2) Too much alone time- although some alone time will be healthy and necessary, it is important not to isolate yourself too much.  This can lead to severe depression and possibly even suicide.  It is very important to stay connected to people, to nurture strong and healthy relationships in your life, and to have people to talk to about what you are feeling and needing. If you are uncomfortable spending time with the people in your life, join a support group or call a pastor or counselor.  Connecting to others will go a long way to prevent despair and hopelessness.

3) No alone time- just as too much alone time is dangerous and so is never having alone time.  Your time alone will be time to safely and securely express your emotions as needed to get emotional release.  Keeping distracted all the time will never allow you to process what it is you have experienced and what we are truly feeling. Activity can be like a drug helping you avoid the healing process, but eventually you will have to face your pain and it is better to face it sooner rather than later as later will only cause you more pain in the long run.

4) Sad/emotional movies/songs- this is just practical advice. Don't torture yourself. Reality is emotional enough for you right now.  No need to trigger your emotions further with movies or music that puts you over the edge. Instead, choose movies and music that would influence your emotional state  positively. Don't stress yourself unnecessarily.

5) Pretending/Faking- the grieving process is complicated enough, don't make it more so by pretending, faking, or lying about how you feel.  The healing process requires honesty. This is not an excuse to be rude or hurt others in the name of honesty, but appropriate truthfulness is important. Yes, there will be times when you will be limited in what you can say or how you can act by a situation or by cultural norms and expectations, but modifying your behavior or reaction temporarily  is very different from habitually pretending or lying. Be true to yourself and honest with others.  Not only will you find freedom in being real but those in your life that want to help you will be able to effectively because they know what it is you really need.

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Okay, now for my suggestions about what you SHOULD do to manage your emotional pain keep yourself on the path to healing! Doing something-anything-can be very empowering.  When tragedy strikes it often makes us feel quite powerless. Being an active participant in the healing process can remedy feelings of helplessness and restore hope.

These are the things that helped me most. I hope they help you too.  Please feel free to email me at with any questions or comments you have. I'd love to help you in any way find hope and healing after loss.

1) Make the Choice- it may sound obvious, but this is the most essential and overlooked step on the journey through grief to healing. Many people don't heal because they don't want to.  They think holding on to the hurt is the same as holding on to the one they lost. Healing will not come to you out of the blue one day or after enough time has passed. Healing isn't a moment or an event or for those who are is a choice.  I literally have to choose healing daily to keep myself on course. Giving yourself permission to heal is one of the best decisions you can make. And I promise you, your child is honored more in your healing than your pain.

2) Exercise, Eat Right, and Get Rest-You must get oxygen into your blood, sun on your face, nutrition in your body, and rest for your mind, body and soul. 

If you were a regular exerciser before grief keep up the workouts. If not now is the perfect time to start.  Nothing crazy-this is not the time to try to run a marathon-but regular exercise has been proven to release endorphins (our feel good brain chemicals), help our body cope with stress, induce more restful sleep, and boost immunity.  Even a daily walk will enhance your ability to endure.  If you are disabled or unable to exercise for some reason do deep breathing exercises daily. Just ten minutes a day of deep breathing will pay dividends.

Fifteen minutes of sunshine a day is essential for vitamin D production and for emotional health.  If you don't live where it is sunny consider a vitamin D supplement. And make sure your sun time is without sunscreen.  Sunscreen is to protect you from prolonged exposure to the sun, not from all exposure. Most importantly though a little sun on your face will make you feel more hopeful. 

Now is not the time to be careless about what you eat.  Limit sugar and alcohol most importantly and keep coffee to a minimum.  Eat fruits and vegetables and other whole foods daily and keep fried foods, fast food, and instant or pre-packaged foods to a minimum.  These will only add to the stress your body is under and compromise your immune system.  Give yourself a fighting chance and eat food that will build you up, not tear you down.

Learn to set appropriate boundaries on your time and limit your commitments. Grief is exhausting and it taxes your body physically, mentally, and emotionally.  For a time you'll need to protect your time so that you can get the rest you need or you'll run the risk of becoming depressed or ill.  Be kind to yourself. Get rest.

3) Use helpful herbs and/or supplements- Herbs and nutritional supplements can have a profound effect on our physical and emotional health. Herbs/supplements that support our adrenals help our body recover from stress. Herbs/supplements that support our liver help us express our emotions and not hold our feelings in.  Herbs/supplements that induce sleep can help us get the very important rest we need during a time when getting sleep can become difficult. I  highly recommend an herbal supplement from GAIA HERBS called Adrenal Health.  It is a blend of adaptogen herbs that are both safe and effective at helping the body cope with and recover from stress.  It made a significant difference in my ability to get through the worst of my grief. Please consult your doctor before taking herbal supplements, especially if taking medication and/or pregnant or nursing. 

6) Drink tea instead of coffee-

7) Serve/Help others-

8) Attend a support group/seek counseling

9) Write-

10) Have a few healthy distractions-

Coming Soon...advice on how to cope with loss, ways to foster healing, and a step by step guide on how to comfort others.
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