Using mindfulness to cope with grief
“Live in the present.”
It’s a phrase that everyone has likely heard before. But when you’re in the midst of a tough time—whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a health scare or even just a bad day—it’s often easier said than done.
Mindfulness can help. When used as a therapeutic tool, mindfulness allows those who practice it to focus on the present—as difficult as it may be—to identify emotions and needs.
“Anyone who is going through a difficult time knows how easy it can be to slip into a spiral of overwhelming thoughts. Mindfulness encourages us to honor what we feel in the moment with kindness and respond accordingly to meet our needs, rather than travel down that unhelpful spiral,” says Liz Bland, MSW, LCSW, director of the Main Line Health Women’s Emotional Wellness Center. “Mindfulness is an active practice based on the theory that depression or anxiety do not control us, we get to control them.”
Patients have shared that identifying what one feels in the moment and tending to those needs can be especially helpful when coping with a loss, says Bland.
Consider the following techniques for putting mindfulness into action when coping with grief:
- Be aware of how you’re feeling and careful not to numb your emotions in an unhealthy manner, like turning to stress eating or using substances. The goal is to create healthy coping techniques that will assist ongoing.
- Keep in mind there is a difference between remembering and honoring the past, and living in the past. Mindfully reflect on memories but gently come back to the present and ask yourself: What do I feel? What do I need right now?
- Give yourself time. “Often, during a crisis, patients have had to physically go along with whatever transpired and it can take their hearts and minds some time to catch up. Allowing that time, rather than trying to force yourself to move on, is often essential to healing,” says Bland.
- Rather than judging yourself, meet each thought with kindness. Remind yourself regularly that you are doing the best you can and support yourself throughout the process.
Above all, says Bland, ask for help when you need it. Although everyone copes with grief differently, there are signs that you may need others’ help, like if you’ve thought about hurting yourself, if you are unable to stop replaying the past or are unable to see a hopeful future, or if you feel you simply need someone to talk to, tell someone. Friends and family can be helpful during difficult times, but do not hesitate to seek help from a therapist or grief counselor. Remember, you are not alone.
The Women’s Emotional Wellness Center offers several general mindfulness treatment groups for women looking to build and maintain a mindfulness practice: Mindfulness and meditation group, and Mindfulness, meditation and movement group. Learn more by visiting the Women's Emotional Wellness Center page.
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