Self-Care for Grieving

2. emotive self-care 5. cognitive self-care Dec 08, 2020
hiding behind a fake smile

The moment I could no longer deny that my marriage was ending, was the moment my grieving process truly began. For years, I'd clung to the hope that we would somehow be able to mend a relationship that had been slowly unraveling for years. In this article, you'll learn how to enlist tiny acts of self-care during times of grieving. 

But we couldn't.

And we didn't.

And the grieving process was nothing like I'd imagined it would be.

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Read more about my healing journey in Go: One Woman. One Van. A New Beginning.*

Grieving's Ugliness

Grieving is all sorts of ugly. It's messy and unpredictable and irrational, and it makes day-to-day life feel more like carrying a bag of bowling balls up eighteen flights of stairs. It destroys your health. It feeds feelings of worthlessness. And it leaves you wondering if you'll ever be able to feel anything again.

It was during the early days of my grieving process that I discovered self-care, and later on I developed the 8 Dimensions of Self-Care framework that led me through the process of building the strength and resilience necessary to keep going. 

Since that time I've learned that self-care is a powerful tool for building resilience. It offers a healthy outlet for the intense feelings and emotions that bubble up whenever we find ourselves in the middle of one of life's heavy moments.

In recent years, I've continued to experiment with new forms of self-care, and I'm so grateful that I discovered it when I did. In so many ways it's been my lifeline, preventing me from choosing less effective coping strategies that only serve to numb the pain temporarily.

The Art of Suffering Well

In addition to self-care and working with a therapist, I found hope through reading. I devoured books that promised healing, and I scoured their pages desperately searching for answers about how I could feel whole again.

I read books on suffering and acceptance, like Byron Katie's Loving What Is* and Thich Nhat Hanh's No Mud, No Lotus* and Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning.*

It was Thich Nhat Hanh that helped me see that there's an art to suffering, and that our suffering can be transformed.

I read books on the human experience, like Bill Plotkin's Nature and the Human Soul* and Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements* and Brené Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection.*

I read books on setting healthy boundaries, like James Altucher and Claudia Azula Altucher's The Power of No* and Henry Cloud and John Townsend's Boundaries.*

I read books on meditation and spirituality, like A Course in Miracles* and The Bible and Jon Kabat Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are.*

From each book, I extracted exactly what I needed and nothing more. And, slowly, I began to recover my sense of self and personal sovereignty.

The Road to Resilience

But that's not to say the road to resilience isn't bumpy. It's full of potholes and detours and fender benders. But, like so many other worthwhile endeavors, resilience is a process that requires patience and the willingness to experience discomfort. 

To get to the other side of loss, you must be willing to step off the path you thought you were supposed to be on, and go on a side adventure to find your next path.

But no matter which path you eventually find yourself on, it's the journey that matters most. The adventure itself offers an opportunity to reexamine your values, thoughts, beliefs, and desires on a much deeper level. Grieving itself is an open invitation to give yourself the time and space to grow and expand. 

The Other Side of Grief

During that turbulent time in my life, I also discovered that I’m stronger and more resilient than I thought I was. I'm more self-aware now, which means I'm able to recognize the early warning signs of stress and anxiety, so I can manage my emotions more quickly and effectively.

On the other side of grief, life feels much bigger. It feels somehow more significant. With this new frame of reference, I'm more grateful for all the little things that bring joy to my life.

Today, I trust my intuition more. I listen more closely to what it's trying to tell me, and I'm healthier because of it. I no longer ignore or suppress my emotions, even the ugly ones. And I have healthier boundaries.

And once you reach the other side of grief, you'll find yet another invitation waiting for you. This one involves forgiveness, and it comes with a promise of peace. It has no expiration date, and you can come as often as you like.  

The Grief Process Isn’t Linear

But the truth is, the grief process isn't linear. Some days I still feel angry. Sometimes a comment or a situation will trigger a memory that brings me back to an earlier version of me that felt broken and invisible.

I used to believe the grief process was linear, that once I moved through each of the so-called phases, I could put a check mark next that box and move on with my life. I didn’t understand that I’d need to re-experience my emotions—sadness, anger, resentment, guilt, fear—as many times as necessary to grasp the lessons hidden within them.

Need help creating a calming self-care practice? The Calm Online Course is an on-demand, self-study program will help you learn how to integrate calming self-care strategies into your daily practice.

Because grief doesn't operate under a finite timeline. It takes as long as it takes. And it's a private, individual experience that doesn't require explanation or justification. Just because someone else may not understand your process doesn't mean you're doing it wrong.

Grieving Isn’t Living

But perhaps my most valuable lesson has been that while grief is often associated with loss, it’s much more than that. It’s an opportunity to press the reset button on life. It’s the chance to rediscover how you want to experience this one precious life you've been given. And, if nothing more, it's a nudge to start living more fully.

Because grieving isn’t living. It exists only to remind us that beauty will eventually reemerge from the cracks of our brokenness when we’re ready to allow it to grow within us. 

If you or someone you love is facing a mental and/or substance use disorder, call the National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit their website.

Which tiny acts of self-care are you focusing on? Share in the comments below.

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