It’s June. School is out and the kids are on the go. Summer activities are in full swing. Vacations and holiday gatherings are being planned. Pools are crowded with people cooling off in the heat. Lakes are busy with swimming, boating, and fishing. Campgrounds are bustling with outdoor activities. Lots of fun and relaxing in the sun. Summer is finally here.
For some, it may not be all fun in the sun. For some, it will be filled with tears and memories or thoughts of what might have been. The could’ve, would’ve, should’ve that never came about. Anniversaries or birthdays without someone you will never forget.
This month I am writing about grief and what it can do to your mental health and well-being. The loss of a loved one is heartbreaking and can cause you to experience a long list of emotions. This could include shock, confusion, sadness, or even anger. Whether the death was expected or not, these feelings are all part of the mourning process and are common reactions to loss. If you are coping with a loss, you may not be prepared for the intensity and duration of emotions or the changing of moods. Some often question their mental stability, but just know that these feelings are appropriate and can help you come to terms with the loss. It takes time, but coping with death is essential to a healthy mind, body, and spirit.
Coping is a process and the extent of mourning will depend on the individual, the type of loss, and the void left by that loss. When pain and sadness worsen over time, grief can have an intense effect on one’s physical and mental health. Prolonged, chronic grief can lead to a complicated bereavement or grief disorder. The symptoms can be intensive and can include constant focus on the loss, problems with daily routine, and withdrawal or separation from family and friends.
Diagnosing a grief disorder can be difficult. If you have a history of depression, anxiety or substance abuse, you are at an increased risk of developing a grief disorder. There are many similarities between complicated grief and depression, but there are also distinct differences. In some cases, clinical depression and complicated grief occur together. Getting the correct diagnosis is essential for treatment, so a comprehensive medical and psychological exam is often done. Your doctor or mental health professional considers your particular symptoms and circumstances in determining what treatment is likely to work best for you. This can include psychotherapy or medication. Antidepressants may be helpful in people who have clinical depression as well as complicated grief.
Although it’s important to get professional treatment for complicated grief, here are some key strategies that may help you cope:
- Stick to your treatment plan. Attend therapy appointments as scheduled and take medications, if needed, as directed.
- Practice stress management. Unmanaged stress can lead to depression, overeating, and other unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.
- Take care of yourself. Get rest, eat healthy, and take time to relax. Regular exercise and physical activity can help relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. Don’t turn to alcohol or recreational drugs to cope.
- Socialize. Stay connected to the people that care about you. They can offer support, a shoulder to cry on, or shared laughter to give you a little boost.
- Plan ahead for special dates or anniversaries. These can trigger painful reminders of your loved one. Find new ways to celebrate or reminisce about your loved one to provide you comfort and hope.
- Join a support group. Over time, you may find shared experiences comforting and you may form meaningful new relationships.
Grief is definitely a long, winding road and a difficult journey to be on. It is not a feeling that you will experience for a set amount of time. It is a complex set of multiple emotions and feelings that will continue for the rest of your life. People tend to believe that grief shrinks over time. What really happens is that we grow around our grief. I will end with a photo that has helped me during my journey. It was shared in one of my online support groups.
Stay happy, healthy, and safe!