It was Friday March 20, 2020 when my family received the dreaded news that my mother’s cancer had returned. She was given weeks to live. Hospice was our only option. On that same day I was charged with laying off over 300 people due to the very quick impact of COVID. I had been up until 3AM meticulously planning, not realizing everything in my life would flip upside down in a matter of days.

Fast forward 3 months. I quit my corporate job. While I found temporary relief burying myself in my work, the stress of my job and loss of my mother were too much to bear. My head was spinning. I needed a break. Time to “properly” grieve.

How does one “properly” grieve? And how does one distinguish between experiencing grief due to the loss of a loved one vs. the loss of normalcy due to a global pandemic? It turns out, the reasoning doesn’t matter. What does matter is recognizing how grief feels.

According to research from the book, “Positive Intelligence,” MRI data reveals that if you focus on a specific feeling or sensation for as little as 10 seconds, the positive side of your brain lights up. What does this have to do with grief? After learning this, I started to pay attention when my head would tell me I’m sad. The process went something like this:

  1. Identify the trigger: A memory of my mother
  2. Notice the immediate physical response: Tears…lots and lots of tears
  3. Label the feeling: Sadness
  4. Recognize the action: Apathy
  5. Identify where the feeling physically resides: Upper chest, near my heart
  6. Become exquisitely curious about that physical feeling: Tingling, warmth, strong heartbeat
  7. After a minute or two, do a full body scan: Feeling more relaxed
  8. Label the new feeling: Love
  9. Commit to a more positive/effective action: Take a walk, write, call a friend

Once I got into a rhythm of feeling grief, I noticed I was able to take the energy behind my sadness and use it to fuel more positive actions. Others noticed too. Friends and family were consistently telling me how proud they were with how I was coping. They admired my strength and perseverance.

This is not to say I don’t feel sadness anymore. I absolutely do. By recognizing the feeling and really feeling the emotion has allowed me to “get out of my head.” Because in my head is where I think. And thinking can cause me to spiral down in ways I cannot control. When I’m “in my body,” though, the thinking subsides and I’m able to tap into something much more powerful.

I’m using this power beyond grief as well. When I experience stress, frustration, anger, annoyance, etc. I go through the same process and leave feeling much calmer and more clear-headed.

So, the takeaway is simple: Stop thinking. Start feeling.