In the support groups I facilitate, I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked people how they cope with grief and they say, “Well, I keep myself busy.”
Keeping busy can be a good thing. We all need to have a purpose and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. We all have gifts and talents to share, and we want to use them as best we can. We all need enough money to live, and most of the time staying employed makes that possible. Most people don’t like to be bored, and it is hopeful to have things to look forward to.
However, you need to make sure that keeping busy doesn’t become the excuse that keeps you from grieving. It is tempting to fill every hour with activity to avoid facing the fact that you are alone. It is easy to wear yourself out so thoroughly that you are too exhausted to think about what has happened. When you do that, you avoid your grief but you also avoid healing.
Grief unexpressed does not go away. It lurks just under the surface, waiting to rear its ugly head when you least expect it. You may find yourself reacting to unrelated events in ways that are entirely out of proportion. You may sob over distant deaths or even cry over a game show. You may have outbursts of anger, or impatience against someone who doesn’t deserve it. You may have more headaches, backaches, or stomach aches. You can even make yourself physically sick by refusing to face your grief. The more you try to hold in all the pain, the more determined it is to come out.
The tendency to just keep busy and ignore your grief are fed by our society, which values productivity and denies pain. After a tragedy, you are expected to pick yourself up and move on. You are cautioned not to be a burden and to bring everybody else down. You are told that it’s time you put this behind you and get on with life.
Give yourself permission to ignore society. In addition to engaging in meaningful activity, work, and things you enjoy, allow plenty of time and space to grieve. Cry until you think you can’t cry any more. Feel cheated or betrayed or sorry for yourself for a while. Scream and throw a temper tantrum. Be angry. Be lonely. Be sad. Be grateful. Recognize and deal with all those emotions that come tumbling out.
It can be a challenge to allow the pain, especially if you’ve been taught all your life to hold it in. There are many ways you can help process and resolve it. It can be tremendously helpful to talk with a grief coach or counselor, or to attend a support group where you can share your experience. It may help to read the stories of others so you gain their wisdom and advice. You may choose quieter activities like writing, playing music, or drawing, or you may choose physical activities like sports, running, dancing, or stomping your feet.
Overall, it is good to be busy, and to have goals and purpose in your life. It is also good to help yourself heal, so you can better enjoy the life you have. Happiness and satisfaction are still possible, especially if you don’t use the busyness of life to avoid doing the things that help you find them.
This story original appeared in Huffington Post Dec.2016