I would say most Americans are very, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. We are just now getting better at dealing with our emotions and embracing what has now become a mental health crisis in America.
Every person has a relationship with grief. It is a very powerful feeling, yet widely misunderstood. Grief has so many dimensions and triggers. In the words of Hannah Tate-Smith “Grief can be a tricky little voice in our head or emotion in our body”.
While psychology is an interest of mine, I am certainly not an expert. So, I asked one. Psychotherapist Hannah Tate-Smith is a passionate therapist located in Greenville, South Carolina. She has graciously helped me produce this piece to help others navigate the difficult feelings associated with grief.
What is grief?
It is implied we are sad when experiencing grief because of the loss of someone or something. However, grief is not just pure sadness. Everyone on this earth has experienced grief in some form or fashion, Hannah explains.
“We can grieve the death of an animal or losing a sentimental piece of furniture due to a house fire. We can grieve over changing jobs, moving to a new city, living in a different home, or even having a new boss. Grief is simply losing something that was once stability for us; it once brought us joy or comfort.”
She says that most of her clients severely downplay their grief if it is over the loss of something other than a person. She says “society does not always allow us the space to truly feel grief if it isn’t over the death of a person”.
It’s a strange concept when you read it on paper, but it’s true. Western society does not acknowledge that there are feelings associated with things other than people, they place so much value and emotional energy on things and objects.
Because we are not “allowed” to feel grief publicly, we safeguard ourselves when confronted.
“We jump to “I’m fine” so quickly. Aerosmith coined the term “fine” as “f***ed up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional.”, I think we can all agree that when we say we’re “fine,” most of the time we are still carrying negative emotions surrounding the topic”, Hannah declares.
“Fine” is most definitely a cover up for negativity. It’s a word we settle for when someone asks how we are and are most likely not that great.
Hannah emphasized the range of emotions that grief encompasses. She sent me this picture as a reference – it hit home with me as I’m sure it will you.
How to embrace it
Now that we can identify grief and are aware of how vast a feeling it is, how can we improve? Grief can be such a completely helpless feeling. Hannah has given us a place to start with four action steps to help embrace grief.
- Figure out what keeps you grounded and have a plan for this. Does a morning meditation allow space for you to be present? Or a nightly prayer keep you centered? Does a certain scent (essential oils or candles!) bring about calm feelings and can you bring this with you wherever you go? Is there even a specific article of clothing that you own that feels like a hug? I have this one sweater that always makes me feel safe. It sounds silly, but it works!
- Take Breaks. I cannot suggest this enough. Especially for you introverts (me included) carve out time for breaks. If your mind is hinting at you to say “no” to a commitment, say it. “No.” Practice it now ?
- Remember to breathe. When we are stressed or overwhelmed, our first body response is to shorten the breath (the brain is funny in this way). However, the thing we need the most during conversations with family and experiencing grief is the breath. That literally keeps our body flowing and all organs working together harmoniously, which leads to healthy minds. Put something around your wrist or wear a piece of jewelry that will remind you to check in on your breathing.
- Give yourself time to cry. Or curse in a private space. Or write. Or just walk. When experiencing grief, we need to channel those emotions and thoughts out of our bodies. Dedicate time to do this throughout the day. I have a client who uses push-ups to expel his anger due to grief. Another client writes in a journal. Get creative with this.
The goal for all of us is to find balance in all aspects of our lives. We would all love to live in peace. Hannah reminds us that we need to be in touch with ourselves on what we need to achieve personal balance.
“Balance will look different for everyone. Let’s say Jane and John are experiencing the same symptoms. Jane’s ‘balance’ might mean two home-cooked meals a day and taking a few walks with a friend over the holidays. For John, it might mean eating two meals with family and attending one holiday party with friends.
Balance is key in this situation and being sensitive to your needs is vital.
I would suggest planning out this balance beforehand with a therapist or trusted friend/family member. Most importantly, allow yourself grace while grieving. If you meet 50% of your “balanced plan,” remember you tried. You put in the effort of making the goals beforehand, but the present moment made it harder to execute.
That is okay; be kind to yourself.”
Be kind to yourself. It is shouted from so many different platforms that we should project ourselves a certain way in society. It becomes such a high standard to uphold that it is impossible, thus resulting in the mental health crisis we now face.
If you can acknowledge our emotions instead of suppressing them, take societal standards with a grain of salt, actively understand yourself and achieve balance in your life, there is no choice but to heal.
In the words of Hannah, be kind to yourself. Be kind to others, the planet and things that live on it, but start with you.