After the loss of a loved one you may experience some or all of these common responses to grief.
- A feeling of tightness in the throat or heaviness in the
- An empty feeling in the stomach and possibly a loss of
- Aimless wondering, forgetfulness, and inability to finish
things you may have started around the house.
- Restlessness or a need for activity.
- An inability to concentrate on anything, or being easily
- A need to retell and remember things about your loved one
and the experience of their death.
- A feeling that your loss is not real, that your loved one
could not have actually died.
- A tendency to assume the mannerisms or traits of your loved
- A sense of your loved one’s presence. You may find yourself
expecting the person to walk in the door at the usual time, think you hear
their voice or see them in a crowd.
- A need to take care of other people who seem uncomfortable
around you by politely not talking about your feelings of loss.
- An intense preoccupation with the life of the deceased.
- Crying at unexpected times.
- Intense anger at your loved one for leaving you.
- Feeling that you are going crazy.
- Difficulty sleeping. Frequent dreams about your loved one.
- The feeling life has no meaning without your loved one.
These are all natural and normal grief responses, but they
often make us feel not ourselves. It is important for you to find
someone who will listen to you and make an effort to understand. Grief
counseling can help you work through and express your grieving in a safe and supportive environment.
Grief Therapy is a charming little book from the line of "elf help" publications with illustrations by R.W. Alley.written by Karen
Katafiasz. There are
35 thoughts to ponder which move one through the grieving process and each has an accompanying illustration featuring the Abbey Press Elves. I've found this book to be a very useful tool
for facilitating the grief process in my work with clients.
Grief Therapy emphasizes there's no way out of grief, only
through grief. By letting ourselves
experience grief we can move beyond it.
Beyond not meaning going back to the old way of what was once normal or
denial of our hurt, but beyond to fully integrating loss into our
life, to richer understanding, renewed
purpose, deeper spirituality and rebirth.
Moving through and beyond grief is what we hope to experience by
engaging in grief counseling.
I’d like to share with you some of the concepts from the
book and my thoughts related to the segments quoted in hopes you’ll find it
helpful and healing.
Respect the power of
grief know that it can affect you psychologically, physically, and spiritually
in intense and sometimes surprising ways.
Stay gentle with yourself.
If this is your first significant loss or it's been awhile since you've experienced a significant loss you may be surprised by the level of intense feeling and emotion that are coming up, and the affect they have on your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. It is important to take care of yourself to
the best of your ability. Get plenty of
rest, eat nourishing foods and drink
plenty of water.
Nurture your spirit by
finding comfort from family and friends, attending spiritual services, engaging
in meditation and prayer, reading or listening to spiritually
oriented books, and listening to your inner guidance. These things help us get in touch with the
source of divine love and comfort within us.
Cry. Your tears testify to your love. And tears that spring from love help bring
healing and renewal. Let your tears
express the harsh reality of your loss.
And let them begin to wash away the sadness and pain.
Crying is the natural way for the body to release sadness
and pain. In our culture we are taught
to have a stiff upper lip and control our emotions to the point of denial. Repressing our grief is unhealthy and can
lead to illness and despair. Allowing
the feelings of sadness to emerge and flow freely helps us process those
feelings and brings relief.
In some religious and spiritual traditions it is customary to hold rituals of mourning in which wailing is part of the shared experience of expressing one's
sorrow. In this way the mourners support
each other and acknowledge the power of their emotions and loss. This facilitates moving toward healing and
Be with those who are
also grieving. As you tell your stories,
you will share an understanding of the heart that is deeper than words.
It can be very therapeutic to attend a bereavement support group while you're going through the grieving process. There you will have a place to talk about
your loss and have the support of others who are going through the same
thing. You will find an atmosphere of
love, acceptance, and a consistent place to share your thoughts, feelings, and
experiences through this very difficult time in your life. You will also find inspiration and hope by
hearing from others who are further along on their grieving journey.
Sometimes your grief
can be so overwhelming because it encompasses the grieving you never did for
other, earlier losses in your life. Let
yourself feel the pain of these losses too.
Grief counseling can help you deal with overwhelming
feelings that have been repressed or forgotten from former losses. If you did not process these former losses
adequately these old feelings will be triggered and emerge along with your
current grief. A skilled professional
can help you manage overwhelm and do the work of processing the old with the
new so you can finally release the pain that has long been waiting to be heard
It may seem as if you'll never truly feel happy again. But be assured that you will—and your joy will
have richness and a depth that come from your having known profound pain and
profound healing. Your grieving is among the most sacred and the most human
things you will ever do. It will plummet you into the mystery of life…and
death… and resurrection. Honor it.
Unfortunately, loss is an inevitable part of life, we all must grieve the loss of something or someone at some point. This is a painful reality we face but we can get through it and come out with a deeper sense of the spiritual connection we have with each other and a renewed sense of meaning in life.
It may be hard to imagine now and it will take some time to
come to this place in your healing journey but I wanted to leave you with a sense of hope that what you are going through will
get better and there is some light that will emerge out of the darkness of your
All quotes by Karen
Katafiasz from the book Grief Therapy, 2004, Abbey Press
Seasonal AffectiveDisorder (SAD) is an acute depression that most commonly occurs during the late Fall/Winter months as the days become shorter with less sunlight. Serotonin, one of the feel good chemicals in the brain drops when there’s less sunlight because serotonin is used in the brain to produce melatonin the chemical that makes you sleepy therefore levels of serotonin drop. SAD is thought to be a form of major depression and has similar symptoms such as loss of energy, change in appetite, tendency to oversleep, difficulty concentrating, irritability, lack of motivation, and feelings of hopelessness.
If you notice these symptoms occurring during this time of year you may be experiencing SAD. Here are some natural ways to increase your serotonin level and alleviate depression.
Get Social Support – share how you feel with trusted family and friends, show up for a social activity, email or phone someone, join a support group, book club, or take a class in something of interest where you will meet like minded people. Being with and around other people helps alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Exercise – I know when you feel low you probably don’t have the energy or motivation to exercise, but it doesn’t have to be a hard core time consuming routine. Simply making a commitment to walk around the block once a day can make a big difference in uplifting your energy and mood. Getting outside even if it’s cold and wet will invigorate and stimulate your senses. I recommend walking where you can see, hear, smell, and feel the natural environment. This can be a spiritual experience which uplifts and connects you with the Divine that dwells in all life.
Sleep - Try to normalize your sleep pattern by going to bed and getting up around the same time. This is very important for one’s physical and mental well-being. If you have trouble falling asleep or wake up multiple times in the night try an herbal sleep remedy like valerian, passion flower, hops or a combination of these herbs before bedtime. Create a bedtime ritual that tells your body/mind it’s time to wind down and go to sleep, and be sure to get up at the same time in the morning. If you do this for thirty days straight you will develop a positive habit and will feel better through out the day.
Healthy Diet – The foods and drinks we consume have a profound effect on our health and mental state. Start to notice how your body and mind feel after eating and drinking certain things. You might feel energized by sugar and caffeine at first but then comes the crash and you’re even more tired and irritable. Eat a whole foods diet that includes complex carbs, vitamin B, chromium, and omega 3 fatty acids (salmon,nuts, flax oil, etc.), and cut out refined sugars and excessive caffeine.
Self HelpTools - Do things that reduce stress and nurture your spirit such as: getting out in nature, listening to your favorite music, dancing, journaling, getting a message, taking a aromatherapy bath, watching a funny movie, playing with a pet, and working with your favorite yoga DVD. These can all be ways to increase your serotonin and uplift your mood.
Positive Self Talk – Talk nicely and encouraging to yourself. Notice when your inner critic is beating you up with negative self-talk and tell that part of your brain to knock it off. Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts, visualizations, affirmations, and prayers. This will help create a sense of calm and upliftment and change negative thinking patterns.
Counseling - If you can’t apply these strategies on your own get help from a professional counselor who can support and guide you.
What does it mean to care for and love our self? It means to love and nurture our own being. To care for our self is to treat ourselves as worthy and valuable players in our world and not accept abusive treatment from others. When we love our self we heal the wounds of the past and learn to recognize in the present when we are being treated in ways that are harmful to our self-esteem and well-being.
If we grew up in an environment of abuse we might not know that it isn’t normal to be disrespectful, angry, or manipulative. We might think these behaviors are expressions of love or that we deserve it. When we get older we find ourselves being attracted over and over to people who treat us poorly and may find some comfort in it because it’s familiar even though it doesn’t feel good or right. We may have learned to beat ourselves up by an abusive inner critic who is never content or accepting of who we are.
How do we change these patterns?
First, we must become aware of the dysfunctional dynamic and how we play into it. Do you engage in defending your self when someone blames you for their bad behavior? Do you pursue people who reject you over and over and make you feel unworthy of respect, love, and affection? Do you make excuses for the person who is mean and punitive towards you? Do you dwell in negative self-talk and depressive thinking patterns? Start to watch your own thoughts, words, and actions. How are you contributing to the problem? Once you become more aware of how you think and react to situations you can start to make better choices.
When you find your self swept up in the drama take a break…. Stop…. Pause…. take a deep breathe. Ask yourself what do I need right now? Maybe you need to go outside for a few minutes, take a walk, or leave and go somewhere else. Maybe you need to tell the person or your inner critic what they are saying is not acceptable and you’re not going to continue the conversation. Maybe you need to just be quiet and do something else like read a book, play some music, take a bath or shower, or sit and meditate. These activities are positive ways to engage your mind and body doing something that is nurturing and healing.
As we treat ourselves as worthy of love we no longer are attracted to or attract people who are unloving into our space. Rather we attract and are attracted to healthy, loving, and caring people who are capable of giving and receiving love. We no longer give in to negative thoughts about ourselves but rather affirm our positive attributes and qualities. True love is within our own hearts and as we nurture that love it heals our body, mind, and soul and radiates out to others and the world.
We live in a very stress filled culture and society and most of us have many responsibilities we have to attend to everyday. From the time we wake up till we lay our heads down for the night our time is spent doing things and keeping ourselves busy with activities. We become stressed and overwhelmed at times and our health and sense of well-being can suffer. Too much stress can trigger a fight or flight reaction in the body and our minds experience fear and anxiety. We can relieve this reaction and calm our body and mind naturally with a simple breathing technique.
When we are stressed and anxious our breathing gets shallow and rapid, and we may experience racing thoughts which spin out of control thus further increasing feelings of anxiety and fear. The remedy for this distressing state is to slow down your breathing. There is a connection between the breath and your thoughts so slowing down your breathing slows down your thoughts and calms the body and mind. Notice when you first start to feel agitated or anxious, are you holding your breath or breathing in a shallow manner? Take a moment to stop what you’re doing and take a few deep breaths.
Sit down and bring your awareness to the present and breathe. Take in a long deep breath, bring it down into your belly, do it with me now. Inhale to the count of four, hold for a second then release, release the tension and fearful thoughts, letting them go. Take in another deep breath, hold for a second then release and let go. Do this a couple more times or as long as you need until you feel more relaxed and at ease. You will notice your worries have melted away and in this moment all is well and you are at peace.
If one practices a structured deep breathing meditation everyday then it will become second nature to do this at the first signs of stress and your overall stress and anxiety levels will decrease significantly and you will feel bette rin body, mind, and spirit.
A Good Sense of Humor
Seeing what’s humorous in a situation can change your whole perspective and experience of that situation. Although at the time it might not seem funny at all, if we look for the humor we might find something funny or hilarious in the situation which can lighten the mood and bring laughter. Comedians do this for a living they see the funny and ridiculous in everyday situations that most of us just find annoying. So instead of dwelling in negative thoughts and feelings that create depression, anxiety, and stress try finding something to laugh about. Watch a funny movie, go to a comedy club, learn the art of being funny, or just enjoy laughing and don’t take your self too seriously.
Always Having Positive Expectations
We all know the friend or family member who tends to take the negative stance on any situation and lo and behold their prophecy comes true. Well a healthy person does the opposite they always expect the good and positive to be their experience and when things don’t turn out as expected they are able to reframe it as having some constructive meaning or purpose. How we think about people, places, situations, or things creates our mental state of mind. Having free will we can choose how to perceive and respond to what we experience.
Regular Outbreaks of Joyful, Happy Experiences
People with good mental health create experiences that bring a sense of joy and happiness to their lives. Activities like: spending time with family and friends doing something fun together or just getting together to talk and enjoy each others company, Going on walks in nature and breathing in the fresh air, taking a vacation to a new place and exploring the sites and culture. Participating in a group of like minded people who enjoy similar interest, or being alone sipping tea and reading a good book are examples. Create regular daily, weekly, monthly or yearly rituals that bring enjoyment for your body, mind, and souls.
Never underestimate the health benefits of having a spiritual connection to a higher power or sense of oneness with the universe. There are many religious and spiritual paths in this world because people have different ways of thinking and each one of us has a right to choose the spirituality we resonate with. Spiritual involvement can mean different things there are many ways to practice our spirituality according to the particular affiliation you connect with. Some people like having a Church or Temple community they belong to and can meet with on a weekly basis. They may come to attend services, socialize and create a social network of friends who have similar values, beliefs or practices and they may do volunteer projects to help out and be of service. Others like to commune and meditate in nature where they experience a sense of connection with plants, animals, the elements, and the creator. They may find inspiration for art, writings, and dance while out in a natural setting and experience a sense of bliss and oneness with all creation.
Holidays can create feelings of dread and anxiety for those who are bereaved. The clichéd images of family togetherness and the often unrealistic expectations of a season filled with picture perfect joyful gatherings can cause tremendous stress for those who are not grieving let alone those in the midst of the painful isolating experience of loss. How does one celebrate the holidays when a loved one is sorely missed? Creating new rituals and new traditions that pay tribute to the memory of the deceased is one way to survive, and perhaps even embrace the holidays when a loved one has died. Here are some suggestions on what you can do.
Decorate a wreath with pictures and items that were loved by the person who died and place the wreath at his or her grave.
Wrap a favorite keepsake of the deceased or a framed picture of your loved one, and give it as a gift to another grieving family member.
Tell the stories behind the ornaments on the Christmas tree and the role your loved one played in making those memories. Create a special ornament labeled with the name of the deceased and hang it on the tree.
Decorate a candle and light it at meal time in memory of your loved one. If you celebrate Chanukah recall a memory of the deceased on each of the eight nights that you light the Menorah.
Make a book of pictures and memorabilia about the deceased to give or simply to share with one another. This is a good activity for children as well.
Purchase a holiday book, perhaps a favorite of the deceased and donate it to your local library or school. Ask your librarian to place a label in the front cover inscribed, “In memory of (your loved one name).”
Bring your loved one’s favorite food to share at a holiday dinner. Mention their name in the blessing over the food or propose a toast in their memory.
Share anecdotes and favorite stories about the person who died. Sometimes others need permission to talk about the deceased. Let them know you would rather keep the memory of your loved one alive than pretend nothing has changed.
Encourage grieving children to draw pictures and create gifts inspired by their memories of the deceased to give to other family members.
Decorate and hang a cut out star in your home with your hopes and dreams for the future. Thinking about tomorrow is part of your healing.
Then once you’ve remembered your loved one make sure you remember yourself. Take care of yourself. Be gentle. Do what you can do, no more and no less.
If it’s too hard to be in the same place where you spent holidays together with your loved one, opt for a change of scene and go somewhere new. If you can’t afford a vacation go to a restaurant or a friend or family member’s home that doesn’t have painful associations with previous holidays.
Although you can’t erase thoughts and memories of the deceased it may help to create a new holiday experience.
As spiritual beings who have taken form into physical bodies we sometimes lose awareness of our essential nature which is love. The world of form and senses consumes our mind and we believe this is the only reality and who we are. In truth we are love incarnate and have taken form to love and be loved. All life is born out of love and shall return to love. Love is our essential nature and within every heart is the essence of that love. That is why the heart is the symbol for love and why we feel pain in our hearts when love is denied, unrequited, or lost. When we close our hearts in order to protect our selves from the pain of loss, disappointment, or betrayal we cut off the flow of love from expressing itself through our being. Depression, fear, and anger take its place and we can become ill physically, mentally, and spiritually.
From a holistic perspective our body, mind, and spirit are interconnected and one system affects the others. The spiritual aspect is the flame which ignites our souls into being. Healing can be achieved through spiritual awakening and opening our hearts to give and receive love. To heal and open our hearts we envision and allow the flow of love within us to dissolve the armor of fear, anger, and mistrust that cover and block love’s expression. Through dissolving and letting go of the pain and sorrows of the past our love shines forth with clarity and one feels an internal sense of joy and bliss.
When our hearts are open love manifests itself as kindness and a compassionate way of being in the world which is expressed through our thoughts, words, and actions, and we often times become channels for creative and divine inspiration. There are many ways we can manifest love in action. It could be through our interactions with friends, family, and people we meet in our everyday lives. It can be through our work and service in our community and the world, and it can be through creative expression and the arts.
One technique that I’ve used for many years for opening my heart is chanting and prayer. Many religions and spiritual paths have some form of chanting, singing, and prayer which focuses the mind and opens the heart to experience communion with the divine. In the yogic tradition chanting is called kirtan and is a method of bhakti yoga the path of love and devotion. In bhakti yoga we use our emotions to experience and realize our oneness with the divine. Sanskrit chants and prayers are words and syllables that have the power to calm and purify the mind and emotions, and open the heart center within our beings.
I started chanting in 1983 by 1987 I was writing my own spiritual songs and prayers inspired by inner guidance and heart wisdom. I wrote over 40 songs in six years, produced a tape called Open Your Heart: Songs for Self Unfoldment and sang these songs at spiritual events and gatherings until 1994. The title song of my tape speaks to the process of opening your heart and I offer it to you with love.
Through integral counseling we can work together to process and heal old wounds and resolve past and present issues that cause depression, anxiety, confusion, grief, or anger, and restore or create a sense of peace, love, joy, and spiritual well being.
One night when I was ten years old I was lying in bed unable to sleep. I felt an uneasy sense that something was wrong. I heard a knock at the door and a moment later the sound of my mother cry "oh my God!" I knew it was very bad and was afraid to come out of my room. The next morning my mother came in and said "Timmy (my brother) has gone to Heaven." He and his girlfriend Debbie had been killed in a car accident. I felt numb and in shock. How could this be, he was only sixteen years old and in good health? Young people aren't supposed to die! It didn't seem right or fair.
This was my first experience with death and it woke me up to the reality that death could come anytime to anyone. I lost my closest brother and our family was never the same. My parents were traumatized and I watched as they struggled over what they should have done differently that tragic night, as they sat by his gravesite and cried, as they grieved the loss of their son. From that time on there would always be an empty chair where he sat at the dinner table, and his handsome form missing in our family photographs.
When we lose a loved one whether a spouse, child, relative, friend, or pet we go through an experience of emotional turmoil and depending on the circumstances of the death can take years to recover. The death of a loved one is a very difficult experience and it helps to have a person who can help you through the pain.
My approach to grief and loss counseling is to provide a safe and comfortable place for expressing the many feelings, thoughts, and emotions that come up after the death of a loved one. In grief counseling we talk about your loved one, your relationship with him/her, the circumstances of their death, and how to go on and live a happy and meaningful life.
Natural Treatments for Depression
Common symptoms of depression are feeling sad, irritable, lacking energy or motivation, feeling physically or emotionally weak, loss of pleasure in the activities and interests you usually enjoy, and feeling low self esteem and a sense of hopelessness. If you are experiencing two or more of these symptoms for one month or longer and haven’t been able to pull your self out of the slump you may be going through a period of clinical depression. Depending on the severity of the symptoms and how long this has been going on will determine the best course of treatment.
Research has shown that a combination of medication and talk therapy can be very effective in treating depression and for many people this is the best way to go, but for others the negative side effects of allopathic medicines can be hard to deal with or even intolerable. For some they prefer not to expose their bodies to the toxic effects of these chemicals and want to try a natural approach first. Here are some suggestions for natural ways to treat depression and start feeling better.
Exercise and Movement
Exercise is one of the most effective natural treatments for depression, it gets your circulation moving which has the effect of energizing your body and affects the same neurotransmitters in the brain that medication does elevating your mood. It is suggested 30-60 minutes a day of moderate exercise will lift your mood. If you are not use to doing regular exercise start out slow and choose a type of exercise you will enjoy. That way you will make consistent progress and stick with it. There are many ways to get in your daily exercise such as brisk walking, jogging or running, swimming or working out at the gym, taking a pilates, yoga or dance class, or working out to a video at home. Do what feels right and comfortable for you.
Yoga and Meditation
Yoga and meditation have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety which can exacerbate depression. mind-body relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation have been used to relieve symptoms of depression and to promote feelings of joy and well-being. You can learn these techniques by attending a yoga or meditation class, or watch some videos on You Tube for simple instructions.
Diet and Nutrition
Almost any nutritional deficiency can contribute to depression, so it is especially important to correct possible deficiencies of vitamin C, D, and the B vitamins. Other factors that can promote depression are food allergies, excess caffeine and sugar, and a rich, heavy, nutrient poor diet. It is important to eat a healthy whole foods diet and drink plenty of fresh clean water through out the day.
Natural Herbs and Supplements
There are herbs and dietary supplements you can try which are natural treatments for mild to moderate depression. If you are already taking a prescription antidepressant or other medication you should know these herbs and supplements could interfere with your medication, so it is best to consult with your doctor before adding these to your routine.
St John’s Wort – is an extract from a wild shrub and has been used as an herbal treatment for depression for hundreds of years. It is best for mild-moderate depression and has not been as effective for major depression. Typical dosage: 900 milligrams of capsules standardized to 0.3 percent hypericin per day in divided doses with meals, or ¼ to 1 teaspoon of tincture three times per day. Caution: St John’s Wort may cause mild stomach upset, rashes, restlessness, insomnia, or sensitivity to sun exposure.
Ginko Biloba – is an herb which has been shown to have positive effects on brain function and can be exceptionally helpful in treating depression. Typical dosage: 40 to 60 milligrams of standardized extract capsules three times per day, or ¼ to ½ of tincture three times per day.
Kava Kava – is an herb which can alleviate the anxiety that accompanies depression without causing sedation or decrease in mental functioning. Scientific studies of kava kava actually show that it may improve memory and mental function. Typical dosage: up to six 400 to 500 milligram capsules per day, or 15 to 30 drops of tincture up to three times per day.
SAMe – is a synthetic supplement that is made from naturally occurring proteins in the body and has been hailed as a natural antidepressant. Typical dosage: 200 to1,200 milligrams per day.
5-HPT (5 –Hydroxy-Tryptophan) – is an amino acid that increases serotonin levels in the brain. Typical dosage: 50-300 milligrams per day.
In counseling we will address the underlying issues that may be contributing to your depression. These can be related to childhood experiences and traumas or recent events in your life. When we repress our feelings and emotions they stay stuck in our minds and bodies creating illness. The therapeutic process will help you express feelings of sadness, fear, disappointment and anger. You will be able to release pent up negative thoughts and feelings and learn positive coping skills thus changing your life experience from the inside out. We will also address your physical and spiritual needs which are essential components that contribute to a sense of happiness and well being.
Start your journey of healing and feeling better, call or email me today.