Habits for Grief

Two years ago, my best friend was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Two months ago, I went through a breakup. Whether personally or globally, challenges arise.

  • Someone you love dies.
  • A friend lets you down.
  • You’re forced to confront your own aging or an aging parent.

Grief is complicated. We aren’t taught much about it or how to deal with it.

It is important to take time to mourn a loss.

Here are some habits and practices that might help.

The role of emotions

Sometimes emotions are almost too much to handle. You’ll criticize yourself, or other people. You are less happy or healthy than you want to be. But, it turns out, without emotions, we are unable to function in the world.

There are some interesting studies done on the role of emotions. When someone suffers brain damage such that they can’t experience emotion, they are also unable to make decisions.

While you sometimes might prefer to do without emotions, the alternative is much worse. You can’t enjoy the beautiful things in life if you don’t also experience some of the challenges.

Habit: When you are grieving, find something in the same situation, however small, to be grateful for.

Take time to grieve

Grief sneaks up at random times. When you least expect it, you may see something that reminds you of someone who’s died and the upswell of emotion can be hard to handle.

It doesn’t have to be an actual death, either. The loss of a relationship, or even a missed opportunity can be something we need to grieve.

It helps to take time to grieve. Difficult emotions will still come up, but setting aside time does help.

Habit: During a difficult time, carve out at least one minute a day to be present to your emotions. I like to set an alarm on my phone as my cue. I prefer to write during this pause, but any reflective activity can help.

Don’t judge your process

Everyone’s process for getting over a challenging situation is different. It might mean going to therapy or bitching to a friend. I process emotions by waking up at 5 a.m. full of adrenaline and going for a hard run.

The key is not to judge yourself for the fact that you are grieving. Then you’re not only feeling bad, but you are beating yourself up about it, too.

Don’t judge your process.

Habit: Recognize what helps you. Take 10 minutes and write down a list of things that help you take care of yourself.

Grief takes the time that it takes

I was in a serious car accident last year. I knew that it would take some time to heal and I was gentle with myself for the first couple of weeks.

But a few weeks in, I started getting anxious to get back to my movement practice and the rest of my life. I wasn’t in pain, but I was still very shaken up and the added pressure didn’t help.

In all, it took more than six months to get back to baseline.

Just like healing from physical injury, grief can’t be rushed. Healing happens on its own time.

Habit: If you find yourself pressuring yourself to “get over it,” decide on a timeline. Give yourself one day, one week, or one month where you won’t pressure yourself to “be there” already.

Don’t use force

The Morningstar Company, which I wrote about in my book Responsive: What It Takes To Create A Thriving Organization, is one of the largest tomato manufacturers in the world. What makes the company unique is that it is self-managed by the employees.

One of the company’s two core tenets is “Don’t use force” in working with each other.

We’re accustomed to using anger, pressure, and blame at work – but at what cost? To the detriment of relationships, our own health, and building the habit of doing more in the future.

Instead of trying to force yourself to feel better, acknowledge your grief. Take time to feel what you are feeling.

Habit: You wouldn’t use force – physically or emotionally – with a young child or in an intimate moment with a partner. Treat yourself that same way, even if only for a moment.

We don’t get to control what happens to us or to the people we love.

(I can’t. If you’ve figured out how – please email me!)

But we do get to control how we respond.

Grief is a natural part of life. It is how we make sense of what’s happened and move forward.

When you’re going through a challenge, take the time to acknowledge your grief. I hope some of these habits help.

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