About six months after my son’s death, I started thinking about how I was coping and pain management in life. I made a list of the things that helped me. My list is long and not everything applies to everyone, but maybe there is one idea.
It is easy during intense grief/pain to turn to unhealthy grieving, but sometimes just identifying what you are doing to cope helps to stay in the healthy grieving lane. I had to make a choice for myself to walk through the very painful grief without substances to numb the pain.
When stressors are high, coping skills must be high.
- God’s Word and His presence replace truth for lies. At the beginning, friends made verses to carry around with me, because I did not have the strength to find Scripture that comforted. Then, I just read a chapter with no expectation; I just let it wash over me. It is like eating ice chips when your body can’t handle water when you are sick. For many, it is hard to read God’s Word at all, because of the immense hurt, questioning or anger at God, then some experience guilt. But, don’t give up-sometimes worship music/sermons/audio are easier (be gentle with yourself and give yourself time). Covid gave me time to read Scripture for long periods of time and sit and think and cry and talk to God (not fully understanding). It was healing.
- Exercise releases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins that make you feel happy and release stress. I remember walking out of a cycling class after Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s…a very difficult two months last year and literally feeling the release of chemicals in my brain!
- Educate yourself by taking a grief class or read a book (learn about normal grieving). Again, reading can be a chore. In one group we learned from other grieving parents: They told us to picture our grief as a large hole. The leader explained that this will never go away, but he showed how in time, we would build more life around that hole, making our grief proportionally smaller. The truth that love/grief never fully leaves, but there is relief, was exactly what we needed to hear. Reading may be difficult, if so, sign up for daily emails about grieving (https://www.griefshare.org/dailyemails)-these are very short and to the point.
- Helping others gives you a sense of purpose and accomplishment that you can encourage others to persevere and get help in hard times. This helps me tremendously: talking one on one, taking meals to people, whatever fits your gifts and personality. Knowing that your pain may help others in life, is therapeutic.
- Distract yourself at first to preoccupy your brain and difficult emotions. I got a part-time job to stay busy. Not so much to ignore your grief, but enough to learn to live again.
- Cultivate new hobbies such as music, cooking, gardening. The newness can be refreshing.
- Listen to uplifting music with messages of hope. Create playlists for yourself. Share with others.
- Talk to others as much as it helps you. Sometimes too much can be draining, but not enough feels isolating.
- Pursue counseling or find mentors-talking to someone who is not bias can help you grow.
- Find humor-I intentionally found a show that made me laugh that we watched every night.
- Go to medical appointments and get check-ups. Medication for depression (if necessary, there is no shame). Get help of any kind when you need it.
- Make a to-do list-my memory is not always 100% as I grieve (I hear this is normal).
- Taking a bath and drinking tea/coffee to relax.
- Get outside/hike/walk/nature-take it in; be in the moment; look around; be sure to rest because grief is physically taxing.
- List things you are thankful for in a journal or just think about it. This is hard at first, but even one thing can move your mind and heart.
- Journaling/Blogging-writing down memories can relieve the pain as a way of processing.
- Take care of something. Get a pet or find others who have animals to pet-they may make you laugh. Cleaning the house or organizing can be a release.
- Work on managing time and/or online time.
- Stay away from triggering/depressing situations; work on healthy boundaries.
- Increase problem solving and communication skills intentionally.
- Work on emotional regulation-identify and think about your emotions.
- Think about your purpose, your strengths, speak gently to yourself like you would to a friend.
- Forgiving yourself or apologizing can bring freedom.
Watch out for unhealthy coping choices and get help if you find yourself moving in this direction.
- Drugs and alcohol
- Cutting/Suicidal ideation
- Sleeping too much (Depression)
- Anger at others
- Unhealthy friendships-being around people who are engaged in unhealthy coping