Grief – the unavoidable process

My grandfather passed away last week. It was a good thing. He was 100! Quite a feat in itself. Even better, he was really healthy up until this last year. He was on a steady physical decline for a few months. His mind was as sharp as ever! It was peaceful for him. We said good bye and wished him well.

I, on the other hand, am not feeling so peaceful. I usually help people through this process. I am now on the other side of unavoidable anguish.

Grief is the emotional process one goes through when there are changes in life. We have to grieve what we lose when we change. This can be simple, like moving from Elementary to Junior High. You still have your friends (usually). It is just an adjustment to more classes, teachers, lack of recess. It doesn’t really seem like grief, but it is. You miss things you are not experiencing anymore. The new things can consume you and make the process easier.  It could also be a major adjustment, like a family member dying, a new baby, or getting married. We grieve the loss of singledom or coupledom when our family grows.

When we lose something precious and do not have a replacement (which can not happen with a loved one dying), the grieving feels painful. It becomes a process of reconciliation. How does this hole, that once was a person, fit in my life now? How do I reconcile the loss of a grandfather who has always been there. I can not remember a time when he wasn’t part of my life. I don’t grieve for him. I grieve for me. I have to allow the sadness and anger to run through me.

People have different ways of grieving. They rely on God, family, or friends. What really needs to happen is permission. Give yourself permission to have ALL those feelings. Whatever comes with grief, allow it. Feel sadness and cry. Feel angry and yell or punch a pillow. Let it come. The only way to “get past” grief is to travel through it. There is no way to avoid the process. You will just get stuck there.  Write your feelings down, create a memory book or page, have a wake for your loss. See grief as the process, adjustment and reconciliation of the changes rather than the loss.

Increase your happiness

I attended an amazing seminar on how to integrate positive thought and increase happiness. The first few hours were about the brain and it’s chemicals that “create” happiness, or lack thereof. Apparently, I need to learn more about the limbic system.

The presenter then cited several studies which demonstrated how particular behaviors can help one achieve happiness. For example, just proximity to happy people can impact your own happiness by about 5%. That would go up by how many people and how close a relationship you have with them.flower_smiley_face

Cool! Hang out with happy people! 

Toward the end he got to some good stuff about what kind of behaviors, thoughts and practices you can incorporate in your life to increase happiness. I thought I might share some with you.

 

 

Gratitude journal (Try This):

This includes a daily recount of good things that have happened to you that day. It might be easy to list things you are grateful for in general. Much like thoughtful and intentional prayer, you might recite those things you are glad for in your life, but have to think about particulars that day that are meaningful and brought you some joy. If you do pray, you can just write those things down in your gratitude journal after. If not, spend some serious time considering some events that brought you some joy that day, everyday. You can think of at least THREE. These should be things that are positive and specific to you. Not, “I did not die today” unless you were in a horrible accident and might have actually died, then you might say “I lived!” (see, positive).

Optimism:

Hey, I just covered this! He was talking about not only being positive about your personal possible future, seeing a good long term outcome, but other people too.  This optimism is about looking at your life in stages, seeing what good will come ahead, that things will always improve. You can also see that for others. Forgive them of their minor transgressions, like rudeness, forgetfulness or disregard. It will not hurt you, but only them, in the long run. Hold onto those things that will increase your happiness over time, like good friends, family, happy moments, health. Let go of those things that cause you pain, like anger, resentment and grief.  

Happiness is about finding those things in life that already make you happy, content and peaceful, holding onto them and searching them out. Let the good things rule over the bad. It is a matter of mind.

What is optimism?

Optimism: Tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the more favorable outcome. (dictionary.com)

Pessimism: the tendency to see, anticipate or emphasize only the bad or undesirable outcomes, results, condition, problems, etc. (dictionary.com)

You can probably identify if you are an optimist or a pessimist. What is the first thought that comes to mind when something bad, or even not so great, happens? Is it “Oh great! This will ruin my whole day. I am depressed.” or “Oh dear. That’s too bad. I’m glad it was not any worse.”

See the difference. One thought can lead to a sour mood and negative attitude and the other leans toward the silver lining with a positive outlook. Both attitudes will change your day. Like I say How you do Anything is How you do Everything.  If you tend to see things in a pessimist light, you will be anxious, worrisome and sometimes depressed. Things just never look good. Optimists usually see the brighter side, the upswing, the possible great things to come! They are generally more upbeat, excited, goal oriented and outgoing. 

Some people believe they are a “realist” which basically means “Hope for the best, expect the worst.”  Realists are pessimists with some hope. Hope that things will not always be terrible, but they still believe they will be terrible. A true realist can see things for what they are without prejudice or personal opinion. It’s harder to do that you think. Your personal world view is all about the perception of the event/situation which come from your self talk and your ongoing tapes derived from childhood and past events.

What makes an optimist?

In “Authentic Happiness” by Martin Seligman, he refers to pessimist thought as an automatic perception of a setback as “permanent, pervasive and personal: It’s going to last forever, it’s going to undermine everything and it’s all my fault.” Whereas an optimist may see the same setback as surmountable, particular to that problem, temporary and relative to others.  An optimist can see a situation for what it is, who it is relative to and how it can be improved.

The NUMBER ONE act of an optimist is to take the situation as one instance in time. It does not explode to global proportions. They dispute the negative, pervasive devastation a pessimist might assume.  “Wait, does this red light really mean I will be late to work, yelled at by my boss, have to stay late, possibly written up, loose an account….” Probably not. So, what does it mean? You can take a similar situation that has happened in the past to compare the current situation to. Disregard your emotional response, since it might have been exaggerated. What actually happened? When overwhelmed or anxious events, try disputing your own thoughts to replace with more realistic and positive ideas.

You can take an optimism test on Dr. Seligman’s website. There is more information on optimism and happiness. 

Stuck

I am a forward thinker. I am always looking for the next adventure, be it a sports event, family outing, vacation, or how to improve my practice, home or relationships. I need to be moving forward. I have been stuck before. It is the feeling of nothingness, blah, lethargy, ho-hum-itude that is slightly uncomfortable, like sitting in the same place for too long. Yeah, stuck. There are lots of ways to get stuck, in your job, relationship, financial situation, etc. I will be talking about your life. Well, I guess that actually includes everything else.

stuck-in-a-rut

A lot of people are what I call “survivors.” Survivors are people who merely tolerate life. They have whatever job they can get (if they have a job), put minimal effort into their surroundings, relationships or self. They are just wasting time until it’s over. There is little meaning in life. If you are reading this, you are not one of those people or would like to not be one of those people. You are looking to make a difference! How does that happen? How have I not been on vacation for 5 years, eaten at the same restaurants, same meals, same activities, same, same… You might be bored.

Getting unstuck

Getting unstuck can be tricky. You are in a rut in life, one you created. So, examine the situation. How is my life? Do I like my job, my relationships, my home, my friends, my hobbies? Literally list it all out. What is good and bad and just okay. What might make things better? Is there something I can do today, or plan, to make some changes? Do I need to shake up the routine, reorganize, plan some different activities, make new friends?

One of the most important questions you might ask would be “Am I in control of my life?” Many people take whatever life throws at them, letting it control them instead of them controlling it. Are you making choices that are yours or do you just roll with the punches? I  have an excellent example. A man who never finished high school. He took several construction and manual labor jobs and finally ended up with a home repair gig. He married the first girl he got pregnant, because she was pregnant. He went to work, came home, watched the kid, went to bed. He was miserable. Though, he pretty much has never been much else. He changes and makes decisions when it is forced upon him, like a pregnancy, job loss, etc. He never made a proactive decision. He is not in control.  He has no idea what might make him happy, because it just hasn’t happened yet. This is as stuck as you can get.

You might need some help figuring out how to get unstuck. I see a lot of people in my office complaining of feeling nothing. They think they might be depressed because they don’t sleep well, have little energy, are uninterested in doing things, have no motivation and generally unhappy. It might not be depression, you might just be stuck. Find someone to help you out. I have noticed a lot of self help books on the subject too.

How you see yourself matters

We are our worst critic. We scrutinize ourselves relentlessly. We spend more time thinking about how we look and portray ourselves than anyone else. Yep, how much do you think about other people’s appearance, behavior, etc. (That does not include comparing yourself to them) That is about how much they think about you. Usually, fleeting.

How you see your self matters. It is directly related to your self esteem and confidence. It correlates to how much time, effort, and love you think you deserve, from yourself and others. One of the most common symptoms of low self esteem is the fear that if others Truly knew you, all of you, they would leave you, hate you, despise or pity you. So, you keep parts of yourself hidden. You act in a way you think they want from you, not how you might really want to. You withhold things from your self that you deserve: love, attention, nurturing, time. You criticize your decisions, behavior, words and reactions. You give up to others what you should have.

It is a lot of effort for minimal impact. You work very hard to avoid a perceived threat. Believe it or not, people care and love you for who are. No matter what your perceived draw backs are. By giving up the effort for others and giving some back to yourself, which includes giving yourself some slack, you will gain some confidence. One of the hardest parts is figuring out what are doing for yourself and what do you give up. Where is the line? Well, how does it make you feel? Are you resentful and empty after or feel a sense of pride?

Give yourself some slack on the criticism. Give yourself some props on what you accomplish. Give yourself some time and attention. You deserve it.

Change of seasons can change your mood

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People are effected in all kinds of ways with the change of the seasons. Today is blustery, windy, cool, dark with the promise of rain, lots of rain. It’s fall. That means there will be less sunlight in the day, more cold weather, more darkness. I don’t mind the fall. I love Halloween, the change of colors, the cooler temperatures.

Some people dread the fall. It means the beginning of a season of depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), now called Depressive Disorder with seasonal pattern in the DSM 5, is the onset of depression at the beginning of a specific season, like fall or winter, which disappears at the onset of a specific season, like spring or summer. Yes, it could happen the other way around, though rare. If you start to feel more sad, irritable, sleepy or anxious and your desire to do your usual activities wanes in the shorter days. You might have SAD.

Like “regular” depression, the brain chemicals that regulate mood, serotonin, epinephrine and norepinephrine, seem to dip during the shorter days. The theory is the decrease in sunlight impacts circadiam rhythms, causing sleepiness, disruptions in sleep and drop in serotonin. Therefore, theoretically, using a UV light should help! Light therapy has been demonstrated to work well for people with seasonal patterns of depression. I have seen it work with clients who used it properly. Getting an at home UV light can be tricky. Not all light therapy boxes are created equal. Be sure to get one with full spectrum UV/UB lights. One that won’t burn you like the sun, but will give you the advantages of the light.

Depending on the severity of one’s depression, light therapy and being active socially and physically, can make all the difference. Some others may need medication to alleviate the seasonal sadness. Some people just head south and spend the winter in warmer climates.

Here is some information from NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) on SAD.

http://nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Helpline1/Seasonal_Affective_Disorder_(SAD).htm

Trauma and your afterlife

I read a beautiful, troubling excerpt from a fiction book about what trauma does to a person. I thought “Only someone who has been traumatized would understand this.”

We call them survivors, but once the [bad guys] get you, the person you were dies, like any traumatized part of you never leaves that room, that car, that moment, and you walk forward a ghost of your former self. You rebuild yourself over the years, but the person you were isn’t the person you become. The great bad thing happens, and you become a ghost in your own life, and then you become flesh and blood and remake your life, but the ghosts of what happened don’t go away completely. They wait for you in low moments and then they wail at you, shaking their chains in your face and trying to strangle you with them.   
~Laurell K.Hamilton, Affliction

 

The trauma after effects, of any degree, can impact you at any time, with any reminder 635960697083632130-1100041933_fearof the moment, people, places, smells, times of day. Those “shaking of chains” are those sneaky fears, troubles, anxiety, depression, panic. Those inexplicable moments of irrational thought. Trauma can impact your sleep, your appetite, your belief about yourself, relationships and your life. It can hit you big or small. Do not under estimate the impact of trauma. Like the excerpt stated, you can rebuild your life and yourself, but those ghosts hang about.