6 Tips for Using Mindfulness to Navigate Grief

festive-candles-picture-id597644104 6 Tips for Using Mindfulness to Navigate Grief

The world is struggling under the weight of grief right now; there’s no denying it. With the renewed fight to end racial injustice and the lingering realities of the coronavirus pandemic and all its implications, we all have a lot on our emotional plates.  

As of this writing, around 119,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States alone, and numbers continue to rise. People are grieving loved ones lost to the pandemic, lives destroyed by racial violence, and dreams crushed by cancelled graduations and weddings. Grief takes many forms, and it happens when we are in mourning for someone or something lost to us that has a huge impact on our lives.

If you are grieving, you are not alone — and you don’t need to suffer in silence. Mindfulness is a gentle and effective tool any of us can use to lessen the weight of grief as we navigate it. Give yourself a little present, right here and now, and try one or more of these mindfulness tips. As the saying goes: pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

6 Mindfulness Tips to Help You Get Through

1. Try mindfulness meditation: Not all meditation is mindfulness meditation — and I highly recommend mediation regardless — but the two sure are beautiful when paired together. Start with 10 minutes twice a day, or go for 20 minutes twice a day if you can make the time. Look for guided mindfulness meditations on Insight Timer or try my free Balanced Mind with Julie Potiker podcast on iTunes. Mix it up so that your mind relaxes into the practice each time.

2. Give yourself a break: Now is the time to treat yourself with compassion, just as you would a dear friend going through a tough time. Place your hand on your heart or wherever on your body you find a gentle touch most soothing. Then, let yourself feel heard and acknowledged. For example, say to yourself, “I know this feels really hard right now,” or, “This too shall pass. You’re going to be okay.”

3. Spend time outside: There are huge health benefits to being in nature, so grab your face mask and head out! Feel the temperature of the air, and the breeze where it touches your skin. Notice any smells, and really look at the sights — leaves, flowers, etc. If you are walking, pay attention to how your feet feel hitting the ground, how your legs feel working, how your arms feel swinging at your sides. While you are noticing all these sensations, you are not ruminating.

4. Connect with others: You are not alone, so don’t let the pandemic fool you into believing you are! Others are struggling, too. You can find online support groups on social media or through various community websites. Reach out and connect, even if it’s on a video call or for a socially distanced walk or hike, for example.

We are wired to connect, and it naturally soothes our spirit to share our burdens with each other.

5. Stay grounded: You’ve probably heard the word “grounded” before to describe someone who is down to earth, or in relation to feeling solid and secure in yourself. Basically, being grounded is the opposite of being stuck in your head! We all feel more grounded, solid, and at ease when we’re not ruminating over upsetting feelings and events, but it’s not often easy to just flip a switch and get there. That’s why I like to use what I call a here and now stone.

This is any stone you find that feels good in the palm of your hand — nothing fancy. Find a stone in your yard or somewhere in nature nearby to you, then keep it in your pocket (or tie into onto a rope or thread of some sort and wear it, if you’re so inclined!).

Any time you feel overwhelmed with emotion, take out your stone. Feel it, look at it, notice everything about it. Focusing on the stone will break you out of the loop of painful thoughts and feelings.

6. Practice taking in the good: It’s normal for our brains to hang onto negative information, and when we’re grieving, the pain we are feeling can be overwhelming. However, there is a technique we can use to begin to condition our brains to have more good feelings. As psychologist and brain researcher Rick Hanson says, “Taking in the good is the deliberate internalization of positive experiences into implicit memory.”

You can remember to practice it by memorizing the acronym, HEAL:

H – Have a good experience. Tune in and be mindful when you notice that a good experience is occurring.

E – Enrich it to install it. Instead of thinking, “Wow, nice sunset. What’s for dinner?” try really noticing the sunset for a breath or two: “Wow, what a gorgeous sunset. Look at those colors. That is truly amazing.” You are giving yourself time to enrich this positive mental state.

A – Absorb it as if you are filling your body up with the good experience. Enriching and absorbing will push that positive mental state into a neural trait. What fires together, wires together! You are making a happy bridge in your brain, which helps to counteract your natural negativity bias. 

L – Link positive and negative material. This is an optional last step in which you can link this positive experience you’re having to another challenging experience and supplant that negative mental state with this positive mental state.

When we’re grieving, we can easily become lost in waves of emotion or downward spirals of thought that leave us feeling really stuck in those feelings. Mindfulness is a tool we can use to break the cycle of rumination and give our brain something else to attend to. It doesn’t take our painful feelings away, but it does give us a little breathing room around them so we can see ourselves and our lives from a place of more peace and clarity.

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