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Navigating Grief with Grace and Compassion

February 22, 2024

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If you ever loved and lost someone close to you, you’re probably all too familiar with the pain associated with grief and mourning. We know it’s a natural part of life, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Grief is messy and hard, and it can feel lonely and paralyzing.

But there is hope.

Marian Teehan, MSW, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker with Atlantic Health System, offers constructive ways to navigate grief and grow through it.

The difference between grief and mourning

Grief is defined as the thoughts and feelings we have about a loss. Things like sadness, loneliness, even fear and anger.

Mourning is how those thoughts and feelings are outwardly expressed to others. In other words, mourning is an expression of our grief, like crying or screaming.

How grief can show up in your body

Grief can also manifest physically in your body, especially if you’re not managing it in a healthy way. Some common ways it appears include:

  • Aches and pains, especially in your chest and stomach.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Changes in mood such as depression, irritability or increased sensitivity.
  • Disturbed sleep.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Nausea.

Everyone’s experience with grief is different. Marian reminds us, “to give yourself grace and compassion to help release the grief locked in your body”.

Ways to navigate grief

There’s no roadmap for how to handle grief and no timetable for how long it’ll last. And just as we all feel grief differently, we all manage it differently. Marian says you need to give yourself grace and kindness, and then be intentional. “Healing is active,” she says.

Marian offers the following suggestions on how to navigate through grief in a healthy, constructive way:

  • Find community. We heal in community. Support groups or a one-on-one grief buddy give you an outlet for sharing your feelings and help you feel less alone.
  • Use your breath. Slow, controlled breathing techniques help move your body into the rest-and-digest state, making you feel more calm and relaxed.
  • Be mindful. Meditation helps keep you in the moment. It doesn’t have to be long or done in a set place. You can do it anywhere, even in the car or while you’re brushing your teeth. You can use an app or just sit quietly, letting thoughts come and go; it doesn’t have to be formal.
  • Move your body. Gentle movement like yoga has been shown to lower stress, but even more intense exercises such as running, lifting weights and boxing can help you process your emotions.
  • Find a creative outlet to express your feelings. Painting, drawing, writing, singing…whatever feels right.
  • Write about it. Start a grief journal or write a letter to the person you lost as a way to understand your emotions. Studies have shown that writing about grief can improve mood, immunity and overall health.
  • Talk about it. Share memories with friends and family or hold a memorial service and have others tell you positive stories to keep your loved one’s memory alive.
  • Return to personal rituals that have helped get you through tough times in the past. This can be anything that brings you joy. Nature walks are a good example of a healing pastime.
  • Talk with a counselor. A mental health professional can help you manage your feelings and teach you coping skills and tools.

“There’s no one way to navigate grief, Marian says. “You can choose whatever works best for you. Just be intentional and give yourself grace and time to feel your feelings and release them. It’s the only way to move forward.”

Key takeaways

Grief isn’t a disease to be cured. It’s a natural part of life. Acknowledging that it’s hard is the first step to moving through it. Then, by giving yourself compassion and kindness, you can take active steps to move through it.

If you’re struggling through grief, contact the behavioral health experts at Atlantic Health. We can help; you are not alone.

  • Mental Wellness