How to help: On feeling grief, loss and sadness

This is a post for people who feel sad. Loss and grief are the flip side to joy and connection. They are common and normal emotions, and they are ones that really, really, hurt. When you are feeling loss and grief, you may feel it somatically. That is, in your body. Take a moment to close your eyes and search your body for pain points. I feel these feelings in my chest, shoulders and neck. There is nothing wrong with experiencing these feelings, but it tends to be highly uncomfortable. Without conscious effort, we will often choose to avoid experiencing these feelings. That’s no big deal in some respects and sometimes it is highly appropriate to park it and deal with a more pressing problem. However. You and I both know, that those un-dealt with feelings have to go somewhere. And they do.

Feelings and emotions are energy-in-motion. So you can move them aside for awhile, but they will try to resurface in order to complete their motion cycle to relieve your body of the stress it is trying to purge. It is healthy and appropriate for feelings and emotions to complete their cycle. It can feel terribly uncomfortable while we are doing it though, and that tends to be why we often don’t do it.

If a feeling doesn’t get processed, it will do one of two things. It will leak out. Bit by bit the body will try to move the energy through drip feeding it. This can manifest through more ‘acceptable’ (to the individual) emotions, examples include anger, aggression and condescension (feeling right or better than someone else). This way takes the uncomfortable feeling and redirects into a misguided ‘power’ against someone else. This leads to fighting ‘destructively’ because the individual is not centered in themselves and their feelings, instead they are usually lashing out, avoiding and defending.

Alternatively, the feeling will get buried. Way down. This can be a temporary solution, but the body is a finite size, which means eventually it will fill up and start to leak. Another way the body deals with buried feelings and emotions is to somaticise them – this refers to processing the feelings through bodily aches and pains. At worst, we can create illness and disease somatically.

So what can we do to start processing feelings of sadness, loss and grief.

Give them a safe place to live: Feelings are temporary. They are like the weather. They move in and out. They can be intense, and they can be fleeting. If you can allow and open yourself to feel the full depth of them, you will soon see that they do end. And when they do, a feeling of peace exists. Like the calm after the storm – this is the emotion’s completed cycle.

Phone a friend (or partner): You don’t need to do this alone. I know it can be a very vulnerable place to feel feelings that aren’t on the ‘happy’ side of the spectrum. But these are the human experience and no one is immune. Having relationships where you can quietly support and validate someones suffering is imperative. Your friend doesn’t need to do anything. They are there to witness your feelings and give you the support you need.

Rest and recover: Following the natural process of the feelings can be hard work. Particularly when you are learning how to do it, or you are working through some big, stored feelings. Try to take extra care of yourself during these times, and ensure your body gets to ‘rest and digest’.

Fill your buckets: Things that fill you up can be done after the processing has been completed. Walking, nature, cooking, art, gardening are all things that fill up my buckets.

By completing the process of emotions, you are learning to cope. Coping means to invest your own conscious effort, to solve personal and interpersonal problems, in order to try to master, minimise or tolerate stress and conflict. These ‘adaptive’ strategies reduce stress. In contrast, other coping strategies may be coined as maladaptive, if they increase stress. People who don’t process emotions can have maladaptive coping styles and experience more stress than what they started with, had they processes the emotion/feeling.

How are you feeling today?