7 Ways of Coping with Traumatic Loss

While there are many forms of  loss such as divorce, unemployment, estranged relatives, the death of another human being cannot be compared to any other experience on this earth. It is a totally unique experience. When it’s unexpected, there’s a whole other set of challenges that present themselves.

Everything is cyclical. You will have dark periods that cycle out and return, and with time and healing, the dark periods grow shorter. Do not expect them to disappear completely though. We loved that person; And it’s because we loved that person that there will always be sadness associated with their absence.

I’m not an expert (I don’t know who would want to be an expert in this). These are all things I’ve learned and observed through the last two years. 35985576_10214767892245350_7557907341509656576_n

My long time friend and fellow writer, Trisha Lynn, and I did a FB Live this week to
discuss some ways we cope with the losses that we’ve experienced. (*to see a replay of this go to www.facebook.com/31MainStreet ) Here, I briefly recap those suggestions, as well as discuss some other tools that weren’t mentioned in our Facebook Live:

Music – PURPOSE: Creating new pathways and associations in your brain. Music can understand you in a way that people can’t some times. When talking to others who are grieving, I’ve noticed a commonality. A lot of us have songs or entire genres associated with our loved one. In the beginning, it can be painful to listen to a song that feels like it belongs to someone else who is no longer here. So until then, I highly recommend finding an artist or genre that you never considered before. It could be EDM, Classical, or Jazz. For me, there was a whole other world of music that I never knew about (*for more on this see my post: How Music Worked With Me this Year )

Journaling – PURPOSE: Our minds race. Thoughts can build up and intertwine with one another, binding us, making it impossible to function. Many times, our thoughts can get so tightly wound up. It can be hard to make a decision as simple as what to do first in our day, so we go back to bed. Journaling (first thing in the morning or last thing at night in particular) can be a wonderful tool to rid ourselves of the useless thoughts. There’s a book to reference for this. It’s called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In the book, Cameron offers a means of decluttering one’s mind. She calls it “Brain Dump”, and I think that’s the perfect term. Get rid of all of the crap bouncing around in there, close your journal, and be one step closer to clarity.

Learning Something New – PURPOSE: Creating new neuro pathways within our brains. Learning something new will build your confidence in this foreign world. It will give you a sense of control that you feel you’ve lost. Some skills that I’ve learned over the past two years are real estate and shooting. Both of these areas have served different purposes for me personally, but the world is boundless with possible new careers, skills, or hobbies you could develop.

Reading – PURPOSE: This serves as a great escape from reality and can be incredibly comfortable and relaxing. It also serves another purpose. It goes along with the suggestion above: learning something new. I highly recommend reading books that feed you in a positive manner. Books like, The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, come to my mind. As Olson states in his book, reading just 10 pages a day will still move you in a positive direction forward. This fosters both patience in the process of learning, and also, it’s effective in the absorption of content.

Faith – PURPOSE: It’s my ‘why’. The promise that I will be reunited with loved ones some day is what keeps me going. While I don’t push my beliefs on another, I will say that believing in something bigger than myself has gotten me through some extremely dark times. (If you ever want to have a respectful conversation about it separately, I’ll gladly discuss my beliefs.)

Exercise – PURPOSE: Get rid of toxins. The enzymes in a sad tear have a different make up than the enzymes in a happy tear. These are toxins being released. Exercise elevates the heart rate, getting blood cycling throughout your body, but also, helping you to literally sweat out bad feelings. There’s so much already written about this, and I invite you to research it on your own, but endorphins have been way more powerful in my life than any other outside substance.

Physiological Exercises: PURPOSE: These are calming activities done for severe panic disorders as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The sudden death of a loved one brings trauma. Traumatic memories are stored differently than other memories. Our brain boxes them up tightly, so we can function in other aspects of our lives. The problem is that the mind takes this tightly packaged memory and puts it in the emotional section of our brain, so if we have a trigger, a stimulus that pops the top off of this memory, we experience the emotions as if the event is happening all over again. This is overwhelming. Here are some recommended activities that one can use to calm his or her self down from a panic situation. While Trisha and I explain it in the context of PTSD, it is applicable to many other situations. Parents use this for children with intense emotions or who may fall on the spectrum. With the demands of our world nowadays, these activities are beneficial to anyone who feels like they are overwhelmed with panic. The first step before any of these recommendations is to recognize the rising feeling of panic, then proceed with any of the following exercises…

  1. The A-B-C Trick – Trisha explains this as first, choosing a category. The example she gives is “Animals”, but you could decide on any category (i.e. food, cars, TV shows). Once your category is selected, go through each letter of the alphabet and name an item within that category. So for Trisha’s category, “Animals”, one could say, “A – Alligator; B – Baracuda; C – Chamillion…” And so on. Do not stop until you’ve reached ‘Z’. Repeat as desired.
  2. Shoulder Tapping – This was recommended to me by a fellow widower, who experienced intense trauma in his life. Here, the individual takes his or her arms and crosses them over their chest, each hand on his or her shoulders. Then, just lightly tap their shoulders with their hands, remaining silent while tapping. (I was also told that one could tap their own sinuses to alleviate stress. This is depicted in my blog: Panic Attacks: 5 Quick ‘In-the-Moment’ Exercises to Alleviate Them)

While I know most of these are fairly simple recommendations, I also know that adding them into your life, when you’re under mental stress and emotional pain, is easier said than done. Here, I reference the book “The Slight Edge” again. Jeff Olson, the writer, points out that this “…path can be uncomfortable…scary. Especially if you’re the only one around who’s on it.” He also continues on to say that, despite this, if we take small baby steps forward, we will see change. Positive change. Pick one small way to cope and take your first baby step, even if it’s itty bitty.

Big Love,

Megan

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Tell me: What are some helpful tools you’ve used when the heaviness of life overwhelms you? 

Author: 31 Main Street

Once upon a time, I was a happily married nursing student slash mother of three, documenting my schooling endeavors with a sense of humor. Life changed in three seconds. Now, I'm learning how to pick up the pieces, while managing grief and raising babies. Follow me on Social Media: Facebook: www.facebook.com/31MainStreet Instagram: @31mainstreet Twitter: @megglerock

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