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10 Holistic Ways to Help Heal Grief
By Emily R Long

The part can never be well unless the whole is well. ~Plato

1. Experience Your Pain

This is one idea I will repeat over and over. Our culture very much promotes experiential avoidance which keeps us 'stuck' in grief (and many other emotions). We often think grief and pain will go away if we can just avoid it long enough -- it won't. It usually just gets harder and lasts longer.

2. Mourn as well as grieve

We often use the words grieving and mourning interchangeably, but there is a difference. Grief is the personal, internal response to loss; mourning is the external, social sharing and expression of grief.

In healing grief it is important to allow others to support us. For some, this requires releasing the belief we (or others) have of ourselves as being a particular someone (i.e. "the strong one," "the rock," or "independent.") We may need to allow ourselves to lean, to receive help and support from others. Most of us are not skilled at asking for support or telling others what we need. (I totally get this -- I was the "strong one" and spent years trying to handle everything alone so that I wouldn't bother anyone or "be a burden.")

This is an often scary skill to learn but it is so vitally important. It also leads into my next idea.

3. Learn to say No

This tends to be especially difficult for women but can be challenging for all. Grief is exhausting. Healing from grief consumes a huge amount of emotional, mental, and physical energy. There may be some things that have to do be done and can't be put off until we work through the grieving process -- going to work, taking care of children or pets, paying the bills, looking for new work, legal and practical decisions (especially after a death or divorce), etc. However, there are many things we can say no to for a while. Dinner or lunch invitations, joining yet another committee, the need to keep the house perfectly clean (your friends will forgive you the dust, if they even notice!), moving or making other big changes for a while and so much more.

Say yes to giving yourself time and space to care for yourself. Say yes to giving yourself permission to experience your pain and to heal.

4. Sleep

This is a simple yet often challenging one. As a society, we are already sleep deprived and living our lives in a state of exhaustion. Grief adds another layer to that exhaustion.

Sleep can be a two-edged sword when one is grieving. On one hand, it gives us respite from our pain and gives our bodies and minds time to rest and heal. On the other hand, that moment when you awake and it all comes rushing back is intensely painful. Sleep is necessary for healing and the painful remembrance upon awakening will dull as you move through the healing process.

Sometimes our bodies and minds (usually our minds) won't let us sleep or won't let us sleep for long. In this case, at least allow yourself to rest. Lie quietly and listen to quiet, soothing music. Take a bubble bath. Take short naps.

5. Get a Massage

Or acupuncture. Or energy work. Or a pedicure. There are many things we can do to nurture our body and our soul through the grieving process. Give yourself some love.

6. Get Out and Experience Nature

Remind yourself of the beauty and resilience of nature. Take a walk in the woods, see the majesty of the mountains or the vastness of the open sky, lay in the grass and watch the clouds, gaze at the stars, smell flowers, dig your feet into the sand on the beach, get out on the lake, climb a tree, get your hands in the dirt. Nature can be healing in and of itself.

7. Eat Healthy

In times of pain and grief and general emotional upset, we often reach for the very foods that end up making us feel worse. Carbs, alcohol, processed foods, ice cream -- they all give us that brief sense of relief but in the end are just another form of experiential avoidance.

Eating healthy - lots of fruits, veggies, nuts - helps our body function better. This helps with the feelings of exhaustion that accompany grief. It also helps our bodies have the energy to process and heal grief. When our bodies are loaded down with sugar and alcohol and junk, they have to expend more energy processing that and there is little energy left to process the grief. (This can be hard - it took me a LONG time to figure it out)

8. Write

Journal. Write poetry. Write songs. Blog. Write letters. Write stories. Write anything. Writing can be incredibly healing. Let out all the stuff you have stuffed inside, the stuff you might not be ready to speak out loud, the things you wanted to tell someone but didn't get a chance. Write whatever will help you on your journey through grief. Don't worry about grammar or structure or punctuation. Just let it spill out. It's always beautiful.

9. Get a pet

Or spend time with the one you already have. Dogs and cats work beautifully but so will other animals. Find what suits you. Pets bring us endless comfort, laughs, and remind us to live in the present moment. Pets are some of the best healers.

10. Allow yourself to practice each of the above ideas imperfectly.

Basically, in everything through this, be kind and gentle and loving to yourself. We can only do the best we know how to do in any given moment. And it's enough.

Emily Long is the President and Founder of International Association of Grief Support Providers (currently in start-up). She is a National Certified Counselor and earned her master's degree in Community Agency Counseling from East Tennessee State University. Emily has worked with diverse populations in standard and alternative mental health settings that include inpatient hospitals and outpatient clinics, crisis intervention, in the schools, and on a therapeutic ropes course doing individual, couple, family, and group therapy. She has worked with children, adolescents and adults.


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