10 Holistic Ways to Help Heal Grief
By Emily R Long
The part can never be well unless the whole is well.
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.
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
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
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
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