You can never be fully prepared to lose a loved a one. Whether the death was imminent, anticipated or sudden the emotional and mental aftermath is life-changing, heartbreaking and downright terrifying. Grief can manifest itself in many forms and rear its overwhelming self at the most inconvenient, unpredictable of times. Sadly, I know this from personal experience. Four years ago, I lost my sister in a tragic accident while 6 months pregnant with my first child. Three years ago, my mother passed away. Four months ago, my dad died unexpectedly, exactly one week before Christmas.
The last four years have been a blur with twists and turns I never saw coming. The emotion was so overwhelming it became debilitating. I felt like I had lost complete control of my world and everything in it. I would often get trapped in my own sad thoughts. It got to the point that I believed I was not living the life I had envisioned nor sharing it with the people that I wanted to. As I continued to spiral, my grief manifested into anxiety and panic attacks. I felt stuck, helpless, and lonely. I am not exactly sure the when I realized that I had become an observer in my own life, but I knew I had a choice to make – continue to stay in this space or begin working through the mess that was my life. I had two young kids, a loving husband, loyal friends and so many blessings to be thankful for – so the choice became clear. With the support of my family doctor, I began talk therapy and educated myself about the grieving process and each stage (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance). Having this awareness and understanding has allowed me to begin working through my losses – in my own time and in my own way.
My mom’s favourite saying was “life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain” and for me, this has so much more meaning today. I have learned that life is hard and unpredictable and it can change in a heartbeat. The more I accept this the easier life is becoming to manage. It is hard to remember my life and the person I was four years ago. Sometimes things happen in life that change us or sometimes it is an accumulation of life experiences that change us. As we have more experiences, even when they are difficult, they can make us look at life differently and value love and resiliency in a whole new way. We appreciate living in the moment – and also appreciate complexity and growth.
(Graciously submitted by a graduate student)
If you or a loved one are struggling with the loss of a loved one and would like assistance, pleaseContact us today!
Counting to Ten is Not Enough so How do I Calm Myself Down?
When I was a kid, my parents used to say “count to ten” or “take a deep breath” however this never seemed to work. Either I would refuse to do it as they were TELLING me to do something, telling me during an argument or I would do it only to find I was still very upset and not relaxed at all! Arguments and fights full of “potty mouth” were regular elements of my childhood. What perpetuated this poor, hurtful behaviour and why did it no go away? I mean, we all knew it was not good?
Unfortunately my parents, like so many of us, didn’t know or understand the basic science around properly oxygenating our bodies. We also did not know the creative way our body manages stress… so cool is the body’s Physiological Stress Response. Yes, during a 1988 York University lecture, it was said to be the “body’s smart” response to stress! When I heard that stress was actually a positive thing I was shocked.
Why had I not heard this in over two decades of life? (Not even in school? At least not that I remember 🙂
Turns out our bodies, yes all 7+ billion of us, do something amazing when we are faced with a real or even perceived threat. Oxygen is depleted in a millisecond, the brain senses the problem and sends out the alarm “WE’RE UNDER ATTACK”! We know how the story goes from there. Well, if not and by way of a refresher, the adrenal gland releases stress hormones (- known on the street as adrenaline -) called cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, etc., then the heart rate and blood pressure surge, our muscles tense and tighten and the cooling system or sweat glands kick in with the intensity of a thunderclap. As stated, it all happens in a millisecond, the body’s smart response to an attack.
Imagine you’re walking through the woods, down a rocky path on a beautiful sunny day, and you hear a rustling sound. Off to your left, in the grass, about twenty five feet or so, you see a bear! The body immediately acts to bring about a surge of energy often referred to as the fight or flight response. Our bodies are creatively designed to move us into either fight, flight, faint or freeze during heightened stress. Remember, the stressor may be real or not.
The lecturer then asked us to consider the four systems that rocket into action under stress: Under the sympathetic side of our nervous system, the endocrine system releases hormones to fuel the great burst in energy, the cardiovascular system, muscular and cooling systems also engage. What the professor asked next taught me so much more about the benefits of relaxing our bodies. He said “If four of your body’s systems kick-in intensely to address the stress then where does the energy come from… what four or five systems give up energy or transfer energy?”
What physiological systems are not required when a bear attack is present? What is not required?
Wow! Of course! When a bear comes out we’re not going to require much thought or higher order reasoning. I recall reference to this as the ‘brain drain’. You certainly wouldn’t need to ask your friend “where do you think the bear came from, is he a brown or kodiak?“. Brain drain? No wonder I have said such silly, hurtful and ridiculous things in stressful moments.
Next, we do not need our digestive system… not a great time to eat. Probably not going to say “let’s have a sandwich, get some energy, before dealing with that bear“. Probably not going to go to the washroom either. That’s right. The gastrointestinal (GI) system also gives up energy for the fight or flight, “body’s smart” response to stress. Amazingly, the limbic system (sleep regulation) and the reproductive system (do I need to say what this one can do?) also give energy into the pot for our sympathetic system’s quick response to the bear.
Makes sense right? We’re not going to need our upper level thinking, sleep system, eat a meal, get frisky nor go to the washroom, although the latter may happen involuntarily in the face of a bear.
Toward the end of this dramatically presented bear story, the professor said “Of course you need this stress response when facing a bear, an attacker or an oncoming car in the way of… but… (he yells) you don’t usually need the physiological stress response in family relationships, bank line ups or while driving! However, it is exactly the same physiological response.
How did this all begin? What was the first physical change? Loss of Oxygen!!!!!!!!!! Then Breathe, Breathe, Breathe, Breathe
We can shut down the sympathetic response from our nervous system, engage the parasympathetic thereby relaxing and rebalancing our bodies with, not one, four deep breaths, slowed down, paced twenty second breaths
Reduce stress, relax heart rate and lower blood pressure… did I mention increase mental clarity and concentration, appear friendlier, be more amorous and improve your sleep 🙂
Have you heard of “box breathing”? Below is a little video to show how to breathe around the box shape. Remember, you can do this almost anywhere, anytime in almost any situation where you experience stress – low, moderate, high or severe.
Be seated or lying down if your doing more than 5 or 6 breaths
You can practice tens or hundreds of times per day so that when you really need this skill it will often come to you seemingly naturally. It will become your go to relaxation skill. You can also add many variations of thinking patterns to help. Some might imagine beautiful and relaxing scenes, call up past images that are calming and refreshing (guided imagery) or breathe in a calm word and exhale a stress heightening term. Others still use meditation and prayer along with deep breathing. Example of “breath prayers” are below
Breath Prayers can bring believers closer to God.
“Be still and know … that I am God”(Psalm 46:10)
“Come into my heart, … Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20)
“Say … the word” (Luke 7:7)
“Not my will,… but yours.” (Luke 22:42)
“Show … your power.” (Psalm 68:28)
“Here … I am.” (Isaiah 6:8)
“My help … comes from the Lord.” (Psalm 121:2)
“Speak, Lord,… for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:9)
“Lord, … have mercy.”(Psalm 123:3, Luke 18:13, 38)
This simple deep breathing exercise, box breathing, changed my life, improved my ability to manage high stress moments, not perfectly but better and better the more I use oxygen well.
Have fun practising oxygenation exercises, deep breathing and managing your body’s multiple systems to bring about calm under fire, sensibilities when facing pressure, politeness during disagreements and balance when all seems out of balance.
Imagine having a head injury that took away your capacity to remember day to day events. Imagine waking up and not knowing what happened yesterday while having a much less fuzzy recollection of things that happened years ago. Imagine waking up and reading the sticky notes and papers that are taped to your wall before leaving your bedroom in order to understand the world you are about to face; the people who are close to you, healthcare professional appointments. Imagine social emptiness.
This is the story of one young adult, as written in his poem below. After suffering a major head injury, life was altered irreparably.
I draw blood everyday
so I am very familiar with its stain
Now I need to read the whole manual
first before I will try any new GAME.
So now I need to learn more than a new language
in order, just to fix my FRAME.
But then I see the wall marks, to remind myself
that to learn my new stuff or meet any new ones,
requires a new one.
So whose sum?
Others must remind me that I am a new some,
who is now without sum,
in which resulted in me now having to take a few some
in order just to process some or one.
So now I find that the ones experiencing similar,
are those obese anorexics on the constant ketchup,
breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.
Lost myself, after Falling like timber.
Left-over broken and incomplete.
Most would have cowardess in defeat.
But as my thoughts were echoed
and I tried to fix myself
my emotion was let go.
So I am now left in despair,
trying to understand myself
just through the reflection in the mirror.
Be thankful for the memories you have, the good and the bad, for they give us our identity, our sense of belongingness and connection in the world. Our ability to remember allows each one of us to know just enough to build upon day by day, to grow and develop, to learn and improve. Hopefully we use our memories well.
Sometimes, we find ourselves in a place where we feel we cannot go on. The people in our lives do not seem to be enough or we aren’t enough? What are we to do in this #dark place ? Writing or expressing our emotions artistically can help both with getting them out and also with reaching a place of new understanding and awareness. Using poetry, art and music provides a healthy expression of the wide range of feelings (all of which are normal and useful). Artistic avenues also provide some relief and the opportunity to share our grief and struggles with others who may be suffering.
One teen did just that! She sent her poem in to share… with the hope it may help others not feel so alone
heavy eyes heavy shoulders heavy weights upon my shoulders i realize this is not normal. but what really is normal? not me, i see, everything around me smiling happy, joyful, pleasant. and happy. this word. what is it? it’s blurred within the space it’s supposed to fit. what am i doing? i’m trying, i’m trying but all i’m doing is colliding with the thoughts inside my head they crowd me, they surround me and i can’t get away they love me, they hug me and they kiss me & they tell me that everything will never be okay.
i’m running as fast as i can but the truth is i’m not getting anywhere and i’m jam packed between the voices of society and screams inside my head. they tear me apart and i’m aware of every single look and every stare it makes me crave to know if every little string of hair is in place. and i know i’m out of place i’m displaced i’m misplaced and i’ll be replaced but i wont be retraced.
but i’ll put on that straight face and walk through the crowd everyday. listen to the voices of society saying everything will be okay. this word what is it it’s blurred within the space it’s supposed to fit what am i doing? i’m trying i’m trying but all i’m doing is colliding with the thoughts inside my head they crowd me. they surround me and i can’t get away. they hug me they love me they kiss me and they embrace me and they tell me that everything will never be okay.
One of the most difficult things to do when a relationship ends is to let go of the strong emotional ties that we may have for our ex-partners. It is hard not to think about what they are doing or thinking, how they are feeling, or whether they are okay or as miserable as we are. We have spent so much time making decisions that revolved around them adjusting that framework afterward takes time as well as intentional effort.
When is it time to stop investing our emotion into a dead relationship? Intentional effort is needed to identify when our thoughts hopelessly gravitate toward our ex-partners overshadowing the fact that most of the evidence points to ‘its over’. Easier said than done so how can we begin to heal and adjust?
Some strategies may include:
Allow yourself the right and time to grieve the loss as this is a normal process that is as essential to being human as breathing.
Creating and repeating uplifting / affirming statements about ourselves when we catch ourselves emotionally over-investing in.
Identify an emotional over-investment in our ‘dead’ relationship and do three push ups, sit ups, squats etc. (consider how fit we might become 🙂 .
Take three to five deep breaths (20 seconds each -> 5 inhale, 7 hold & 8 exhale) thinking of a positive during inhaling and a negative when exhaling (e.g. inhale calm… exhale upset)
Plan schedules heavily with activities to refrain from having “free-time” for a few weeks or even months
Increase self care activities (biking, bathing, reading, music etc.) catering to your personal likes and interests can be helpful distractions.
The biggest steps involve finding ways to intentionally redirect our emotional investments away from our ex-partners toward ourselves and others. Being loving to ourselves is so important even though this is difficult after a break-up. Positive and caring thoughts and actions can prevent us from slipping into self-loathing, ‘stinkin thinkin’ and hyper-criticism which rapidly increases feelings of despair and hopelessness. Also, finding ways to do loving things for others (also called altruism), volunteering time to family, friends and even strangers is a great way to redirect emotional investment and soften the impact of grief and loss.
Making an investment in counseling is another form of self care. You can discover additional strategies for coping as well as new intrapersonal and interpersonal skills to help build healthy, exciting and enduring relationships. If you want to find out more contact one of our counsellors today!
Perhaps one of the less understood and less talked about addictions, the addiction to sexual activities can, just like drug and alcohol addictions, leave a path of destruction in the lives of those connected to the “one addicted”.
The following is submitted by a brave young woman who tells of her healing process and the importance of family and forgiveness.
“I was in a relationship for three years. In the latter part, I got pregnant. Needless to say, the relationship ended. I was overwhelmed with feelings of hurt, anger, and sadness. I could express the ups and downs of being in a relationship with a sex addict, however why bother? Why go back to those times?
One thing I could mention is the support I had from my family and friends. They saw my efforts to fight for that relationship and even his efforts to try to overcome his addiction. Although there were subtle (and obvious) hints for me to get out, my family provided me with unconditional love.
So as the pregnancy progressed, I began to realize continuing to dwell in hurt and pain was not a healthy option. To cope with the break-up, I kept busy, read books, wrote in my journal, and had my support system to lean on. As the sad feelings subsided, I knew I was ready to start the forgiving process.
Many counselling professionals may suggest that the process of forgiveness is to benefit you and not necessarily the other person. In addition to this, I knew that for the sake of my child’s growth and development, forgiving her father was non-negotiable. My family and friends, on the other hand, have not been able to reach the point of offering forgiveness to him. So how do I help them get there?
People may initially assume that a love relationship consists of just two people. It is true that it may start out like this, however, as the relationship evolves, we expose our significant others to our families and other friendships. Years of involvement makes it more difficult for everyone to witness the loss of that person when the relationship ends. In the case above, her family and friends were probably exposed to more of the relationship than the average. Setting healthy boundaries in relationships protects and provides clarity for how much to involve others in personal matters.
Involvement of family and friends in the couple’s personal struggles can actually serve to destroy family supports and eat away at the relationship as well. While loved ones may have observed happy times, they likely find it easier to recall the stories of bad behaviours and not-so-good times before and when the relationship ends. While focus on negatives is quite common, all it does is reinforce pain and foster feelings of anger. Staying stuck in blame and judgmentalism blocks movement toward forgiveness. Unfortunately, this can stand in the way of a healthy relationship with the person about to become a co-parent.
In this particular case, the mother’s modelling forgiveness can be a powerful and influential message for her friends and family. Most adults and children can pick up on the energy in a room and the emotional states of others from nonverbal communication (face and tone).
Given this, we are all responsible for the quality of relationships by our actions and choices… to forgive and extend grace or not.
Individual, co-parenting and family counselling can help to overcome addictions, improve relationship skills and heal woundedness as well… Contact us today!
When experiencing loss and grief, we may ask many questions yet never receive answers:
Why take them from us so young?
What could have been done to prevent this from happening? Or to help?
Was I not a good enough influence or foster better choices?
Will I get over this pain?
How can I be there for my family when I can barely be there for myself?
Is this fair?
We may toss and turn trying to find answers to these questions. We may question our faith and our reality, pondering what we truly are living for. When such tragedy strikes our families and friends, what good can come out of it?
It is very normal to have these questions, to worry, to be concerned. Feelings of helplessness, fear, anxiety, and sadness can become overwhelming. During our time of grief, coping with simple life tasks can be difficult. Take your time. Don’t rush into the hustle and bustle of life’s demands. Find comfort through loved ones who are also grieving, and accept support from those friends and others who want to extend care to you during this difficult time.
Prayer. For those who place faith in God, praying for strength, and sometimes just praying for survival can provide comfort and peace during the grieving process. When we question God’s plans, the best source to turn to is God Himself, reading time-tested and true ancient wisdom. Through prayer and scripture, we may not find the answers we are looking for, however we may find serenity, and regain our strength, hope and possibly even confidence in God’s plan for all of us.
Questions of faith and uncertainty can be addressed in counselling. Incorporating spirituality might just restore the hope that is essential to life and death. Call us today.