Grief and Mental Health

To go along with my last post about mental health, I thought I would also talk about how our grief interferes with our mental health.  As it is not an actual DSM diagnosis, people pass off grief as just a short term thing that does not affect our mental state for that long. But until you experience grief of your own, you do not realize how much grief can take a toll on your mental health.

Not only do we have the initial and overwhelming feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, confusion, shock, these feelings continue throughout our grief even though they can decrease in strength overtime.  We also have to sometimes deal with physical effects such as migraines, stomach aches, disrupted sleep, and loss of appetite.  Diseases that may have been under control may see a resurgence after a loss.  But what we often miss is the psychological effects such as suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety attacks, and chronic fatigue.  We could have lasting effects of trauma, even PTSD depending on how the loss happened.  So what do we do now? I have a few suggestions of ways to help.

  1. Finding your support system. This could be friends, family, a grief support group, a forum, a therapist, or combination thereof.  It is my opinion that finding people that you can openly express your thoughts and feelings with is one of the most valuable things while along your grief journey.  I found that as a child I felt safe and the most heard and understood while attending a grief support group for kids.
  2. Be open to therapy. There are going to be moments in your life that you are not going to be able to handle on your own.  When things come up, it is important that we remember we do not have to face hard things on or own.  I have found that in therapy, not only do you learn new skills to cope with hard days, but sometimes it is nice just to have someone unbiased to talk to about your grief.
  3. Express yourself. It is unhealthy for us to keep our feelings pent up inside of us.  I have discovered that personally when I do this, my stomach decides to cause chaos and destruction for months at a time.  Learning appropriate ways of expression like drawing, journaling, running, dancing are essential to help our mental health on our grief journey.
  4. To know that not being okay, is okay. There are going to be days, even years after a loss, that are going to be hard.  These sudden grief days come up when we least expect them.  The important thing during these days, we have to remind ourselves that we are allowed to feel.  We are allowed to be sad.  Give yourself time.  Some days, if you get up, take a shower, get dressed, and brush your teeth, that’s an amazing accomplishment.  Do not discredit yourself on these days.
  5. Check in on your physical health. When you are struggling through your grief journey, it is still important to check on your physical health.  This can also rule out actual medical problems that you may be discounting as depression, anxiety, etc.  You want to make sure your body is actually properly functioning.
  6. Have a way to check out. Having an activity to use as a coping skill through your grief is helpful to or mental health, as this year’s #4Mind4Body campaign told us.  This can be, like I said above, drawing, journaling, running, listening to music, dancing, cooking, baking, reading, playing an instrument, creating art, whatever is going to not only bring you joy but also give you a way to check out for a bit.  I know that when my dad died when I was a child, I was able to do this through dancing.  Now, I have found that listening to music and running (or doing both at the same time) allowed my mind to take a rest for a minute to recharge and refocus.

I hope that some of these suggestions can help you with your mental health through your grief journey.  What other suggestions would you include?

Published by Bryna Talamantez

LMFT specializing in grief counseling for children, teens, adults and families.

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