How meditation can help you through grief.
Written by Karen C MacKenzie Grief is something that sadly we all have to deal with at some point in our lives. However, we each experience it in our own unique way. There can be great levels of sadness, there can be periods of numbness, and there may be days where you find yourself smiling or laughing. You may come to judge your own feelings and wonder whether you are reacting in the “right” way. These worries on top of all the emotions you are already feeling, bring additional anxieties.
Unfortunately, all of these feelings are perfectly normal during a grieving period. There is no easy way through the process and it can feel overwhelming, even if you have experienced it before. The good news is that there are tools that you can use to go through the grieving process. One of these tools, we will delve into today, is meditation.
What is meditation?
Meditation is the art of focussing the mind on one particular thing, be that an object, some words or an activity, such as breathing. The overall objective is to reach an emotionally calm state.
How can it specifically help with grief?
Grief is essentially a form of stress. Stress is anything that threatens our calm state of mind. We often categorise grief separately from our everyday stresses, because it feels more significant, more overwhelming. Yet the grieving process often includes common everyday stress triggers such as change and pressure. Living a life without the person we expected to be there, is a significant change to adapt to. And the pressure we put on ourselves, or feel from other to “move on” quick is real.
Meditation is a tool that has been proven to reduce stress. Therefore, it can equally help people through the stress of the grieving process. Here are a few ways in which meditation may more specifically help with grief.
Helps to enhance your self-awareness
Meditation allows you the space to be with yourself. This gives you the opportunity to connect with the true you, without any distractions from the outside, without any judgements from anyone else. As a result, you become more aware of your internal dialogue, and what you are truly feeling. It is one of the most valuable benefits of this practice.
However, at a time of grief, facing your internal truth may be quite difficult since you will be experiencing a wealth of emotions. The truth is meditation is not always easy and pain free. There are often tears and sometimes you can cry without understanding why at the time. But when was anything good for us ever easy? Feeling these emotions, and learning to accepting them, can be one powerful way to process your grief and meditation allows you the space to do that.
Helps you to slow down and find calm
At times of grief without even noticing, your breath can be more rapid, connecting with our heart that is working overtime to keep you going. It doesn’t matter whether you are running around, taking on additional activities to distract you, or curled up on the sofa, your body will be working harder than you know.
During meditation, we become more aware of our breathing. In fact, we often use it as an anchor to focus on. Most breathing techniques will result in your breath becoming slower and deeper. Even without the breathing techniques, meditation makes you more aware of your breath, to the point that naturally you will start to breath at a more relaxed pace. Slower breathing can help slow your heart rate down which can bring you back to more normal levels. Breathing deeply can help regulate your heart and your emotions. Overall meditation and learning to control your breath can effectively slow your heart rate down back down to a regular level.
Help you sleep better
It is not uncommon to be kept awake at night during periods of grief. As with other stress periods, your mind can go into overdrive, consumed with haunting thoughts. Thoughts of what life would look like now if they were not gone. Thoughts of how life was when things had not changed. Thoughts of the person that is now missing from your life. These thoughts can keep us awake at night.
As we practice meditation, we build the strength for our mind to be able to find calm space, for our mind to be able to push these thoughts to one side. As we practice, our minds become stronger, and it is easier to push those thoughts aside so that we can go to sleep. Coupled with a more normal heart rate, as we discussed above, and sleep will become even easier.
A common symptom of anxiety and grief is waking up in the middle of the night, and not being able to get back to sleep. Trust me when I say, meditating is a much better tool to use to get back to sleep, than picking up your phone and looking at the photos from how your life looked before. I talk from experience.
Helps you find focus
As a result of the sleep deprivation, and your body working in overdrive to cope with the emotional strain of grief, your mind may not be operating at its highest. Meditation is like CrossFit for your mind. It helps strengthen your focus and attention span. If you have a high flying career that cannot spare you, or you have small children to look after that do not understand that life has changed, you need your mind to be focussed. Taking even 5 minutes of meditation daily while you are grieving, will help to strengthen your mind and bring back some of that focus and attention you’ve been lacking.
Helps you process your stress and grief
As we mentioned before, you are likely to be flooded with emotion at this time. Facing these feeling through a meditation is not going to be easy. Yet the basic principle of meditation is to remain in the space no matter what happens. If emotions come up or you need to cry, you stay and you see it through. Sitting in this discomfort, stopping ourselves from running away, starts to build your confidence. It shows you that you can control how you react to situations around you, that you can breathe through it and it will pass. At the first stages of grief, learning that these emotions will eventually pass is incredibly powerful.
When will I start to feel a benefit?
The benefits of meditation may be experienced from day one, but generally it takes a couple of months with regular meditation to really feel it. In the same way that eating right for longer periods makes you feel healthier, meditating daily week after week makes you feel better.
It’s not an exact science, and there is no pushing through it. You cannot meditate for 48 hours and be through your grief, in the same way that you cannot fast for 48 hours and lose all the weight you put on over the last 6 months.
Think of it as a practice. Every day you practice a few minutes more. Every day your mind becomes stronger. And eventually over time, you will experience these benefits more clearly. You will become more connected to yourself, calmer, better rested, more focussed and less reactive.
How do I get started?
If you are ready to give meditation a try, follow these easy steps to get started. There are a lot of guided meditations that will take you through the basics. When you feel more comfortable, there are specific meditations that concentrate on subjects such as “letting go”, “forgiveness” and “acceptance”. Having sampled them all, I can tell you that they do help get you through the grief.
Remember if there are strong emotions coming up during your meditations, and you could use some extra help to get through this time, contact Ellis here at Cloud Counselling to see if counselling may help.