Leaning into Grief and Anxiety

As we continue to experience personal losses from the pandemic, and witness the social unrest from heinous violent acts, grief and anxiety are present everywhere we turn. The uncertainty, lack of ability to plan and expect, loss of connection with others, loss of life for some and ability to get basic survival needs met, and limited capacity to engage in meaningful activities, is grueling. The resulting feelings – frustration, anger, helplessness, sadness – have brought out some undesirable and unwanted behavior. So many folks have lost motivation, energy, and stamina to live with vitality. It’s exhausting just existing, caring for loved ones, and problem-solving new issues that arise from this new way of living.

Avoidance of the grief and anxiety experienced makes things worse. It’s natural to want to run the other way and ignore or blame others. I mean, no one wants to grieve or be anxious. So, we escape by doing busy work or other comfort seeking behaviors. In our society diving into work and pleasurable activities is what is expected and at times encouraged. Sometimes these behaviors can be helpful to ease the pain of continual suffering. However, “get over it” is a mantra of our time, a recurring theme. Stuffing our feelings about loss and fear is how we can get things done, take care of business. And the results – sickness, abuse, addiction, violence – are prevalent.

Instead of running away, what if we accepted the sad or fearful feeling and listened to it? Why is it there? What is it trying to protect you from and how is it serving you today? How can listening to it now help you when other suffering comes your way in the future?

Choosing to “lean into” the grief and anxiety is difficult. These feelings run deep and are complex. Here are some things you can do to help yourself work with these challenging feelings in current daily life so you can find moments of relief, peace, and yes, even joy.

  1. Find your support – friends, family, colleagues, professionals, God or a higher power, nature, animals. Who can you talk to, be with? Act – make plans to connect.
  2. Express your feelings – verbally and non-verbally. Name them out loud – it helps them detach from you. Some mediums you can choose are moving (I recommend daily for 5 minutes focusing on the feelings, moving one body part or the whole body), writing (David Kessler, grief expert, recommends writing daily 7 minutes at 7p, or whatever times work, venting whatever feelings come to you), art (drawing, painting, or other visual art forms), singing, playing, or listening to music (some songs really speak to the feelings you are experiencing either in lyrics, melody or both).
  3. Do activities that soothe and comfort you. Meditation, prayer, exercise, reading, watching TV, music, cooking, cleaning – whatever works.
  4. Focus on gratitude (a beautiful sky, a nice meal, a laugh with a friend, a good movie) and actions of giving or receiving love from someone or something.

It’s the regular practice that helps heal, gets you in touch with meaning and purpose, and propels you toward a lasting resilience. The grief and anxiety may not leave, but more positive and peace-filled thoughts, feelings and behaviors begin to take front seat, having a larger part in your day to day life.

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