The experience of constant thoughts of the loss continues as we grieve.  These could be details of the loss itself, or memories of what life was like before the loss, or thoughts about actions we did or did not take that in our mind could have changed the outcome of the loss.  Or it could be recurrent thoughts of an unknown future, worry about the wellbeing of ourselves or loved ones.

Labeling your thoughts may be an exercise that can help you find a reprieve. Anxiety specialist Dr. Jennifer Abel PhD. suggests that the mere process of labeling may help your brain re-focus and re-organize, and can detach you from the emotional connection you have with the recurrent thought at least for a few moments. And a few moments of reprieve can bring some relief and can eventually build so you can gain increased periods of peace day to day.

Try this exercise for a period of about 1 minute.

  1. Get in a comfortable position with your body.  Sitting or lying down is fine, or you may want to do this while taking a walk or doing a simple chore.  I would refrain from doing it while driving since for that activity you want your full attention!  Notice how your body feels physically, if there are any places in your body where you feel tightness or discomfort. Stretch or gently massage the area that is tense.  Notice your breathing, the rise and fall of your chest with each breath
  2. Now gently shift your attention to your thoughts. Notice each thought as it comes to mind.  For example, “I’m hungry, maybe I’ll grab a snack” or “I can hear the birds chirping or “a dog is barking” or “I’ll never be able to tell my loved one thanks for all he did to help me” or “I have to do laundry.”  Whatever they are, begin to label them out loud and use terms like “new” or “recurrent”, “useful” or “not useful” “helpful” or “not helpful” or come up with other labels you chose.   These are your thoughts and your labels, so feel free to get creative and detailed.  Refrain from judging them as you label.  There are no “good” or “bad” thoughts; they are just thoughts your brain is coming up with at the moment.  We think about 2000 thoughts per hour so you will be paying attention to those that are coming up for one minute.
  3. After the minute is up, reflect on this experience. You can write down your experience in a journal if you like or just think about it, gently shifting your focus on the new, helpful, or useful thoughts for the moment and postpone the for others for later.

Becoming aware of our thoughts can help us better understand our brains and lead us to begin to act, instead of simply react, to our thoughts.  If we  are able to choose a different thought even for a moment, we may have a chance of feeling some comfort, or getting a task accomplished, or helping another being.  And this may bring a breath of peace.

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