One thing I’ve learned from others who are grieving and in my own grief is that anxiety seems to magnify at this hard time. It manifests in many ways, and one that is particularly painful comes in the form of recurrent thoughts of the loss. These distressing thoughts play over and over again in our heads, making it hard to focus on anything else and leads us to feel helpless, hopeless, guilty, ashamed, or scared. In an attempt to control these thoughts, we try to “not think” about them, but then we can’t shake them and they come to mind in full force.

These thoughts are natural and part of the grieving process. To try and stop them is to deny that element of grief. It’s not something we ask for, just like the “grief bursts” of tearful episodes, nor the constant longing for things to be different. So, we acknowledge them. Kristin Neff, PhD. suggests calling them, “moments of suffering.” This is a moment of suffering. And as we acknowledge the thoughts, we can also learn to pay attention to other thoughts. These “other thoughts” may help us take necessary actions (like eat or sleep) that sustain our health or bring us moments of peace.

Reprieve from incessant thoughts can be accomplished through a relaxation exercise by HeartMath called “Heart- Focused Breathing.Dr. Kelly McGonigal, psychologist and expert in stress, suggests this exercise to help calm the body and the mind when anxious. It can help lower blood pressure and regulate the breath, and triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to release chemicals to relax the body. As you relax the body, you may begin to think other thoughts that may be more health-filled and helpful to you than the recurrent thought. Also, the attention on your breath and body take the focus there instead of your repeating thought.

Try a few minutes of Heart-Focused Breathing and allow other thoughts to surface.

  1. You may do this standing, sitting, lying down or moving.
  2. Gently shift your focus on your body, noticing your breath, refraining from judging it.
  3. Notice your sensations in your chest as you breathe in and out. Become aware of your body, the movement of your chest and shoulders as you inhale and exhale.
  4. Notice the feel of air going in and out of your nose. Breathe in a bit more deeply and take longer in your breaths- 5-6 seconds in and 5-6 seconds out.
  5. Imagine now that you have nostrils on your chest, over your heart, and that you are breathing in and out of your heart. You could put your hand over this area to help you focus your attention. As you breathe in, imagine you are breathing in love (or something else you find comforting) and as you breathe out, you can allow love to flow out and spread to others, or gently release the unwanted recurrent thought.
  6. Do this for a minute or two.

You can do this exercise once or several times throughout the day. The goal here is to gain a moment of relief, and then build the moments as the days progress. You may not erase the pain, but ease the suffering to make daily life more tolerable, and eventually more peaceful, moment by moment.

If you have questions, or would like additional support using relaxation exercises with anxiety and grief, feel free to reach out or call (714) 941-2257.

17821 E. 17th Street Unit #260
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 941-2257

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