By Leslie Holley, MA, LCPC, NCC
If you are grieving, you’ve probably heard about the five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance.
Maybe you’re still in the anger stage or have circled to denial, back to anger, and back to denial. Whatever your path, know acceptance will come. But what happens after acceptance? What happens next?
As a psychotherapist, I’ve heard clients tell me years after their loss, they feel “stuck.” Some clients stay they feel “stuck” in anger or denial. While practicing and working with clients around grief, I have learned that the stages of grief can continue to recycle at various times in our life. The key is to continue to acknowledge your grief and the level of intensity of your symptoms and work through to acceptance at your own pace, even if it happens again and again. This can be an arduous process.
Here are a few steps to support you after the first grief cycle ends:
Be Aware of Your Grief Triggers
Grief can often return during big events like birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. It can hit you like a weight of grief unexpectedly. Prepare for these events, knowing that your grief may creep up and prepare. Here are some ideas on preparing for your grieving triggers:
- Honor your loved one before or after the big event
- Say a prayer
- Meditate and visualize a special moment with your loved one
- Block out some alone time after the event to process your feelings
- Schedule something you enjoy and makes you feel loved and connected after the big event
Go Back To Or Start Therapy
When you lost your loved one, I’m sure you heard to go to therapy. Maybe you did and benefited from the experience, or perhaps you chose another way to find support. Deciding to engage in therapy can change like the seasons. One season you may feel stable and supported, the next you may benefit from the extra support. Grief is no different. If you went through your grief cycle years ago and your grief triggers are lingering, maybe counseling can help provide additional support. After returning to therapy for grief, clients have often told me that they feel like they failed because they’re back, still dealing with their symptoms. I explain to clients that as you grow, your perspectives grow, and that's a good thing. Grieving at 15 versus grieving the same loved one at 50 is different, with new perspectives. Don’t be afraid to return to therapy or start for the first time. There is always something new you can learn about yourself. When you stop growing, you stop living.
Find A Healthy Routine
Studies show that people who pray to a loving and protective God are less depressed, more hopeful, experience fewer anxiety-related disorders and feel more comforted and protected.
Incorporating an exercise routine also benefits your mental health. Studies show that regular exercise releases endorphins that enhance your sense of well-being. Exercise builds self-confidence, can increase social interaction, and help manage depression or anxiety symptoms.
Regular meditation reduces stress and improves conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and fibromyalgia. Studies also show that meditation can enhance human willpower to avoid unhealthy habits. Lastly, meditation can reduce the occurrence of depression symptoms.
Grief changes us, and death is a part of life, unfortunately.
Although death changes us, life can still go on, honoring our loved ones. Following these steps will ensure you feel supported when the grief cycle hits again. Society needs to normalize that grief can be a life-long process. I always tell my clients that when you injure yourself, the wound may heal, but the scar is still left behind. You can often glance at the scar and remember the pain. It may be a new day, but the scar remains. Grief is the same. Take the time you need and know that you are not alone.
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