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It's Okay to Grieve in Your Own Way

Posted on 20 October, 2014 at 11:00 Comments comments (4240)

There are many kinds of loss. The death of a friend or loved one may be one of the most common, but some other losses include:

 

Job loss

Death of a dream

Loss of a beloved pet

Divorce

Loss of a relationship

Change in life circumstances

Less ability to do what you used to be able to do

 


Loss is a personal, painful thing. You may feel like you will never recover from it, like things will never be the same. You may feel sad, depressed, angry, scared, confused, or even relieved. All those feelings are okay. Actually, whatever you are feeling is okay. You grieve in your own, unique way. No one can tell you it's the wrong way because it's your way. It's what you need to do to process your loss.

 


But you can find healing. No, things won't be the same, but you can find your new way to live. You can go on with your life, remembering and honoring the loss, but not letting it continue to devastate you. Life really is for the living, and at some point, you will be ready to rejoin it. Don't rush to get there. Don't let anyone push you into it before you're ready. Take your time and feel your feelings. Let yourself feel numb, or angry, or sad, or relieved. Realize that others may not understand your process. That's okay. They don't have to "get it." They will probably go back to their regular routine while you are still reeling, and let that be okay, too. It's different for you than it is for them. You need more time. That's normal.

 


One day, you'll laugh again, when you thought you never would. It might surprise you; you might even feel guilty about it! Laughing is a good sign, though. Enjoying something you used to like means you are dealing with your loss. It means you are starting to live again. You're starting to accept your new normal, whether that means life without a special person or pet, a new job or lack of a job, the limits on your health you now have to deal with, or any of a number of things. Loss is hard. Grief is hard. But it doesn't have to be the end of your world. You can get through this. And it is about getting through it, not around it or avoiding it in some way. You must wade into it, let it surround you, plod on, and come out the other side. And you will come out the other side. In your own time. When you are ready.

 


Until that happens, let it be okay to take the time you need to process what you need to process. When you're ready to go on, do what you need to do: rejoin slowly; jump all in; reevaluate your commitments; start something new; pick up something old; make a new friend; eliminate someone toxic from your life. Do what's healthy for you, and don't feel guilty about it.

 


Remember, life is for the living. Remember the loss. Honor it. But keep living life. That's why you're still here.

You're Aging Well

Posted on 17 August, 2014 at 23:40 Comments comments (1043)

As women, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to measure up to society's standard of youth and beauty. We also experience pressure from others to measure up. It often feels like it's just too much. Why are we not good enough the way we are? Why can't we appreciate ourselves for who we are without feeling the need to change? During the few times we aren't worried there is something wrong with us, we feel guilty for not worrying that there's something wrong with us!  Why is it not okay to get older and look it? Would any of us really want to go back to being teenagers? Sure, maybe your figure was great, but you're a lot wiser now. Would you be willing to give up the wisdom you've gained just to look 18 again? It's okay if the answer is yes, but I encourage you to listen to the song below and see how it might change your perspective.


Women of all ages have value, and it's okay to like and accept ourselves the way we are.


I ran across this song by Dar Williams. It's called "You're Aging Well," and it speaks to the negative messages we send ourselves and receive from others.


The lyrics are as follows, and they are also printed in the video.


Why is it that as we grow older and stronger

The road signs point us adrift and make us afraid

Saying, 'You never can win'

'Watch your back', 'Where's your husband?'

I don't like the signs that the signmakers made

 


So I'm going to steal out with my paint and brushes

I'll change the directions, I'll hit every street

It's the Tinseltown scandal, the robin hood vandal

She goes out and steals the king's English

And in the morning you wake up and the signs point to you

 


They say, "I'm so glad that you finally made it here

You thought nobody cared but I did, I could tell

And this is your year and it always starts here

And oh, you're aging well"

 


Well I know a woman with a collection of sticks

She could fight back the hundreds of voices she heard

She could poke at the greed, she could fend off her need

And with anger she found she could pound every word

 


But one voice got through, caught her up by surprise

It said, "Don't hold us back we're the story you tell"

And no sooner than spoken, a spell had been broken

And the voices before her were trumpets and tympani

Violins, basses and woodwinds and cellos, singing

 


"We're so glad that you finally made it here

You thought nobody cared, but we did, we could tell

And now you'll dance through the days while the orchestra plays

And oh, you're aging well"

 


Now when I was fifteen, oh I knew it was over

The road to enchantment was not mine to take

'Cause lower calf, upper arm should be half what they are

I was breaking the laws that the signmakers made

 


And all I could eat was the poisonous apple

And that's not a story I was meant to survive

I was all out of choices but the woman of voices

She turned round the corner with music around her

She gave me the language that keeps me alive, she said

 


"I'm so glad that you finally made it here

With the things you know now, that only time could tell

Looking back, seeing far, landing right where we are

And oh, you're aging, oh and I am aging oh, aren't we aging well?"




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Coping Skills

Posted on 16 August, 2014 at 0:00 Comments comments (1894)

This post is by my friend and colleague, Cole Modlin.


We often see vague references to “coping skills” in self-help books or online psychology articles, but what does it mean to cope? Also, what stressors are severe enough to warrant using coping skills? I believe that all people are already coping with life events whether they are aware of it or not. For instance, turning on the TV or getting a drink with some friends are ways to cope with stress. When experiences become overwhelming and the methods of coping stop working, people tend to escalate their behaviors in negative ways or seek new alternatives. In this post I would like to describe types of coping skills and discuss how to use these skills effectively when dealing with distress or trauma.

 

It is helpful to separate coping skills into three basic categories:

 

1. Coping strategies focused on distraction

2. Coping strategies focused on grounding

3. Coping strategies focused on processing

 

In the category of distraction we have some of the following skills:

 

Counting – up to 100, down from 10, down from 100 by multiples of 7, etc.

Puzzles – Sudoku, crosswords, Lumosity, word games, cards, and anything else that occupies your mind

Exercise – walking, jogging, sports, aerobics, dancing, etc.

Sleeping – resting when we are emotionally exhausted

Music — listening or playing music of any kind

Media — playing video games, watching a funny TV show, YouTube clip, or movie

 

These are positive skills that provide a necessary relief to people in crisis. Our bodies simply cannot stay in a state of crisis indefinitely. Choosing healthy distractions can give us permission to experience some brief normalcy and relief when we are preparing to process events. In fact, recent studies are supporting the possibility that playing a distracting game like Tetris soon after a traumatic event can reduce the long-term negative effects of the trauma.

 

Of course, constantly using these distraction techniques can become a form of avoidance or denial. Moreover, one can actually build tolerance to distracting activities; thus, your favorite TV show or video game may cease being enough to keep out intrusive thoughts. If distraction efforts stop working, it is not uncommon for people to begin escalating to other more dangerous forms of escape, such as alcoholism or addiction. Hence, getting stuck on distraction may be an indication that developing skills at the next level of coping will be necessary to manage distress effectively.

 

Coping skills that focus on grounding the individual in the present:

 

Relaxation – progressive muscle relaxation, massage, diaphragmatic breathing exercises, bubble bath, yoga, prayer, meditation, etc.

Safe Place Imagery — developing a safe place in your mind connected to each of your five senses

Awareness – focus on your current environment (e.g., the feel of the floor beneath your feet, the texture of the chair you are sitting in, the smell of a candle, etc.)

Physical Senses — hold an ice-cube, pet an animal, enjoy a peppermint

 

There is some overlap between the distracting skills and the grounding skills. I think it is beneficial to draw the distinction between these categories because I see grounding skills as moving a person closer to dealing with the trauma or distress. These are activities that you would not typically engage in on a conscious level. Using safe place imagery or diaphragmatic breathing demonstrates awareness that support is needed and life has changed.

 

Finally, we come to the third category of coping, which is conducive to processing:

 

Journaling — putting words to your experience in private can sometimes be the first step in organizing your memories into a cohesive story

Verbalizing – talking with a support person or professional about your story

Sharing – writing a letter, giving a testimony about your experience, writing a blog, etc.

Commemorating Healing – planting a tree, getting a tattoo, writing a song or poem, creating something, etc.

 

This is the deepest level of coping and it usually requires the most emotional energy. With the distraction and grounding skills a person is primarily using stress management. The processing skills, in contrast, are aimed at healing from negative experiences. Activities at the processing stage are highly personal and their effectiveness for coping will often vary drastically between people, even in the same family. It is important to note that staying at this processing level for extended periods can lead to total exhaustion. We need to take care of ourselves when facing trauma. Adequate self-care requires coming up to the distracting and grounding levels at times when processing gets too overwhelming.

 

Many people can manage for most of their lives by using skills from the distraction category without needing to venture beyond this point. If trauma or a loss has occurred, it is much more likely that distraction will stop working. When anxious or disturbing thoughts begin invading your work and personal life despite your attempts at distraction, you could benefit from grounding yourself in those moments. However, grounding is still a temporary solution in that it places you firmly in the present but ignores the past experience.

 

If you do intend to begin processing your experiences, I encourage you to build a strong support system around you. Processing is hard work and you will need people to lift you up and remind you to take care of yourself. For some people it will also be essential that they talk to a mental health professional. A good therapist will help you navigate the complexities of your trauma, encouraging you to engage in distraction at times but also affirming you that you can press in to greater healing with support.

Wear the Lipstick

Posted on 6 August, 2014 at 23:05 Comments comments (1065)

Bad days. We all have them. "It's just one of those days," you say. You feel kind of down, but maybe you can't put your finger on exactly why that is. There's just a general "blah" feeling following you around. You want to wear your comfy yoga pants and curl up on the couch or in bed, and have the world just leave you alone. Yes, that seems like the best solution to a blah day. But, how likely is it that the world will actually leave you alone? Not very, right? So, what's a girl to do?


First things first. Wear the lipstick. I know it may sound silly, but every time you pass by the mirror, instead of thinking, "ugh, who let her out of the house?" you'll see a pop of color on your lips. It will brighten your face, and maybe even coax a smile from those lipsticked lips. Pick your favorite color, or go bold and wear red.


Second, brush your hair. Don't let other people wonder if you did "bed head" on purpose. You didn't. No one does. This style only looks good on the under-five set. Notice that I'm not saying you have to wash your hair or blow dry. Just brush it into place, or if it doesn't want to go, put it in pony-tail-time-out.


Last, put on an outfit you feel great in. You know the one. You always get compliments on it. People tell you it's a great color for you, or "you look great!" or they ask if you've lost weight. That's what you want to be wearing today. If you can't feel super on the inside, at least you can look fabulous on the outside. And, maybe you've noticed. Often when you look good, and you know it, you get a little confidence boost. The "blahs" may even quit tailing you and go bother someone else.


Remember. Wear the lipstick. It's the first step to turning "blah" into better.