It is never easy to come to terms with grief.
Whether we have lost a loved one, have suffered a serious setback in our own life (like a divorce, an illness or injury, or losing a job), or feel empathy and sadness for another person who is struggling, grief can feel like a body blow. It can feel as though the sadness and anger will never ease. It can feel as though no one truly understands what you are going through. And it can feel like you simply cannot manage it and move forward with your life.
Those things are true for most everyone, but the challenges presented by grief can be particularly daunting for those struggling with a mental health disorder.
Dealing With Grief
After all, if you are already struggling with one of the many forms of depression, with an anxiety or panic disorder, or with a disorder grounded in past traumas, adding the heavy weight of grief can feel truly overwhelming. And when we are feeling overwhelmed, it can be easy to make bad decisions. You might find yourself ignoring the strategies you have developed for supporting your mental well-being. You could be tempted to turn to drugs or alcohol (particularly if you have struggled with these substances in the past). You might even find yourself considering self-harm.
None of those options—or others like them—are helpful, of course. So the question becomes: What is helpful when you are dealing with grief?
First Things First: It Is Only Natural to Experience Grief
It can be helpful to remember that experiencing grief is a natural, universal part of the human experience. Keeping in mind that what you are feeling is an emotion shared by everyone at one time or another can be helpful. Remembering that many people have had to find a way forward after loss can provide you with the motivation to find your own way.
Stick to the Basics: Don’t Let Healthy Routines Slip
We mentioned above that people in the grips of grief sometimes let their healthy habits slip. The emotion can make it hard to keep doing the things you are already doing to support your mental health. But sticking to those routines—while also giving yourself some grace—is one of the best things you can do for yourself in a challenging time.
So, if you see a therapist, keep your appointments—and take advantage of the opportunity to process the strong emotions you are feeling. If you are taking medication for a mental health disorder, keep taking it as prescribed. Stick with your healthy habits when it comes to diet, exercise, and sleep. And be careful not to isolate yourself from supportive friends or family members.
Additional Options: Now May Be the Time for New Practices
If you are not already practicing mindfulness, keeping a gratitude journal, or finding ways to give back to your community, now may be the time to add these and other similar activities to your life.
Mindfulness practice encourages us to live in the present moment rather than ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. There are many ways to get started—including apps that include mindfulness exercises specifically designed to help you address grief in your life.
A gratitude journal can be helpful if you are struggling to remember the good things in your life while you are dealing with grief. One approach is to write down three things that you are thankful for each day. These do not have to be big things at all. You might be grateful for a good meal, an enjoyable book, a lovely sunset, or anything at all that lightens your load a bit. Whether you do this in a traditional journal or use an app designed for the purpose, you may find that you are grateful for these little reminders of good things that continue to happen day by day.
Finding an opportunity to volunteer for a cause or organization that is important to you can also be a wonderful way to remind yourself of the positives in life. When you are making a positive difference for others, you may find that carrying the grief you are experiencing is a little bit easier.
We Are Always Here to Help
At Johnstown Heights Behavioral Health, we understand the many ways in which grief and mental health disorders may interact. We are here to listen and to provide personalized, evidence-based, compassionate care. Grief can make you feel as though you are carrying around a heavy weight. We are here to help lighten the load.