Whether it’s the death of a loved one or the loss of a job, sometimes we just want to hide under the bed until the end of the world. While understandable, there are faster ways to get over trauma.
When I heard the news my grandmother was dying, my first reaction was to cry my face off. It quickly occurred to me I need my face in order to function, so I created this 5 step process to ease my emotional pain. Here’s how to work an emotional miracle in your own life:
1. Stop resisting emotional pain.
When we resist the negative emotions that come along with a crisis, we both intensify and lengthen the suffering. Instead, feel your feelings. When you feel a wave of emotion washing over you, don’t fight it; feel into the wave. Get curious about the physical sensations, and feel the difference between resisting and surrendering.
When you resist, you might feel physical pain or tightening in your face, throat or chest. Remember the saying, “What you resist persists.” This basically means that if you try to fight off painful emotions, they will continue indefinitely.
When instead you stop resisting and you breathe into your negative emotion and try to let it fill you, it will escape you after a few moments. Grief, fear, and upset come and go—if you allow them.
2. Get curious about the details of your negative emotions.
Ask yourself some questions in order to find out the thoughts behind your emotional pain:
Do your feelings remind you of issues you’ve struggled with in the past, whether physical, mental, or emotional?
Where does the feeling come from, and what’s the actual cause—what exactly are you sad about?
What are you afraid of?
A crisis involves a change of some kind, and humans instinctively resist change. What about this change has you upset? Do you know the transition will be difficult, or are you afraid of the unknown?
Some of the questions I asked myself were: Am I sad because I will miss my grandmother? (Yes.) Am I worried that she feels anxious about being at the end of her life? (Yes.) Am I worried about what effect my grandmother’s death will have on my own mother? (Yes.) Am I upset because I’m being reminded of mortality? (Yes.) All of these questions and more helped me to pinpoint the exact causes of my upset and sadness, which made my grief easier to feel and to process.
3. Discover what beliefs are fueling your pain.
After asking myself the above questions, I realized that the most unreasonable aspect of my grief was struggling with the idea of mortality in general. No one makes it out alive! GAH! That’s a tough reality to argue with, since there’s no “winning” that one.
I dug into my beliefs about mortality and journaled to get to the essence of what was upsetting me, and in doing so, realized that my spiritual beliefs allow for an afterlife. However, while being so incredibly overwhelmed by sadness, I was only focusing on the end of this life without taking into consideration the significantly more comforting thought of there being an afterlife.
This exercise should help you to get a shot of perspective and give yourself a chance to dismantle unhelpful or outmoded beliefs while taking into consideration your specific, current situation. What beliefs do you have around the circumstances that are upsetting you? Do these individual beliefs mesh with your values and the entirety of your belief system?
Can you choose a more helpful belief or set of beliefs? If any of the beliefs that are fueling your pain are catastrophic or “awful-izing” or exaggerated, can you state more helpful truths?
4. Seek knowledge and support to make sense of the situation.
My belief in the afterlife was admittedly pretty shaky and clearly only serving as background noise. I needed more information to strengthen my case, so I bought the audio edition of Deepak Chopra’s Life After Death, in which he explores the culture, religion, and yes—science—of the afterlife. He tells stories of near-death experiences, which I found particularly inspiring, and he also offers proof of a greater consciousness, the potential for reincarnation, and ways the mind may operate outside of the body.
After listening to the recording on a long drive to visit with my grandmother, I felt like a different person: strong, calm, joyful, pragmatic and peaceful. It allowed me to visit with my grandmother and to really be present with her in the moment and to enjoy our time together.
What knowledge could help influence you towards more helpful or comforting beliefs? Find books, movies, web sites, or a support group that will inspire you, teach you, or give you a sense of solidarity with others who have dealt with similar situations. Find out how others have coped and come out stronger, or how they grieved and healed themselves. Look for new beliefs that are comforting to you and make you feel more peaceful or hopeful.
5. Settle into your new beliefs and worldview.
In the days after my visit with my grandmother, when I would start to feel one of my grief-panic attacks coming, I would remind myself of all the soothing stories in the audiobook. I mentally reviewed my beliefs about the afterlife, and how I fully expect my grandmother’s energy and consciousness to continue on after she passes from this world into the next. It didn’t take long before I was feeling eons better about the difficult topic of mortality, and I was no longer overwhelmed with sadness.
When your mind begins to feel frantic, overwhelmed, or grief-stricken, remind yourself of what you’ve learned and the new beliefs and coping strategies you’d like to incorporate into your life. Your brain will take a little bit of time to rewire itself and to adapt to your new beliefs and knowledge. Keep nudging it back and remind yourself of your new, helpful beliefs and ways of coping.
While I hope that you’re only reading this article out of curiosity right now and not because you’re mid-crisis, I do hope that when the poop hits the fan in your own life that you work this 5-step process to deal with the upset, and that you bounce back stronger than ever.