Have you lost a loved one and find yourself in a never-ending sea of grief? The process of mourning typically takes much longer than we anticipate. As a grief therapist, I know that grief can take a long time, often extending years after a significant loss. There is no protocol for how long grieving is meant to take. In fact, the grief process is wholly informed by the relationship itself. However, there may be some reasons that we may extend the grieving. If this is your experience, you may be encouraged to know that moving through grief emotions and adjustments may help you remember more from your time with your person.
1. We hang on to grief as a way to stay close to our person
Grief and mourning are an intense and all-consuming experience. When we are processing and feeling and adjusting on such an intense scale, our brain is much less available for it’s normal functions. It is common to feel brain fog while grieving. The griever may be tempted to stay in this phase of grief because it centers the person that they lost. The focus is on the relationship and the stories are about the person. The pain seems to point back to their person. The logic here is that staying in the pain of grief must be the only way to stay connected to the person who is now gone.
There is a time for all grievers when the pain eases, the emotions have softened and the adjustments are starting to feel normal. It is important to acknowledge when the grief seems to be letting up. And the good news here is that when the griever is out of “survival mode,” they are able to access many more memories and stories from their time with their person. There is a sense of gaining more of them back as the grief softens.
2. We hang on to grief because we don’t know what comes next
Another common experience for those grieving a significant loss is a fear and confusion about the future. Moving forward in life without your person seems impossible for so many reasons. As uncomfortable as the grief experience can be, it does become familiar terrain after a while. For some, the temptation is to stay in the grief because it is familiar instead of navigating the uncertainty of the future.
Considering a new future is a creative task, and one that is unwelcome at first. Our imaginations fail to offer a vision of what our lives might offer us as we move forward. Even so, it is important to choose to allow yourself a new future. Moving toward the opportunities that open ahead of you does not mean that you leave your person in the past. In fact, your forward motion can be propelled by the strengths you have gained through your experiences with your person. We may be able to use their memory as a spring-board toward what comes next, imagining them as an encouraging and empowering voice nudging us forward. It is a lovely thing to learn to carry our person with us as we continue in life.
Only the griever will know if they are hanging on to their grief unnecessarily. It is an internal milestone, marked by choice in the depths of a grief-stricken heart. If you find yourself wondering if it might be time to move forward and feeling stuck in your grief, please reach out for some support. Our team is available to help navigate all phases of this process!
Living with depression can be a completely consuming experience. Those experiencing depression can have symptoms like persistent sadness, hopelessness, lethargy, low self-esteem, guilt, worthlessness, and more. These symptoms exist on a spectrum from mild to severe and short to long-term. Living day to day with depression feels heavy, aimless and dark. Often people suffering from depression are told to change their mindset in order to recover. We know that change must come from a much deeper place. In fact, living day to day with depression requires enormous amounts of courage and perseverance, and it helps those who are suffering to have this acknowledged and validated.
Depression has several different causes and sources. There are strong inherited patterns for major depression. There are also significant hormonal impacts, especially in post-partum depression and pre-menstrual depressive disorder. Personality also has a strong influence on mood and energy and motivation. All of these different also create causes can also produce a predisposed sensitivity to depression. This blog post is to highlight when life circumstances or traumas are the source of depression. When this is the case, it is the nervous system that is leading the body and mind toward depression. And as such, treatment will need to be focused on healing the nervous system and helping the client work toward a different nervous system state.
When the nervous system (read: trauma, overwhelm, life circumstances) is causing depression, healing must happen deeply in the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system. To understand the nervous system impact and the healing of nerves, we need to understand the Window of Tolerance. When we are in the window of tolerance, we are grounded, flexible and able to roll with the ups and downs of life. When we have a good amount of resilience, our window of tolerance is large and we are able to handle significant challenges without becoming too dysregulated. When we are under a lot of stress, our window of tolerance shrinks and we start to experience hyper or hypo arousal. Let’s discuss these nervous system states that exist outside of the window of tolerance.
When we experience overwhelming stressors, we become dysregulated in one of two different directions, sometimes cycling between the two. We can become activated and have a flood of anxious or angry energy wash through our body (hyperaroused). Or we can become deactivated and experience numbness and a shut down response (hypoarousal). This hypoaroused state is the embodiment of depression. This is how stressors or traumas cause depression.
Hypoarousal symptoms also exist on a spectrum. On the milder side, we might experience tiredness, brain fog and a slump in energy. When hypoarousal is heightened, one might experience emotional numbness, dissociation, and even catatonia. Sometimes, we end up in this depressed state after an extended period of stress. It’s like our system is saying that it can’t handle that level of activation for that long and it shuts down. In other words, depression can be caused by a nervous system shut down.
So, what does our nervous system need when it is in this shut down state? Sometimes, it simply needs a break. It needs rest from the hyper-activated state. The nerve that runs these activation pathways has become raw and overworked and needs to be soothed. The nervous system also has a significant need for connection when it is in this state of shut down. It needs a form of connection that is accepting, supportive and understanding. The nervous system also needs a way to process or integrate the overwhelming emotions that shut it down in the first place. This typically needs to happen at a slow and measured pace, so not to overwhelm again. These interventions serve as a ladder that helps us climb out of the shut down state, closer and closer to that window of tolerance.
For a sustained healing process, we also need to take a good look at our lifestyle. When healing from a nervous system shut down, we need to choose a gentle pace of life, avoiding any additional stressors when possible. We can boost our nervous system health with meditation and mindfulness skills. We can invest in sustainable sleep habits that allow our entire system to regenerate every night. Gentle, joyful movement practices can also lift us out of shut down or depression.
We at Benediction honor your nervous system and it’s inherent needs and functions, and we know how to move you out of harmful nervous system pathways. We can help you reconnect with yourself and with others by bringing your system back into balance in that lovely window of tolerance.