Living with cumulative grief - Nalandabodhi International
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I seem to wake up to news every day that magnifies the sense of loss that has become an undercurrent of my daily life. The deaths of loved ones, the daily losses due to the pandemic, social injustices and divisiveness can leave me feeling stretched thin, like a rubber band about to break. I know that my experience is hardly unique and seems to be universal. Grief counselors call what we are experiencing “cumulative grief.”

Tips for self-care

The experience of grief can be physically and emotionally stressful.  That stress is compounded when we’ve experienced multiple losses. Here are some suggestions for taking care of yourself during times of cumulative grief:  

  • When your feelings of grief come up intensely, take a “mindful gap”: Pause, take a deep, nourishing breath and feel the physical sensations in your body. Feel their intensity and then relax and let them go — over and over again, if necessary. 
  • Because grief is so stressful on our bodies, be sure to eat nourishing foods —with the occasional indulgence in “comfort food” — and get plenty of rest.
  • Move your body. “Mindful walking” is one of the most effective tools for moving through grief.  When practicing mindful walking, focus your attention on your footsteps and the movements of your body.  When you notice you’ve become distracted and are no longer practicing mindful walking, simply notice that you’ve become distracted without judging yourself, and return your attention to your footsteps and the movements of your body.
  • Allow yourself to cry when tears come. And, at the risk of sounding like my dear departed mother, make sure to drink plenty of water because crying is dehydrating.
  • If you have a daily meditation or other spiritual practice, be sure to maintain it. If you can’t meditate some days as long as you had intended, give yourself a break, but continue to practice on a regular basis.
  • Solitude can be helpful, but isolation is not. Avoid the urge to isolate yourself.  Reaching out to just one person a day can help us avoid the urge to isolate. A walk in nature can also help transform unhealthy isolation into healthy solitude.
  • Express your emotions through journaling, painting, collage or other creative forms of expression. The word “ex-press” means to push out — we’re pushing out all the intense feelings and giving them space so that we can work with them effectively and in a healthy way.
  • Talk to others who can listen. If your feelings are particularly intense or distressing, unduly interfering with day-to-day functioning or do not subside to a manageable level over time, then reach out to a grief counselor or another professional trained in working with grief.  
Beth Patterson
Beth Patterson

Beth Patterson is a psychotherapist specializing in grief, loss and life transitions. In her work, Beth relies on Buddhist psychology, mindfulness based cognitive therapy and body-centered therapies. Her articles and ebook are available at www.bethspatterson.com. Beth is a longtime Buddhist practitioner and a student of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.

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