More than I have ever seen in my life, this American presidential election has broken hearts. It brought out the best in people, but it mostly elicited some really nasty behavior and hate speech.
There is so much grief, fear, desperation and frustration out there. These emotions can actually be harmful to our health and well-being, but there are steps we can take to honor our grief, steps that can help us heal from our sense of loss and/or sadness.
Waves of Grief
The thing with grief is, just when we think we are beyond the worst of it, we get hit with another wave, either through a trigger or another heartbreaking event. Losses seem to happen in clusters, don’t they?
My own community experienced several losses this summer. Two beloved children from our school passed away within a few weeks of each other – one by suicide, his own sense of grief and loss inside so overwhelming that he could not find any hope, and a girl from my son’s class, killed in a horseback riding accident, doing what she loved more than anything else in the world. Shortly thereafter, two former parents from the school lost their long battles with illnesses.
Each loss was heartbreaking on its own, but the weight of each stacked one on top of the other took our breath away. Only our love as a community held us together, a thread woven through the holes in our hearts.
The Physical Effects of Grief
The physical effects of grief hit everyone differently, but they are very real. Some might want to sleep all the time, while others are haunted by insomnia. One person might reach for piles of sweets, while another needs to be encouraged to eat, even though they have no appetite. I remember when my high school sweetheart broke up with me in college, I didn’t eat for a week!
While the physical effects of heartbreak used to be scoffed at, scientists and health care providers now take them seriously, particularly the effects on the heart. Grief and trauma have been linked to both an increase in sudden cardiac deaths (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18827773) as well as a short-term weakening of the heart’s left ventricle through a condition called “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy”, also known as “broken heart syndrome,” which mimics the symptoms of a heart attack. (http://www.escardio.org/Journals/E-Journal-of-Cardiology-Practice/Volume-10/Identifying-Takotsubo-Cardiomyopathy)
It’s important to take the physical effects of grief seriously. Please seek out the help of your holistic health care provider, who has the tools to help nourish your body through the pain of the loss. And always call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you are experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack (chest pain, shortness of breath, left shoulder, arm, neck, or jaw pain, nausea, dizziness, and sweating).
Honoring your Grief
Even though we might feel like we are drowning under the waves of grief and loss that wash over us, there are several positive steps we can take to both honor the grief and stay afloat. Here are just a few of them.
Grief steals our breath away. It creates a kicked-in-the-stomach, wind-knocked-out-of-us breathlessness. You don’t have to be sobbing to lose your breath. Often we will hold our breath without realizing it. When you find your thoughts focusing in those painful places, check in with your breath. Are you breathing? Usually not!
I like to recommend what I call “bellybutton breathing.” I imagine that I breathe in through my bellybutton and out through my nose. It helps to ground me and engage my breath.
You can also find many different breathing and meditations videos online. I offer one here.
When we are grieving, it’s more important than ever to honor our body’s natural rhythm and need for sleep by getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Fatigue and lack of sleep can magnify the emotional and physical effects of grief, making it more difficult to heal our inner wounds.
Turn off your devices and especially agitating media at least one hour before bedtime. Instead, take that time to check in with your family, your loved ones, and your breath.
I know many people who reached for a bottle of wine or JD on election night, ready to drown their sorrows. However, what we really crave and need when grieving is warmth.
According to osteopathic physician, Patricia Reber, “When life events make us sad or disappointed, we become contracted within ourselves, even hardened. How do we change this in ourselves? Warmth! Both physical and emotional warmth help to loosen and lighten our dark mood, softening and expanding ourselves.”
Think warm, nourishing soups made from rich bone and vegetable broths, or gentle herbal teas like lemon balm, chamomile and rooibos. Take a warm bath with essential oils of lavender, lemon and geranium. (See my previous post on baths here.) Put on your coziest sweater.
And even though it might be tempting or feel good at first, go easy on the alcoholic beverages, which can actually lower our core body temperature as well as our resistance to illness.
4) Congregate with Community
Finally, one of the most important steps we can take to honor our grief is to congregate with community.
I don’t mean on Facebook. I mean in the flesh, or at least over the phone.
Have some friends over for a warm bowl of soup. Gather to feed the homeless. Host a party to write letters to veterans overseas. Go to a loving house of worship. Call an old friend you haven’t talk to in ages.
Feed your love for one another.
When my son’s classmate was killed, over 300 people gathered in the afternoon sunshine to celebrate her life and magical spirit, sharing stories, shedding tears, and holding one another. Her death brought us together in a beautiful way and reminded us of the strength of our community. We all felt her angelic spirit smiling down upon us all.
Grief sucks, but it doesn’t have to suck the life out of us. Make sure you take the time to breathe and sleep. Feed yourself warm and nourishing foods, and reach out to others, especially when you need help.
No matter what you hear on the media or out of politicians’ mouths, we are here on this earth to love and connect with each other, to empower one another with the gifts our ancestors have given us. Tap into that love.
It's not a magic pill, but it's pretty darn close.
If you are experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or others, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. The line is open 24/7.