We can experience grief at many different times and as a result of many different events, with death and divorce being the two of the most common causes of grief in the UK. According to a recent study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience the death of a close loved one in any given year. And, according to the charity Relate, there are over 100,000 divorces in the UK each year.
Both death and divorce can be incredibly overwhelming experiences in a person’s life, resulting in feelings of loss, isolation and despair. But whilst you are navigating these intense feelings and changes to your life, there is an undercurrent of logistics, legalities and finances that need to be addressed, adding to overwhelm.
In aid of National Grief Awareness Week 2023, Michelle Bassam – Psychological Therapist at London’s Harley Therapy, has shared how we can all be aware of our grief, and tips we can use to help relieve at least some of the overwhelm where possible.
1. Understanding the Five stages of grief.
At some point in our lives we have to face grief and the emotional feelings of loss. When working with clients it is important to understand how everyone faces this time of life at their own pace, with different priorities and personal needs.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross a Psychiatrist and Author talks about the five stages of grief which I work with in my therapy sessions too. It is important to recognise these as nonlinear and in no set order.
· This is a common stage and usually happens almost immediately after the death of a loved one. Individuals describe themselves as feeling numb and non-descript. Although they are aware of the death, it’s hard for them to accept that their loved one isn’t coming back. The denial can sometimes be so strong that it’s not uncommon for them to feel the presence of somebody who has just passed, hear their voice or even see them.
· Death can feel cruel and unfair and therefore anger is a completely natural feeling to experience during the early stages of the grieving process. The anger helps us mask our true feelings, it hides the disbelief, sadness and frustration. The anger can also be directed towards the person who has died or family members, who are trying to be helpful. This emotion can be expressed early on in the grieving process, for some it can subside, and rational thinking takes its place.
· Feeling vulnerable can bring out certain types of behaviour. You can feel out of control because of the intense emotion. ‘What if’ is the phrase I constantly hear from myclients during this stage. This is related to not wanting to face the situation or allow oneself to feel the true pain and sadness. Followed by blaming themselves for not having done things differently.
· This is sometimes a longer and quieter stage of grief. We start to face our emotions and feel the day-to-day feelings of loss. We are no longer running away. Starting to face the reality and coping with the intense sadness, can bring on this stage. Many people isolate themselves, tend to feel confused, overwhelmed, and worthless. For many, this is the stage where they start to look for outside help.
· This can take many months depending on how one proceeds through the other stages. You can still be in the depression stage and start to accept that life will be very different going forward. Slowly as the depression starts to subside and you feel some good days may lie ahead, with the acknowledgement of accepting your new reality.
2. You are not alone
It’s important to recognise you are not alone. Everyone goes through this process differently, so it’s important to embrace the many different options you have. Family and friends are always a good starting point as they know you well. You need to try and be around warm, kind and uplifting people, who will help you through your emotions in a positive way. Cruse is a very good organisation to talk to,or you could possibly join a group. Also, therapy is a place where with the right therapist you can feel psychologically held and be completely open and no longer feel alone – Harley Therapy is a great organisation if you want to have a chat with a therapist.
3. Easing back into routine
The time frame once again is different for us all. When thinking about getting back into your routine, think about your sleep, diet, and exercise.
Sleep is important and can influence our mood and ability to work through the day.
Is your bedroom set up for sleep? Think temperature, light, comfort, is it cluttered. Does it feel calm? Are you able to relax? Your bedroom is your sanctuary, but it can be a place to dump unwanted things or things that need to be stored and dealt with at another time. Eating healthily can help us function better and d get back into a healthy routine. If possible, opt for fresh, nutritious food and try and resist takeaways. Try to get some fresh air every day, walking is great, it gives you time to think and work through thoughts in your mind that can be holding you back. I also recommend starting and ending your day with gratitude, note down or think of three things you are thankful for, in the morning and at night. Believe me, it works. It’s also worth taking time to write down your routine and how you would like your day/week to feel. We are thinking about the new normal for you and you are important.
4. Make Space for Your Feelings
During many times of grief, with additional burden such as dealing with physical possessions or administrative tasks. – perhaps things a loved one has left behind for us to take care of. The addition of these items or tasks can often make us feel trapped or overwhelmed. Decluttering the space around us is important to give our mind a rest and room to breathe, but at this time, you may not feel ready to sort through everything or make big decisions on what we might want to keep. To give yourself time, self-storage can offer an option.– consider, an off-site storage solution like Attic Self Storage – storing the belongings until your mind is ready to cope with the sorting out process can help to create a clear space to think, relax, create a routine and start to look after your own wellbeing. Having the option to store belongings, and have a clear canvas, so not to feel pressured into making decisions Our mind finds it easier to focus when we’ve given ourselves the time we need to put ourselves first and feel emotionally ready.
5. Memorable space
Iit can be important to create a memorable space. Maybe a special place in the garden, a favourite spot of your loved one, or lighting candles to feel closeness. We all have our memories but to be able to enjoy and treasure those memories we need to create space for something personal, beautiful and relaxing.
In a multicultural melting pot, we all need to respect one another at this time. For many religions, ethnic groups and cultures, we live alone as our neighbours. An understanding that grief is expressed and respected and worked through in a personal way that enables the individual to come to acceptance and move on with life, is needed within the community.
We grieve as humans, not only over someone passing, maybe we have gone through a difficult divorce or break up, lost our job or had to downsize our home, old age, or terminal illness. When we have to face changes in life our mind can be affected by our physical surroundings, and we can lose our own identity. Take back control and remember you are important and explore what may work for you.
Michelle Bassam – Psychological Therapist MAPsych & Counselling, DipCBT, DipPsycho-Sexual Therapy, DipPsychodynamic.
Michelle has 20 years of clinical experience and is based in Harley Street. She works with a wide range of issues including anxiety, panic, stress, anger management, self-esteem, depression, clinical depression, relationship problems, multicultural issues, post-traumatic stress (PTSD), loss and bereavement, abuse (sexual or mental), childhood issues, psycho-sexual problems, couple and marital issues (including same-sex couples).