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Finding Meaning As We Move Through Grief

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One of the most formative experiences of my life was losing my Dad to colon cancer when I was 11. The grief that I experienced at such a young age, coupled with the harsh realization of my own mortality, and eventually, the passion and meaning that came out of his death cannot be understated.

We all will experience grief in our lives. It’s a simple fact that we face the death of a loved one, and our ability to support ourselves and others through the grief process is so important to develop.

This week, I’m speaking with Kimberley Pittman-Schulz. She is is an award-winning poet and author who writes, teaches, and speaks about death and loss, living mindfully, and being a force for change in the world.

We have a powerful conversation about the different ways that grief can manifest within each of us, and the ways we can support ourselves, depending upon our individual experiences. We talk about the critical role that mindfulness can play in our healing. We also talk about grief as a complex mixture of several emotions, as well as the role that joy plays in the grief process.

This is a deep episode but such a meaningful one. You won’t want to miss it.

Visit PoetOwl.com/psychologicalstrength to learn more about Kimberley’s new book Grieving Us: A Field Guide for Living with Loss without Losing Yourself

In grief, meaning can fall away with the sense of loss. Moving through the stages of grief is as important as understanding the word grief, and dealing with it as opposed to avoiding it.

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10 Tips for Feeling Better this Winter

You’re probably expecting something related to love or relationships in honor of Valentine’s Day. Sorry to disappoint, but I’ve got other things to share today. I don’t know about you, but it seems like nearly everyone (self included) has hit a wall in the past week or two. The ongoing pandemic plus the ridiculously frigid weather has us in a bit of a funk. 

Fortunately, psychology offers us a ton of tips, techniques, and strategies to help ward off the winter+ blues. So here are 10 tips for feeling better this winter. 

1.     Put a smile on your face…and in your mind.

Smile. Make it a part of your daily routine. Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if it’s completely fake. Just do it. And hold it for a while. You might feel silly, but engaging your smile muscles just might trick your brain into feeling a bit happier.

Now the “put a smile in your mind” part is something I heard during a Sam Harris meditation this week, and I loved it. I’m not exactly sure how to explain how to do it, but I could feel it. I hope you can, too.

2.     Laugh

My little brother used to youtube “babies laughing” when he needed a boost, and I have my go to videos that are guaranteed to crack me up. Find something funny to watch, read, think about, or share. And if all else fails, just start laughing. If you give it long enough, the fake stuff will turn into genuine laughter.

3.     Do something productive.

When motivation, energy, and mood are low we tend to do things that are more passive, rather than active, and more consumption-based as opposed to creation-based. That is, we passively take things in rather than actively put something into the world, and that passive consumption doesn’t do us any favors. Doing something productive will give you a sense of accomplishment. Even if you don’t enjoy the task in the moment, it feels good to get it done. 

Another way to tap into that sense of accomplishment is to set a goal and crush it. Even silly little goals that don’t matter in the grand scheme of life can be useful here. Being challenged and working to conquer that challenge feels good.

4.     Do something social.

Yes, I know this one is hard. The past year has made it incredibly difficult to meet our social needs, and that’s likely one of the contributing factors to our collective funk. But even outside of COVID, we tend to withdraw and isolate when we’re down, which only fuels the ick. 

Connecting with others can help break the spiral. It can also be surprisingly helpful to share with someone how you’re feeling or what you’re going through. Sometimes sharing the load really does help to lighten it.

5.     Move your body.

Physical activity does all kinds of good stuff for your body…and your brain. Without going into the boring details, tons of studies show that exercise has mood-boosting effects; it’s a natural antidepressant, antianxiety thing. Winter makes it hard to get outside, but find some way to move your body, get your heart rate up a bit, and maybe even break a sweat. Throw on some tunes and dance around, do a workout video from youtube, and do some bodyweight exercises. 

You may not feel like it, and your mind will give you a million excuses not to, but, if you’re able to override the inertia, I don’t think you’ll regret it. Get outside, even if it’s cold. Get your vitamin d from the sun to help with the winter blues or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Walking and fresh air paired with sunshine and green spaces improve your mental health and your immune system. 

6.     Do a theoretically enjoyable activity that doesn’t involve a screen.

Back to that passive consumption idea, consider how you spend your time when you’re feeling off. Do you scroll more? Watch more? Basically, sit and take content in? These kinds of things don’t really boost our mood. Sure, you might enjoy it in the moment, but over time it’s a mood/energy/motivation zap. 

Think of some other activities you used to enjoy and make yourself do one of them for 15 minutes. You just might find that once you get going, the enjoyment kicks in.

7.     Try some metta meditation.

Meditation in general is a great practice that tends to lower depression, anxiety, stress, and anger. I’m finding this specific type of meditation to be particularly helpful right now. Metta roughly translates into loving-kindness. I’ll admit, I find that hippie-dippie name kind of cringe-inducing, but the practice is legit. 

This particular type of meditation helps you tap into, hold on to, and boost positive emotional states like love, kindness, and compassion. It’s a good antidote to the dark, heavy feelings. Google “metta meditation” or “lovingkindness meditation,” and you’ll find tons of free ones to try out.

8.     Daydream.

Staying present is generally something to strive for, but some intentional daydreaming can be quite beneficial. Use your imagination to conjure images of warmth and sunshine and all the things you’re looking forward to when this (whatever this is) passes. Having something to look forward to can help stave off hopelessness and boredom and, in turn, keep us resilient and happy.

9.     Watch out for sneaky negativity…

There’s a fine line between processing and venting. Processing is working through difficult things, perhaps leaning on your social support. It’s useful. Venting, though it feels good in the moment, is really just rehashing the same old negativity, without gaining insights or solving a problem. It’s basically ruminating out loud, with someone else. Notice what emotional state venting puts you in. Do you need more of that right now?

The goal here isn’t to deny the negative stuff. It’s just to recognize whether stewing in it is helping you or hurting you. We don’t have a choice in a lot of the things going on, but we do have a choice in where we focus our attention. Less venting and less complaining can make a big difference.

10.  And balance it out.

We’re going to complain at some point. It’s a really hard habit to break. We can offset the negativity, though, by balancing it out. Follow up complaints with a “but at least.” 

“It’s a bitter cold day! But at least the snow is beautiful today.”

“I miss my family! But at least they’re safe, and I can talk to them by phone today.”

“Netflix took away The Office! But at least that’ll make it easier to try some of the other things on this list.”

I’d be remiss not to also mention gratitude and savoring here. Focusing on and expressing appreciation, for yourself and/or others, is important all the time, especially now. It’s not enough to give quick lip service, though. Savoring means really intensifying the experience by focusing on it, reflecting on it, and holding it in mind for a period. 

Draw out the sweetness of the moment like you’re trying to get the most out of the last bite of something truly delicious. Doing that helps it stick in our minds, giving it a bigger impact.

Support your mental health by taking time for yourself. Follow these ten steps to prioritize yourself and your wellbeing. 

Taken together, these strategies can make quite a big difference. I doubt, however, that it’s an exhaustive list. If you’ve figured out some others that work for you, I’d love to hear them!

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
-John Steinbeck