By Kate Halim
For many people, losing a loved one can be one of the most difficult things they will experience in life. To such people, coping with their grief can be overwhelming.
Dr Adedotun Ajiboye, a clinical psychologist at Ekiti State Teaching Hospital told Saturday Sun that grief is an emotional response to any loss. He added that it can be the loss of money, a house, a job or the loss of loved ones. “When you lose something, there is a possibility for you to be grieved about what and who you have lost.”
Ajiboye added that while trying to cope with a loss, people use different coping mechanisms. “Some of these mechanisms are negative while some are positive, but positive coping mechanisms are beneficial and healthy.”
Ajiboye noted that coping with grief in a negative way is like pushing your problems to the future and hoping it doesn’t affect you in the long run. He stated that if you repress your feelings after you lose a loved one, it will make matters worse mentally.
“If you visit a bereaved person and you are telling the person not to cry, that is not normal. If a man loses his wife, or a woman loses her husband, telling the person not to cry is not normal. But because of our cultural beliefs and the presence of sympathisers, the bereaved person tries to repress their feelings, which is a negative coping mechanism,” he said.
He added: “Our mind is divided into three parts namely the conscious mind, the subconscious mind and the unconscious mind. When our emotions are repressed, they go into the unconscious mind. One may not even remember that they have unresolved trauma as they live but in their later years, when there are other pressures apart from the loss the person suffered in the past, it leads to more emotional and mental stress. This is known as unresolved conflict of the unconscious mind. It can also spring up when one remembers their dead loved ones and because it wasn’t resolved, it can lead to a mental episode. That is a negative coping mechanism.”
Ajiboye, who has a PhD. in Clinical Psychology, is also the Founder and Executive Director of Hope Initiative on Mental Wellness, an anti-drug society and mental health non-governmental organisation.
He outlined 10 healthy ways people can cope with the grief of losing someone they love and they are listed below:
One: Ventilate your feelings
I don’t stop my clients from crying during psychotherapy sections unless the cries are unnecessary. I allow them to cry because it is therapeutic. If my client cries during therapy, I have achieved something with that client during that session. If you lose someone you love and you want to cry, do that. If you want to shout, do so but don’t cry at the expense of your health. If you have been crying and it is leading to migraine, and insomnia and you have lost your voice from crying and wailing, you need to stop. This is one of the ways people can cope positively with grief.
Two: You have to be physically active
If someone is bereaved, they have to be physically active. This is also good for coping with the challenges of life. When you are down emotionally, you are not supposed to stay down. If you are facing a challenge, you are not supposed to stay alone in your room sleeping, thinking and rolling on the bed. When you are down, your brain’s neurotransmitter known as dopamine is reduced. But when you exercise your body by running, going to the gym, taking long walks, and dancing to the songs you love, you will do your body and mind good.
It has been medically proven that there is a relationship between physical exercise and good mental health. If you exercise regularly, blood will be pumped into your brain and supply the chemicals needed for mental wellness. When somebody is grieving, it is not healthy to lock the person up somewhere. It is not healthy to subject a grieving person to staying indoors for months mourning their dead loved ones because it can lead to depression.
If a grieving person is not physically exercising his or her body, then they are not mourning the right way. Doing household chores, walking around the neighbourhood, cooking your food, going out and relating with other people will help someone deal with grief better. People who go to sympathise with someone that is bereaved shouldn’t stay too long with the person because they might want to spend time alone.
Three: Spend time alone to come to terms with what happened
When a grieving person spends time alone, they are looking at what happened with maturity. If the person who lost a loved one is religious, spending time alone will help them hold on to the word of God and also pray about what they are going through. Even though the grieving person might not be able to say some things in the presence of family members and sympathisers, they can do so when they are alone and make peace with what has happened.
When a person who is grieving spends time alone to talk to themselves, they can psyche themselves up, make peace with their present reality and make plans to move on. This doesn’t mean staying alone, cutting off people and not relating with other people. This might lead to depression and suicidal thoughts. It is important for family members and friends to closely monitor a bereaved person even if they must spend time alone in meditation.
Four: Forgive yourself
There are people who feel guilty about losing a loved one. You cannot repair the situation by beating yourself up about it forever. All you have to do is make amends and make sure the situation doesn’t repeat itself again. One of the things that cause mental problems, especially in this generation is the inability to forgive oneself for past mistakes.
The moment you begin to think from one place to another with your imagination running wild with blame thoughts, including what exists and what doesn’t exist, you can develop hypertension. Over-thinking and blaming yourself for losing a loved one can lead to anxiety disorder and depression. People should forgive themselves if the loss is their fault.
For example, when someone unknowingly kills someone in a car accident, they can develop post-traumatic stress disorder because they keep blaming themselves for what happened. When they keep replaying that episode all the time, they will start feeling bad about their actions. They keep going over what happened over and over again until it drives them insane. The person also develops fear about certain things and places where something bad happened which led to the death of someone.
Five: Take care of yourself
Taking care of yourself when grieving is not one-sided. You need to take care of yourself physically, psychologically, socially, emotionally, and even spiritually. Don’t neglect any aspect of your life when mourning over a loved one. If you take care of one aspect and leave the rest, it will still affect you in the long run. If you don’t take cognizance of your emotions, thought process, the way you relate with people, your dressing and your health, you are not coping with your loss the healthy way.
When you dress well, you feel happy. When you dress well, you will elevate your feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. When you have poor self-esteem, there is a possibility that you might become depressed. This is because having inferiority feelings and believing that you don’t match up with other people will damage your self-worth and make you depressed. You don’t have to mourn endlessly over your loved one. If you mourn from now till eternity, it won’t change what has happened.
Six: Advance despite adversity
Something bad has happened to you but are you going to stay down forever? If you have lost a loved one, they are not coming back again. You can’t say that because you lost someone, everything about your life will go to hell. You don’t have to abandon your education, career, or participation in corporate social responsibility and business because you are grieving a loved one.
You have to accept reality and look for ways to deal with your loss as well as compensate yourself. You can go and pick a master’s degree form, start a new business, use your skill to work and do something that you will be proud of.
If you stay glued to your loss and abandon everything about your life, you will start feeling irrelevant after a while. Feelings of inferiority will set in. You may start feeling bad about people who have moved forward.
Seven: Find ways to be creative
While grieving, you can also unleash your creative side. You can decide to pick up music, you can try your hands at decorating, and you can learn how to play a musical instrument. You can also develop your artistic side.
When you see yourself doing well despite the loss you suffered, your morale is boosted and joy beams from your heart. When you see your handiwork, you will be happy. This will help you cope better with your loss.
Eight: Stay connected with other people
Don’t become everyone’s enemy because you lost a loved one. Even if you think some people are responsible for the death of your loved one, don’t fight them. If you fight them for eternity, it won’t bring back your loved one. If you have been a lone ranger before your loss, it is better to be more sociable when you are grieving.
Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you must know how to handle yourself well when grieving. If someone is introverted, losing a loved one might make them more anti-social. If you know your personality as an introvert, it is important that you brace up and stay connected to people so that you don’t over-think things when grieving. Relate with people, talk to people and go out more and mingle with others.
Nine: Cultivate a good social support
When you are mourning, it is important that you connect with people and they in turn must connect with you. Check on family members. You don’t have to visit these people physically but you can stay in touch with them through the social media.
You can send them messages on social media, do video calls, make Skype calls and even check on strangers who are also bereaved. It is important to give other people who are mourning social support because doing that will also improve your mental health.
Ten: Re-enforce yourself
It is important to re-enforce yourself while grieving the loss of a loved one. Even though you are mourning the death of someone dear to you, you can spoil yourself too. Grieving doesn’t mean that you have to lose yourself and your will to live.
You can reward yourself with your favourite foods. You can go out and buy yourself ice cream or do something that will make you remember your dead loved one fondly. Doing that will encourage you to live better after losing a loved one.