The Nature of Loss
For most of us, it is safe to say that we have experienced grief in our lives at one point or another. The loss can come in many forms: the passing of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, or declining health. We often grieve when we lose a job, home, or income as well. When we are in a state of overwhelm and uncertainty, it can be difficult to navigate our day-to-day lives. But it is important to understand the process of grief and how to take steps towards healing our sorrow. Here are several methods for gently supporting your journey through self-care, aromatherapy, and medicinal herbs.
The Stages and Qualities of Grief
While most are familiar with the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and the five stages of grief, few realize that she was writing about what we experience when we are confronting our own death—not the death of another. Over the years her ideas were adopted by counselors to help us understand the grief we feel when we lose someone. However, a rich body of work has since emerged that has drawn different understandings and conclusions.
Researchers on grief now believe there are three main aspects of the grieving process. Namely, that grief is a highly unique process for each person, it does not have a specific timetable, and people often feel as though their lives are better after experiencing grief—otherwise known as “post-stress growth.”
Will Meek, Ph.D., a counseling psychologist, notes that the work of Sidney Zisook, MD has shown there are four significant aspects of grief which can surface in different forms, depending on the individual. These include:
Separation Distress: You have a combination of feelings like sadness, anxiety, pain, helplessness, anger, shame, yearning, loneliness.
Traumatic Distress: This includes states of disbelief and shock, intrusions, and efforts to avoid intrusions and the spike of emotions they produce.
Guilt, remorse, and regrets.
We may question whether our grief is “normal”. Zisook believes there isn’t a simple answer because grief is different for every person and each loss.
First, grief is not a state, but rather a process. Second, the grief process typically proceeds in fits and starts, with attention oscillating to and from the painful reality of the death. Third, the spectrum of emotional, cognitive, social and behavioral disruptions of grief is broad, ranging from barely noticeable alterations to profound anguish and dysfunction.2
Whether we are experiencing uncomplicated (normal) grief or complicated grief and grief-related clinical depression, self-care can be helpful in supporting you throughout the grieving process. I would like to note that if you are experiencing major depression or symptoms of complicated grief, it is important to seek professional medical assistance.
The Importance of Self-Care
Taking care of ourselves when we are experiencing grief is a crucial aspect of healing the pain. Attending to our physical health by eating well, getting enough quality sleep, drinking plenty of water, and spending time in nature are key.
Moreover, aromatherapy with essential oils can help to soothe the nervous system, calm the mind, and promote sound sleep. Helpful options include:
- Ylang Ylang
Safety: Always dilute essential oils in a carrier oil before application to the skin. If you are pregnant or nursing, avoid use unless under the guidance of a medical professional.
Since insomnia often goes hand-in-hand with grief, medicinal herbs that help support restorative sleep are an important element of healing. Valerian and Passion flower are two of my favorites. You can learn more about the additional herbs that I recommend for deep, restful sleep in the post, My 6 Favorite Herbs for Defeating Insomnia Once and For All.
If you are experiencing anxiety and fear over loss, specific herbal remedies are a gentle and effective way to soothe your spirit. These include adaptogens Ashwaganda and Reishi Mushroom, as well as calming Lemon Balm and clarifying Lion’s Mane Mushroom. All are found in my Anxiety and Stress Tincture blend in the Apothecary.
You are Not Alone
During seasons of grief, it is important to know that you are not alone. While our culture tends to glorify rugged individualism, we are actually strongest when we are connected with one another. An empathetic friend, relative, counselor, or support group where you can speak honestly about your experience is a vital aspect of healing.
It is my heartfelt wish that these suggestions offer you comfort, support, and hope as you navigate the journey of grief and loss.
- Will Meek Ph.D., Real Stages of Grief, Psychology Today, Oct. 12, 2012
- Zisook, Sidney, and Katherine Shear. “Grief and bereavement: what psychiatrists need to know.” World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) vol. 8,2 (2009): 67-74. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/j.2051-5545.2009.tb00217.x