How to honor your losses without despair

I’ve been thinking a lot about the short- and long-term effects of current world events on our mental health. Even those of us lucky enough to still have our jobs and health have a pervasive cloud hanging over heads.

Writer Sandy Oshiro Rosen characterizes the type of generalized loss we’re experiencing as “spiritual miscarriages”, or the disappointment and uncertainty that comes when comforting routines, dependable social structures, and future plans capsize, leaving us sad and bewildered.

How do we navigate these turbulent times without losing a sense of optimism and our capacity for joy?

Walking the line

Navigating this crisis with our mental health intact means walking a fine line. On the one hand, we must acknowledge our losses so we can heal. On the other hand, we don’t want to give in to despair.

Woman stares sadly out window

First, experts say it’s important to properly mourn if we are to heal. Also, there’s a difference between feeling sad and actually mourning, which is a deliberate process of working through the stages of grief. “To mourn is to be an active participant in our grief journeys. We all grieve when someone we love dies, but if we are to heal, we must also mourn,” says grief counselor Alan Wolfelt PhD.

Failing to properly mourn can lead to destructive behaviors such as substance addiction, depression and self-harm. Even though the mourning process is unpleasant and painful (in short, it sucks), your future well-being depends upon your ability to properly mourn your losses.

How to have a “good mourning”

While mourning isn’t fun, it has many benefits. Giving yourself time and space to properly mourn can:

Heart keychain with 'thanks' written on it

  • help you accept things you can’t change. Trying to change things we can’t takes up a great deal of emotional energy. Letting these things go helps reduce stress and preserves your energy for areas of your life where you really can make an impact.
  • increase your capacity for gratitude. Sometimes it takes significant loss to remember how much we have to appreciate. The reminder that nothing is permanent prompts us to cherish what we have in each moment.
  • prove your resilience. You’ll develop greater confidence in your ability to handle whatever life throws at you and come out on the other side intact. Future hardship may feel more manageable as a result.
  • protect your future happiness. Your future happiness and well-being depend upon how you handle the loss you feel now. “Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing, it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it,” says HelpGuide.org.

“Slowing down, resting, restoring, lubricates the gears and renders the body functional in due time.”

~ Sandy Oshiro Rosen

While Mourning, Remember That...

  1. Grief is clumsy and unpredictable. Emotions of loss are complex, sometimes even contradictory. The stages of grief are often not linear, and you can go through a stage more than once. The grief process is unique for everyone, so don’t beat yourself up if the process takes longer than you expect or doesn’t go the way you think it should. You might be experiencing some sense of loss for months or years to come, and that’s OK.
  2. It’s important to maintain social connections. Grief experts agree that a supportive social network and a sense of routine can help us deal with grief when it feels like the bottom has dropped out of our world.
  3. Don’t aim to “get over” it; aim to accept it. There is a difference between getting over a loss and accepting it. Accepting a loss doesn’t mean burying it or forgetting about it. It means accepting its impact, which becomes woven into the fabric of your life. Rather than trying to resume your old life exactly as it is, your job is to pick up the threads and weave your best new life.

Woman smiling and laughing during a video chat

Balance active mourning with healthy distractions.

Just as it’s important to grieve properly, it’s also important to distract yourself from your suffering at regular intervals with more pleasant things. This is how we keep appropriate mourning from turning into despair.

“There is inevitably suffering in every human life, and nothing insulates us from this—no amount of money, success, fame, or accomplishment. But it’s possible to cultivate and develop a sense of well-being, joy, deep happiness, and worth, even amidst the difficulties of life,” says Buddhist psychologist Jack Kornfield.

Woman holding flowers laughing at the beach

Be sure to set aside at least a part of each day for activities that are relaxing and bring you joy. This might include listening to music or playing an instrument, skyping with a friend, going for a walk or cooking.

Tools that can help you

Here are two time-tested tools that can help you understand and manage your feelings better:

  • To keep emotions from sabotaging your behavior, try RAIN. Mindfulness meditation teacher Michele McDonald has coined the acronym RAIN to identify four steps that can help you manage your emotions.. Read about those steps in my previous blog post.
  • To sort out your thoughts and emotions, try journaling. Psychologist Sherry Cormier, PhD suggests journal writing as a strategy to “name what you’re losing, individually and collectively, and write about your personal strengths and coping skills.”. Journaling can also be a source of joy. Read more about how to clear your mental clutter.

At this point in the pandemic, weariness is starting to set in for many of us. We all need some urgent self-care. While there’s no step-by-step plan for how to get through this, there are valuable steps we can take. Be sure to give yourself both opportunities to properly mourn and opportunities to experience joy and hope. Your overall happiness depends on it.

Feeling stuck and need a mood boost? These FREE journaling prompts will help you write your way to a happier place.

Download FREE Joy Guide here!