Calming the Emotional Chaos of Grief

Woman sitting on bench near beachA death, divorce, illness, sudden unemployment, or any major loss can create chaos in your life. This emotional fracturing, as well as the practical aftershocks of dealing with estates, lawyers, housing, finances, and doctors often yields intense feelings that can be overwhelming.

When you can’t assimilate another thing, it is crucial to just stop. Even if you have never meditated, simply sitting or lying down and paying attention to your breath can calm your nervous system and give you the literal breather you need.

If it is too hard to stay still, take a walk. It is imperative you give yourself a break from the internal chatter and incessant activity that may be consuming every waking moment. When you think you do not have a minute to sit, lie down, or walk, that is when you need the break the most. Take it, and watch the world continue to spin on its axis.

Practice Beginner’s Mind, Witness Consciousness, and Self-Compassion

A big part of healing through grief is connecting with yourself while putting all the parts back together in a new way that makes you feel safe and whole. This process of reconnecting all the emotional, physical, and spiritual dots can be an exhausting and chaotic ride. One minute, there is a sense of control and growing mastery; the next, you are surfing a sea of feelings.

Part of the immediate task is showing up with what yogis call beginner’s mind and witness consciousness. Beginner’s mind refers to an attitude of openness when approaching something new—without preconceived notions—just as a beginner would. This particular grief experience is terra incognita; you haven’t had it before. By abandoning all your ideas about how you “should” feel or behave, you allow yourself to safely feel what is true in the moment. That cosmic permission slip, coupled with open awareness, allows you to fully experience the moment and all it entails emotionally. While you may want to run from it, the only way out is through it. Avoidance may provide short-term relief, but it often brings long-term pain.

Achieving witness consciousness means retraining your mind to detach enough for objectivity. It is practicing watching something with a neutral perspective and not identifying with it. Both of these yogic techniques encourage you to leave your ego outside. You might never succeed in completely detaching from your ego, but these practices can allow you to experience the freedom and joy of not taking everything personally, while enhancing your chances for greater inner peace.

Beginner’s mind, witness consciousness, and self-compassion can be the trifecta for healing from almost anything. They shore you up, increase your perspective, and allow for enough detachment to see things more clearly.

Simple Routines Can Help Ease the Chaos

Just as in yoga, where each visit to the mat reveals something new, the process of unraveling the threads of grief is fresh every minute. Whether it’s a crying spell, a fit of anger, guilt, or deep sadness, recognizing how each one is unique can keep you open to change and transformation.

The chaos of grief is sometimes caused, in part, by the old issues it triggers, such as abandonment and posttraumatic stress. During times of acute emotional turmoil, being gentle with yourself can ease the pain. Recognizing unhelpful thought patterns and challenging them as much as possible may help you to feel better and more in control.

The chaotic emotional fallout of grief can also be assuaged by establishing simple routines, such as:

  •  Taking a tea break at the same time every day
  • Getting some exercise
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Meditating
  • Talking on the phone with someone supportive
  • Eating at regular intervals
  • Watching the sky
  • Spending time with your pet

Simple and readily available tasks can have a greater chance of providing you with an enjoyable way to calm the chaos.

Related articles:
Learn to Sit with Discomfort in Your Life
Surviving Suffering
How to Be With Someone Who Is Grieving


© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Nicole S. Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, Holistic Psychotherapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • amelia

    January 30th, 2012 at 4:53 PM

    It is so difficult after a tragedy in life to reestablish life as you knew it. Life will never be the same again, but that does not mean that it can’t be good or even meaningful again. You have to work hard to regain those little bits of sanity and all of that comes with taking baby steps toward a bit of normalcy again.

  • Ivan

    January 31st, 2012 at 5:21 AM

    Rituals are critical to helping you get over some of your grieving and get back to your life again. I know it is hard but you can’t give up on living when something tragic happens in your life. You have to keep moving on, for you, for your kids, for your sanity! It also gives you something else to focus on, something to look forward to, and can almost be viewed as your little time for a time out, time to think about somethig good, or at least not the sadness so much.

  • Anne

    January 31st, 2012 at 8:51 AM

    I always say to myself “yes,shutting my eyes and taking a deep breath may not make my problems vanish but it gives me strength to face them”. It’s a pretty accurate thing,you know.We need to put in effort to overcome the problems we have and in the face of adversity,a recharge will go a long way.

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