3 Ways to Use Mindfulness During Your Grief

Stephanie Pritchardby Stephanie Pritchard, LPC, NCC

Mindfulness has become a hot topic in recent years even though it’s been practiced for centuries. It’s a tool that can be used to address a variety of challenges that people face, such as anxiety, depression, overeating, problems in relationships, chronic pain and grief.

Fundamentally, mindfulness is more than having a general awareness of what’s happening around you.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is a well-known writer on the topic and defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.” This article explores reasons why mindfulness practice is beneficial for bereaved individuals and also offers practical tips on how you can begin to incorporate a mindfulness practice into your life.

It is natural for humans to try to avoid pain and suffering. We don’t want to hurt, but realistically, grief is part of the human experience. Avoiding the reality and pain of the loss is not beneficial for grieving individuals long-term, and it’s important to allow yourself to feel all of the emotions that accompany grief. This includes experiencing moments of joy and peace, without self-judgement and guilt.

Mindfulness practice is not meant to minimize that pain or to convince people that everything is OK, but rather to help you recognize the reality of your circumstances, and to do so in a nonjudgmental and self-compassionate way. Mindfulness can become a way of being, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Let’s explore how you can incorporate mindfulness into your life.

To get started, select one or two mindfulness exercises that you feel comfortable exploring. Some of my personal favorites are mindful breathing, mindful walking and loving kindness. Ronald D. Siegel, PsyD, talks in-depth about these exercises in his book, ‘The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems.’

 

1. Mindful Breathing

This can be done anywhere at any time and without anyone realizing you are doing it. Mindful breathing involves focusing your attention on your body as breath enters and exits. This exercise is helpful for calming your mind and body, as well as alleviating anxiety.

How to start
  • Pay attention to the rise and fall of your chest, the feeling of air in your nostrils and the warmth of your breath at it leaves your body. Your mind will occasionally wander to other things, which is normal.
  • When your mind wanders, acknowledge it without being hard on yourself and gently bring your attention back to your breath.

 

2. Mindful Walking

This is one of my favorite activities because it also includes physical activity, which can be beneficial for mood and mental health. This exercise is especially helpful for those whose grief has them feeling depressed or who tend to isolate themselves. A nature walk can also provide an opportunity to reflect on the natural cycle of life and death and to experience the beauty in everything around us.

How to start
  • If possible, start this exercise outside and spend one to two minutes standing in place before you start walking.
  • Close your eyes and pay close attention to the sounds, smells, feeling of your feet on the ground, the wind on your face, etc.
  • Open your eyes and take in the sights, paying attention to the colors, shapes and textures.
  • When you’re ready, begin walking slowly, continuing to focus your attention on the feel of your feet hitting the ground.
  • As you walk, shift your attention from one sense, to another. You can spend two blocks focusing on smells, the next block focusing on sounds and so on. With practice, you won’t need to have set times or distances for each sense, but you will naturally alternate between awareness of your different senses.

 

3. Loving Kindness

This is a type of mindfulness meditation that involves self-talk. Loving kindness is especially helpful for people who struggle to find acceptance or are being self-critical of their progress through grief. This exercise can also be done to show loving kindness toward the person who died.

How to start
  • The premise is to create a type of mantra to recite to yourself silently, or out loud, that helps you move toward accepting these words as true. You can create your own mantra specific to a certain issue you are struggling with.
  • Examples: May I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be free from suffering, may I be forgiving, may I trust the process, may I have the courage to move forward, etc.
  • Use it as a formal meditation practice or simply say your mantra silently throughout the day (as needed).

 

Using mindfulness with grief is not intended to diminish the pain associated with a loss, but rather to acknowledge the pain and to face it head on instead of running from it. It usually takes more energy to avoid grief than to let ourselves experience it. You can begin your mindfulness practice today by simply pausing to fully embrace this moment in time.

Stephanie Pritchard, LPC, NCC, is a bereavement specialist with Hospice of the Red River Valley.

About Hospice of the Red River Valley
Hospice of the Red River Valley is an independent, not-for-profit hospice serving all, or portions of, 29 counties in North Dakota and Minnesota. Hospice care is intensive comfort care that alleviates pain and suffering, enhancing the quality of life for patients with life-limiting illnesses and their loved ones by addressing their medical, emotional, spiritual and grief needs. For more information, call toll free 800-237-4629, email questions@hrrv.org or visit www.hrrv.org.

 

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