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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Niver, RN, MSN

Grief Support Series: Navigating Grief with Grace


In this article, we'll explore the profound journey of grief and how to navigate it with greater ease and grace. From my perspective as an experienced and psychic RN Grief Coach and Energy Medicine Practitioner, I will offer insights and practices to support healing and transformation amidst loss.


By allowing the stages of grief, understanding its effects on the nervous system and overall health, dispelling common misconceptions, and embracing healing practices, we can honor our journey toward healing and find solace in the journey of our souls.


May this guide offer solace and support to all who embark on the sacred journey of healing.


Understanding the Stages of Grief


The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and are often spoken of as unfolding in a particular sequence; however, grief rarely follows a linear path, rather, it comprises a complex interplay of emotions.


While these stages provide a framework for understanding, it's important to remember that grief is deeply personal, and a person may even move back and forth between the known stages of grief. People make their way through these stages in their own unique rhythms, depending the complexities of their commitments, partnerships, emotions, and experiences.


Dispelling Common Misconceptions About Grief


Grief is often misunderstood and shrouded in misconceptions that hinder the healing process. One prevalent myth is the notion of a fixed timeline for mourning, as if grief can be neatly contained within a set period. In reality, grief responses can differ greatly among individuals, and healthy grief can even last a couple of years when the loss has been more profound.


The expectation to "move on" or "get over" a loss, as if the love we carry for departed souls can be extinguished, or the trauma to our nervous system turned off, is not reasonable for most people.


In the journey of grief recovery, certain profound losses may never be fully overcome, but rather, we can learn to embrace them, integrating the memories, lessons, and essence of our loved ones into the fabric of our lives. In doing so, we find solace and a greater sense of peace, allowing us to live with greater joy and purpose.


Expecting yourself or another to "be over it by now" is not a constructive way to help either them or you through the grief process.


A Look at Cumulative Grief


Cumulative grief, also known as compounded grief, refers to the experience of multiple losses over a period of time, which can intensify and compound the grieving process. Unlike mourning a single loss, cumulative grief involves navigating the complexities of mourning while continuing to face new losses or challenges. This can include the loss of multiple loved ones, ongoing health struggles, relationship breakdowns, and significant life changes.


The accumulation of grief can feel overwhelming, as each new loss reopens old wounds and adds layers of emotional weight. People experiencing cumulative grief may find it challenging to process their emotions fully, as they are continually presented with fresh sources of pain and sorrow.


It's important for those experiencing cumulative grief to recognize the cumulative nature of their mourning process and seek support accordingly. Counseling, support groups, and self-care practices can provide invaluable resources for navigating the complexities of cumulative grief and finding healing amidst ongoing challenges.


Additionally, acknowledging the impact of cumulative grief and allowing oneself to grieve each loss fully can be crucial steps toward healing and resilience.


Effects of Grief on the Nervous System and Health


Heart Health


The effects of grief on the heart can be profound and multifaceted. Emotionally, grief can lead to intense feelings of sadness, despair, and longing, which can manifest physically as heartache and/or a sensation of heaviness in the chest.


The stress and emotional strain of grief can also contribute to increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and changes in heart rhythm.


Additionally, research suggests that grief can have long-term implications for heart health. Prolonged or intense grief may increase the risk of developing heart-related conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, and even heart attacks. This is thought to be due, in part, to the impact of chronic stress on the cardiovascular system, as well as unhealthy coping mechanisms such as smoking, excessive drinking and/or drug use, inactivity, and neglecting self-care.


Unresolved grief can contribute to the development of psychological conditions like depression, anxiety, which are themselves risk factors for heart disease.


Nervous System Health


Chronic grief can profoundly impact the nervous system, leading to a range of physiological and psychological changes. When someone experiences ongoing or unresolved grief, the body's stress response system can become dysregulated, leading to persistent activation of the sympathetic nervous system, commonly known as the "fight, flight or freeze" response.


This chronic activation of the stress response results in elevated levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can have a range of effects on the body. Over time, prolonged exposure to high levels of stress hormones can lead to inflammation, weaken the immune system, and disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain.


Furthermore, chronic grief can contribute to changes in brain structure and function, particularly in regions associated with emotion regulation, memory, and stress response. Research suggests that prolonged grief may be associated with alterations in the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex, which play important roles in processing emotions and managing stress.


Mental Health


Psychologically, chronic grief can contribute to symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and self harm behaviors, further exacerbating dysregulation of the nervous system. These mental health conditions often perpetuate the cycle of stress and grief, creating a feedback loop that can be challenging to break without intervention.


Immune Function & Inflammation


Chronic grief can manifest as heightened stress responses, leading to increased cortisol levels and inflammation in the body. This prolonged state of distress can weaken the immune system, disrupt sleep patterns, and exacerbate existing health conditions. Chronic stress and grief can have profound effects on the immune system, increasing susceptibility to illness.


When the body is under prolonged stress, whether from grief, ongoing life challenges, or other sources, the stress response system becomes overactive, leading to a cascade of physiological changes. including the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.


While these hormones are essential for short-term responses to stressors, prolonged elevation can suppress the immune response. Chronic stress can lead to a decrease in the production of white blood cells, which are crucial for fighting off infections and pathogens.


Furthermore, chronic stress can lead to inflammation throughout the body. While inflammation is a natural response to injury or infection, chronic, low-grade inflammation associated with ongoing stress can contribute to a range of health problems, including autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and metabolic disorders.


Grief, in particular, can contribute to chronic stress and its effects on the immune system. The emotional toll of grief, combined with the physiological changes associated with stress, can weaken the body's defenses and increase vulnerability to illness.


Additionally, people experiencing grief may engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as poor diet, lack of exercise, or substance abuse, which can further compromise immune function.


Grief Support: Embracing the Path to Healing


Healing from grief is not a destination but, as eternal beings experiencing a limited lifetime of physicality, a sacred pilgrimage.


Here's a list of some things that can help with grief recovery:


Seeking Support


Whether from friends, family, support groups, or professional counselors and coaches, having a supportive network can provide comfort and understanding during the grieving process.


Expressing Emotions


Allow yourself to feel and express a range of emotions, including sadness, anger, and guilt, understanding that these difficult situations are opportunities for your growth and the growth of your spirit guides. Journaling, creating art, and talking with someone you trust are some helpful outlets.


Engaging in Self-Care


Prioritize self-care activities such as getting enough sleep, eating nourishing foods, exercising regularly, getting a massage, receiving a Reiki session or other energy work, going to a sound bath, and practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation.


Honoring Rituals


Create rituals or traditions to honor the memory of your loved one, such as lighting candles, visiting their favorite places, and celebrating special anniversaries or milestones.


Setting Boundaries


Recognize your limits and give yourself permission to say no to activities or commitments that feel overwhelming or draining during this time of healing.


Finding Meaning


Seek meaning and purpose in your experiences by volunteering, participating in charitable activities, or pursuing hobbies or interests that bring you joy and fulfillment.


Exploring Spirituality


Draw strength and comfort from spiritual study and practices, whether through spiritual research (such as learning more about near-death experiences and what people experience when they leave their bodies), prayer, meditation, attending spiritual groups or services, and connecting with nature.


Seeking Professional Help


If grief becomes overwhelming or significantly impacts your daily functioning, consider seeking support from a therapist, coach, or counselor who specializes in grief and loss.


Connecting with Others


Share your experiences with others who have also experienced loss, whether through online forums, support groups, or community events. Connecting with others who understand can provide validation and a sense of belonging.


Embracing Time


Remember that healing takes time and that everyone's grief journey is unique. Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you navigate the ups and downs of the grieving process.


Healing the Nervous System


Mindfulness Meditation


Engaging in regular mindfulness meditation can help reduce stress, calm the nervous system, and promote relaxation. It involves focusing on the present moment without judgment, which can help alleviate anxiety and promote overall well-being.


Deep Breathing Exercises


Practicing deep breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing or HeartMath breathing, can activate the body's relaxation response and reduce the effects of stress on the nervous system. Deep breathing helps regulate the autonomic nervous system, promoting a sense of calm and relaxation.


Energy Medicine


In energy medicine, the triple warmer meridian is believed to govern the body's fight, flight or freeze response and regulate the flow of energy throughout the body. When the triple warmer meridian is chronically overactive, it can lead to imbalances in the nervous system and impact overall health and immune function.


Prolonged activation of the sympathetic nervous system can lead to increased levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can have detrimental effects on the body over time.


Additionally, an overactive triple warmer meridian may cause disruptions in the flow of energy throughout the body, leading to symptoms such as tension, restlessness, and insomnia. These imbalances can further exacerbate stress and anxiety, creating a cycle of dysregulation in the nervous system.


Energy medicine can help soothe this meridian and bring overall balance to all of the energy centers.


Yoga


Yoga combines physical postures, breathwork, and meditation to promote relaxation and reduce stress. A regular practice of yoga has been shown to decrease sympathetic nervous system activity (responsible for the body's stress response) and increase parasympathetic nervous system activity (responsible for relaxation and rest).


Acupuncture


Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate energy flow and promote healing.


Acupuncture can help regulate the nervous system, reduce stress hormones, and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.


Massage Therapy


Massage therapy can help relax tense muscles, reduce physical tension, promote relaxation, and send a signal of safety to the nervous system.


It can also stimulate the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers, which can help reduce stress and improve mood.


Additionally, being touched by another in a healing and/or loving way can be quite soothing and healing to the nervous system.


Aromatherapy


Aromatherapy involves using essential oils derived from plants to promote relaxation and reduce stress. Certain scents, such as lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, bergamot, and many others have been shown to have calming effects on the nervous system and can be used in diffusers, massage oils, and bath products.


Herbal Remedies


Certain herbs, such as valerian root, passionflower, lemon balm, holy basil, skullcap, ashwaganda, rhodiola, as well as other herbs have natural sedative properties that can help calm the nervous system and promote relaxation.


These herbs can be taken in supplement form, brewed into teas, taken in flower essences, and even used in healing rituals.


Regular Exercise


Engaging in regular physical activity, such as walking, jogging, swimming, dancing, Qigong, and yoga can help reduce stress, improve mood, and promote overall well-being.


Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters, and can help regulate the nervous system.


Nutrition


Eating a balanced diet rich in nutrients supports nervous system function and overall health.


Avoiding excessive caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and other processed foods is crucial for reducing stress, healing the nervous system, and promoting a sense of well-being.


Quality Sleep


Prioritizing good sleep hygiene practices, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, avoiding screens and food for a couple of hours before going to bed by 10 pm, and sleeping in a dark, quiet environment helps promote restful sleep and supports nervous system healing.


Heart Math


If you haven't heard of HeartMath, I highly recommend using their Inner Balance app to help sync your heart and brain, helping you to reduce stress and anxiety and improve overall health.


Incorporating these alternative therapies and self-care practices into your routine can help promote relaxation, reduce stress, and support overall nervous system health and well-being.


In Summary


In honoring our journey through grief, we honor the depth of our love and the resilience of the human spirit. By embracing the stages of grief, understanding its effects on health, dispelling misconceptions, and embracing healing practices, we can navigate grief with grace and emerge stronger, wiser, and more compassionate beings, capable of helping others on their journeys.


May you find peace and understanding in your profound capacity to experience a wide range of emotions as a spiritual being, here to explore and learn from the human experience, even amidst its challenges and pain.


If you are ready to move through your grief process, I can help. At Sacred Awaken, I offer grief coaching, spiritual counseling, psychic readings, Reiki and energy medicine sessions, sound baths, and monthly energy maintenance.


If you are not local to the Eugene, Oregon area, most sessions can be done remotely. Book online today, and embrace a life of better mental and physical health.


Heart-shaped rock on beach





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