Pain, whether emotional or physical, is a condition of existence. No matter what your station in life, you are bound to confront relationship separations, work conflicts, medical difficulties, or the death of a loved one. No one escapes these circumstances of life and the pain they bring.
However, there is an old Chinese proverb that states, "You can not prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your heads, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair." In other words, you must deal with losses of various kinds, yet you can find a way to let them work their way through you, and eventually reinvest in life. One way to prevent nest-building is to manage emotional pain. Here's how.
1. Reduce self-critical thinking. It is normal to be critical of yourself for a variety of reasons as we are all prone to second-guessing how we should have responded in a given set of circumstances. This behavior is not only detrimental to the immune system; it is part of the downward spiral that often results in depression. Self-condemnation is a major source of unnecessary suffering because most all of it is based on false appraisal of the self, and the assumption that you miraculously should have been all-knowing in the situation you are thinking about.
Sort out the truth and reality. Test the basis of your false appraisal. You have a right to feel sorrow at your loss; that is legitimate suffering. You do not have to put yourself down for imaginary deficiencies or errors that you think you made in distressing personal circumstances. It's not you; it's simply the process we all have to confront. The best way out is to share and examine these feelings in-depth with a trusted friend or counselor.
2. Give your body a time-out. It has long been known that for every thought we think there is a physical counterpart of that thought within the cells of the body. Sad thoughts mean sad cells: you will physically feel terrible. So give your body some daily down time. Learn some visualization techniques or use two of the most important stress reducers: deep abdominal breathing or a brisk 20 minute walk. You will notice a difference immediately. Never forget: what you think always translates into physical feelings.
3. Change the scene. What keeps reminding you of your loss and triggers your emotions? Do you have to keep looking at the reminders? Do whatever it takes to cut down on the repetitive behaviors that keep reminding you of your loss. Temporarily avoid a particular place or rearrange the furniture in a room. Perhaps put a favorite chair in another place, if it is a reminder of the absence of your loved one. Changing routines can be a big help here, as well as developing new routines to replace old ones.
4. Work to change your perception of the event. Perceptions are the personal meanings that we create from experiences; they are highly individual. Several people can experience the same event but perceive it (give it contrary meanings) differently. Perceptions are based on past experiences, beliefs, and assumptions. That is why, although everyone grieves, we grieve in a variety of ways. Grief consistently, and wisely, results in altering beliefs about life, death, and the world we think exists. What new meaning can you give to your great loss? There are many to consider and apply. The quality of the relationship you build with your loss is critical to emotional release.
5. Take diversion side trips. Become an expert in diverting painful thoughts. Write down three or four positive affirmations (like "I am good and have the ability to cope with my loss.") And repeat them as soon as your mind wanders to the unwanted thought. Or, cut out a favorite picture from a magazine and place it in a spot where you will see it often. Be sure to put a positive reminder on the dashboard of your car. Think of a time when you especially felt loved; recall something that you are grateful for. Get up and move to another room or go outside. Focus on the best thing that happened to you yesterday. It's perfectly okay, and wise, to divert your attention from waves of sadness for various lengths of time, and then return to your grief work. You need the energy it brings.
6. The ultimate outlet for emotional pain when grieving is accepting the loss. Letting grief do its job is really all about eventually acknowledging what has happened (deep in your heart and not just in your head) and adapting to the new conditions of life. The goal of grief work is accepting the fact that your loved one is no longer physically present, but will forever be a part of you and your family. Love never dies. Acceptance is facilitated by establishing a new relationship with the beloved based on memory and traditions.
It is healthy to talk to the deceased, pray for assistance from him / her if you so believe, and celebrate the life of the loved one. For example, when my mother-in-law was still alive, she would take my wife and me out for dinner on her husband's birthday. She would say, "This is on Al." And, it was said in his honor and we would talk about him. You can create your own ways to keep the memory of your loved one alive on birthdays, anniversaries, or family reunions. And, let the tears come as they may.
All of the above will help you modify and find outlets for the normal emotional response that is bound to come from the death of a loved one. Reread the above. Pick out one of the suggestions and start implementing it today. You can not change the past, but you can always change the way you react to the past. Psychological health depends on emotional expression, both verbally and symbolically. Let your emotions out; it is a normal human response. It is all good.