Life is funny sometimes. Often when we experience periods of great sorrow and grief, we may find that we are awakened by a period of great joy and happiness. Adversely, we may experience a period of great joy and happiness, only to be followed by a season of great sorrow and grief. And sometimes, if God feels we need it, we can experience it all at the same time.
What does that look like and how do we manage the emotional roller coaster that this may bring? This often depends on our willingness to make even small lifestyle changes that can help. In counseling, we call this practice self-care.
Self-Care Techniques for Dealing with Grief
Here are some first steps to take when you are dealing with grief and need to bring more self-care into your life:
1) Find things you enjoy doing.
2) Seek out support from close family/friends, counselors, pastors, mentors, etc.
3) Find an active exercise activity you enjoy and try doing it daily.
4) Find some sort of solitude during the day to pray, meditate, or do yoga or a relaxation technique.
5) Make a list of the things that you love to do, that help you feel better when you are struggling. Take a picture and have this available on your phone, if you need it.
6) Pray as often as necessary.
7) Give yourself time and space to cry, grieve, and again, talk and seek support as often as you need to.
8) Try journaling as a means of self-reflection.
9) Read positive, uplifting material that will encourage and inspire you to walk through your grief differently.
10) Go easier on yourself, giving yourself more grace than usual when you are dealing with grief.
Steps for Maintaining Joy and Gratitude
And adversely, what do we do when we experience periods of great joy and happiness? How do we keep that joy going in the moment and feel gratitude for experiencing it?
1) Work on ‘present moment awareness,’ and being able to relish in moments of joy, taking it all in.
2) Capture the moment of joy in your memory somehow. Sometimes this includes taking pictures or videos. Other times it involves cementing it in your memory bank.
3) Keep a journal, writing down all the moments of joy you have experienced and why you are so grateful for them.
4) Read books or materials that make you happy and fill your heart with joy and love.
5) Watch funny or heartwarming movies or shows that bring you joy and laughter.
6) Tell someone about it! Talking about our joyful experiences helps us cultivate that joy even deeper in our souls.
7) Take a vacation or mini-trip to get peace of mind, relaxation time, and to do things you really enjoy doing. There is research stating that taking vacations is essential for good mental health care.
8) Take a nature walk in a forest, by the water, or walk in the sand on a beach with bare feet. There is power in being outside, as God made this beautiful earth for us to enjoy.
9) Make gratitude writing and/or expressing gratitude somehow to others, a daily practice.
10) Seek out a counselor even when you are doing well. This will always help your mental health stay in a healthy place and when you are struggling, you have someone already set up for support!
A Personal Story
In the past two months, I have experienced great sorrow and great joy at the same time. I can’t say that I remember a time in my life where I literally experienced both simultaneously. And I can honestly admit, it’s been an extremely difficult and yet beautiful experience at the same time.
My husband and I have a 6 ½ year old daughter whom we adore. We had a miscarriage when she was 2 ½ and then tried years later to have more kids, but it didn’t happen for us.
We were just coming to peace with the fact that we were going to have one child and beginning to accept this and possibly considering adopting in the future, if it was right for our entire family. But God had a different plan in mind for us.
I had many years of sadness in realizing that I couldn’t give my daughter a sibling like I so desperately wanted to. So I finally let go of control, surrendered to God this past fall, and actually told Him, “Your will be done.”
That next month, I became pregnant and had no idea. My husband and I found out after New Year’s. We were literally shocked, as we had come to a place of surrender and acceptance that this was not going to happen for us.
I can tell you that turning 40 years old this year, I was not prepared to be pregnant and thought we were done. But I have learned that God has a perfect plan for my life, and He knew we would need this baby, at this point in our lives.
At the same time, our beloved dog Kaleb of 13 years, was declining in terms of his ability in his back legs. Last summer we thought we were going to lose him, but after I made a change in his diet and prayed incessantly through our church for him to be okay, he did a turn around, miraculously.
Literally the day I received an email saying the church had been praying for him, he was back to his normal self! His legs were still old and failing somewhat, but he was like a new dog. We were so grateful to have more time with him, because we weren’t ready to let him go yet.
Fast forward to the beginning of February, our sweet Kaleb’s back legs completely failed him, and he couldn’t get up anymore. My husband had to carry him outside and hold him up to go to the bathroom. He couldn’t walk to his food/water dish anymore, so I brought it to him. He LOVED food, his appetite never wavered! But then he began shaking uncontrollably, realizing that he couldn’t walk.
My husband and I looked at each other and knew what we had to do, but we were absolutely devastated. Here was our first “furry child,” we had raised since he was two months old, from a young baby pup.
He was with us our first year of dating, he was there when we got engaged, he was there when we got married, he went with me on my bachelorette weekend to Lake Chelan, he was there when I was pregnant with our daughter, he sat at my feet at my baby shower for her when I opened up her gifts, he was there when we had a miscarriage, and lastly, he was there for this last time I became pregnant.
He was a constant, solid, loving creature that came into our lives when we needed him and stayed as long as he possibly could. He was the most loving, happy, funny, amazing dog I have ever known and he loved us as much as we loved him. I even think sometimes he thought he was human. As a young dog, he had more interest playing with us at dog parks than the other dogs!
He was a source of joy and love that is unexplainable, unless you are an animal lover and have raised a dog and they have become a family member likes ours was. Sadly, on February 2nd, we had to put our beloved Kaleb down, due to his inability to walk anymore.
My husband, daughter and I cried for weeks afterwards. It was a very painful loss and we leaned on each other and God the entire time. We grieved in healthy ways together, but we all still miss him and cry once in awhile when something reminds us of him.
Needless to say, to get the news that I was pregnant and to lose our beloved dog around the same time was incredibly contradictory to our emotions. Our first baby appointment was days after our dog died. And I know that was no coincidence, as this appointment had been set up before we knew we were going to lose Kaleb.
God knew how devastated we would all be in losing our dog, who was like a child to us and a “brother-boy” to our daughter. He knew, and His plan was to bring us a baby who we have prayed for years for, around the same time to let us know that He was there and we were going to have something joyful coming down the road.
In all of that grief, I saw glimpses of hope, that new life was coming, even as an old life was being laid to rest. It’s incredibly sad and incredibly peaceful at the same time.
This new baby growing inside of me now is new life and something God has gifted to us to say, “I am here my child, you have experienced great sorrow, and soon you will experience great joy.” That is my belief that He wants right now for me, in life. And this is my current story to let you know that even in great pain and despair, God will give us glimpses of hope so that we know that He is there.
What are examples in your life where God gave you joy, and later on you experienced sorrow? Or vice versa? How did you handle that period in your life? There are so many things you can do to take better care of yourself in the process of these seasons we go through in life.
I am learning more every day on how to better care for myself and my family, and so I can teach my clients how to do the same as well. I see my own counselor (all of us counselors should have our own counselor/mentor as part of our own self-care routines). She is a gift from God to me and came into my life when I needed her most.
Again, God showed up for me and knew what I would need, long before I did. I won’t go into the details of how that happened, but she is an angel from above, and I thank God for her being in my life.
I am currently taking a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class, and it’s one of the best classes I’ve ever taken in my entire life. I’m learning more about my own stress levels, how to handle them better, and in turn teaching my family and clients how to handle their stress better as well.
When I step back and look at all that God has gifted to me in my life, but especially in the last year, I am overwhelmed. He really does love me to my core, the good, the bad, and the ugly, morning, noon, and night. He hates to see me struggle, and He hates to see this for you as well.
We are not meant to do this life alone. We are meant to connect, validate, listen to, empathize with, and spend quality time with each other when life is hard and when it’s great. God gave us all the ability to do different things.
Even when I fight it the most, He lets me know that I am here to heal myself through His love and strength, and to then use what I have learned to go and help heal others.
In your time of deep despair, He is with you always. Cry out to Him. He will always answer you, just not always in the time frame we think He should. But He will never leave you — never. And in your times of great joy, look around you and notice the birds singing, the sky and sun beckoning you to look up and breathe in deeply a sense of joy, watch the waves on the water crash into the shore and go back out again, marveling at the majestic beauty that God created for us to sit and gaze at.
Don’t miss these opportunities for being present in the moments that are difficult and that are beautiful. He is teaching you so much, in the midst of life going on all around you. Our job is to pay attention, and ask Him what to do with it all. He will tell you, just wait and see. His timing after all, is perfect, for every season under the sun.
I will leave you with this quote from the Bible that I cherish so much:
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” — Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
“Grief”, Courtesy of Yuris Alhumaydy, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Candles on the Water”, Courtesy of Mike Labrum, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Bulldog”, Courtesy of Justin Veenema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Ray of Light”, Courtesy of John Towner, Unsplash.com, CC0 License