Thoughts have power. When Dr. Seuss reminisced on “all the thinks you can think,” he never seemed to mention the thoughts that can break your heart, cripple your spirit and devastate your plans. The thing is, when you’re grieving, your thoughts can be your worst enemy – or your greatest strength. And when you’re grieving or under stress, controlling your thoughts might feel like a completely overwhelming task.
Unfortunately, many people suffering from a loss choose instead to avoid thinking entirely. Rather than facing a new reality with honesty, they evade the thoughts that hurt. The thing is, death (and other losses) is a natural part of life. When you avoid thinking about it, you don’t gain power ― and you certainly don’t heal.
How to think
After a loss, your mind is like a toddler – you can’t just let it roam unattended. Your thoughts create your feelings – not the other way around. You already know that positive thinking is powerful in any situation. In my book “What I Wish I’d Known: Finding Your Way Through the Tunnel of Grief” I share an important caveat; positive thinking is different than “positive-only thinking,” where you avoid negativity (and essentially, reality). It’s important to remember your loved one as he or she was – both the positive and the negative. Here are a few things to remember when you think of your loss:
Don’t block memories. These memories might include painful ones, like how he or she suffered from a long-term illness, or the death itself. All lives deserve to be recognized for what they really were.
Recognize STUG. Sudden temporary upsurges of grief are normal, and they can happen years after the trauma occurred. This is because outside triggers can cause grief to resurface or intensify. This is normal, so don’t beat yourself up about it.
Identify your triggers. Certain situations, people, places or even items might be triggers for STUG. When you experience an external trigger, recognize it and write it down. Remember these triggers for what they are and you’ll be better prepared to manage them.
Don’t punish yourself. Triggers will happen, and more than likely, you’ll react to them. Allow it to happen. Feel it. Then let it go.
Let the negative thoughts come. They’ll come anyway, so let yourself feel the negativity. Then play what I call the “yes, but” game, where you find a positive aspect in the thought.
Embrace positive self-talk. When you’re stuck in fear, you are fixated on negative self-talk. Your conversations likely include a lot of “I can’t…” “I shouldn’t…” and “I won’t….” Positive self-talk, on the other hand, includes “It would be good to…” “I’m thankful for...” and “It’s okay to…”
Use thought anchors. Just as actual anchors keep boats from drifting into open waters, thought anchors keep your thoughts from “wandering” into unproductive territories. I start each day with a mantra of thought anchors, repeating them before I leave the house (and sometimes throughout the day). In my book, I list the thought anchors that have helped me the most. I’ve included a few here:
- It’s healthy to grieve.
- I have an attitude of gratitude.
- I’m open to being happy again.
- My body is healthy, my mind is sharp and my soul is tranquil.
For more information on healthy grieving, visit www.thegriefgirl.com.