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5 Techniques for Managing Stress and Grief

When you lose a loved one, you may feel a varying storm of emotions: numbness and shock, confusion and depression, isolation and anger. And many of these feelings become amplified as you plan for the funeral. You may feel hurt and frustrated that you have to call the funeral home, break the news to family and friends, or meet with a lawyer to discuss the last will and testament.

Your grief and pain may leave you overwhelmed and stressed to the point of breaking. You hardly sleep, and you zone out for hours at a time. Occasionally, you take out your stress on others, lashing out in angry outbursts and saying things you know you'll regret later.

While these feelings are normal, remember that you can take steps to manage your emotions and react in a healthy way. Use the following techniques to relax and relieve your inner tension.

1. Manage Your Time

Oftentimes death comes unexpectedly. Car crashes, illness, and other accidents claim lives much too soon, leaving you little time to prepare. But you do have time.

With the exception of certain religions (such as Judaism), many situations allow you delay the funeral for several days and even weeks. Your funeral service provider knows methods to preserve bodies for several weeks, so don't feel pressure to have the funeral as soon as possible.

Take time to analyze your schedule and responsibilities, and then break down each day into hourly tasks. If you feel like you have too much on your plate, distinguish your assignments into "must" and "should." Push the "should" items to the bottom of your list, or take them off your list entirely so you don't feel overwhelmed.

2. Learn to Say "No"

Your friends and family will likely turn to you for emotional support and guidance. They may expect you to write the obituary, give the eulogy, or cook the meals during this time. While performing some of these tasks may give you a sense of purpose, be aware of your limits and stick to them. Don't take on more than you can handle, and don't be afraid to turn down tasks or reassign them to someone else.

Remember: when you say "no," you are not necessarily selfish. Rather, you honor existing commitments by devoting your full attention and time to them. When you focus on what matters most, you take the guilt and stress out of the equation.

Not sure how to say no? Keep it simple and brief. You don't need to give elaborate justifications or explanations. Simply give respectful and honest answers.

3. Share Your Feelings

When the world seems to crumble around you, you may feel the urge to become the pillar of strength for everyone else. You may wish to bottle up your feelings or ignore them entirely to give the illusion that the death doesn't bother you.

However, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health observed that suppressing emotions increases the risk of certain health conditions, including heart disease and cancer.

Tori Rodriguez, psychotherapist, explains, "Attempting to suppress thoughts can backfire and even diminish our sense of contentment." And she goes on to say that acknowledging life’s complexities leads to psychological well-being.

So talk to a trusted friend or phone a close family member. Discuss fond memories of your loved one, or express the frustration of scheduling funeral plans and planning meals. Verbalize your emotions so you can create a positive environment for healing.

4. Do Something You Enjoy

As you meet with friends and neighbors and make additional plans, don't become so caught up in the hustle and bustle that you forget yourself. Even if you feel pressured and rushed to complete items on your checklist as quickly as possible, you should set aside time in your schedule to unwind and do something you enjoy.

Some relaxing activities could include:

  • Spending time in nature
  • Writing in your journal
  • Taking a long bath
  • Lighting scented candles
  • Slowly sipping a warm cup of tea or cocoa
  • Getting a massage
  • Curling up with a good book
  • Listening to music
  • Meditating

Although these activities may feel self-indulgent at first, remind yourself that you deserve just as much attention and care as those around you.

5. Seek Professional Help and Counseling

As you cope with the loss of a loved one and the stress that comes with it, remember that you don't have to deal with the event on your own.

Friends and family members can give you emotional support and guidance. Therapists and doctors can offer you advice for coping with depression, anxiety, and stress. And funeral planners can manage the services, plan the dates, and select the markers and headstones for you.

With a solid support group, you'll soon develop a clearer understanding of your situation and the best method for approaching your future with hope and confidence.