Daddy’s gone – how I am going to get through Father’s day?

This is a day so many people will struggle with. It doesn’t matter if you lost the father to your children or your own father. This is a day that will hit you hard. You will likely feel alone. Lost (especially if you have recently lost both). Devastated. Even if it has been years, and these significant men in your life are absent, you will find that sadness is there. In your heart. In your mind. And in your body.

There is no point in pretending that there is a way of getting through this day without immense courage and resilience. The fact that you are reading this blog is a brilliant first step. Well done. This means you will address and find your coping tactics. Here are some tips and psychological tools to help you get through the day.

First things first. You matter. Your wellbeing matters and you must make sure you do what works for you. So whatever this is, make it a priority. Whether it means you need some time alone, or you want to avoid the day all together by going on a road trip or whatever it is. Give it to yourself.

Grief is a personal affair and there is not much wrong you can do here. Your psychological journey will take you on your path and how you navigate this is your choice. I have no judgement at all. Some people will want to surround themselves with lots of friends and family to focus on the good things in life and others will want to be alone, letting the tears flow. Whatever it is, it is your experience and this is valid.

Remember practicing self-care and self-compassion are hugely important in your adjustment to grief.

In order to experience that upward turn towards feeling that the new kind of normal is ok, it does help to face the grief. Burying it, means you push it down into your body and the body (as we know) will remember and find it’s own way to express it. Many people with repressed grief end up drinking, having disrupting eating behaviours, develop mental health difficulties with anxiety, panic, OCD and depression and some experience somatic pains. This is your body doing it what it can to reduce the impact of grief. So psychologically facing it is the most healing way forward for you. Especially if you have good support.

With this in mind you may want to allow time to grieve. As I’ve said many times before, Grief is a family affair so I see no harm in taking the children or your widowed mother to the cemetery to lay some flowers on your loved one’s grave and to have a chat with them. This is of course sad, but in practice it allows you to bring the departed back into your life, to think about them, to remember them, to connect with them in your heart. This is healing.

Some people find it very healing to organise an act of remembrance – like a special walk, or a family gathering at their favourite pub. Something personal and something that allows you to feel that you are honouring their life, their legacy.

It may be that for you, getting through the day is going to be such an ordeal you would rather avoid it altogether. This is fine. In this case, what I would encourage you to think about (especially if you are caring for little ones) is to let them know that you feel very sad today. That you really miss daddy. That if they want to make him a card you will treasure it on his behalf and that for you today, you would like to focus on saying all the good things they remember about dad, have a little cry about it (they need to be given permission to process and express their grief) and then you hope you can all find something fun to do for the day. For daddy.

If you are feeling overwhelmed and you just don’t think you can handle this day – then please reach out to you family, friends and ask for their support. Ask them to have the kids. Perhaps they can give you lunch. Make life a little easier and do not expect yourself to go through this alone. This is too harsh. Family and friends care and it is how connections are deepened. Trust in them.

When you feel that you just need to have some way of grouding yourself – grief can feel frightening and you may be feeling like you are losing your sense of being centred – I suggest that you compassionately practice some mindfulness or take yourself out for a good walk outdoors in nature. You may want to do both. This is all good for you. From a neuroscience point of view, such self-care behaviours will release your body’s natural anti-depressants and this helps. Mindfulness won’t eradicate your grief (of course not and in some cases practicing mindfulness may be too much to expect) but if you can manage your relationship with what mindfulness is about, it will alleviate some of the extreme aspects of your groundlessness by allowing you to be in the present moment, without judgement. It will allow you to validate your present moments in the here and now in a compassionate attitude and this helps. There is something healing in validating your truth and appreciating your inner experience.

Below you will find a mindfulness exercise you may want to do. If you need help reach out to professional services. There is lots of help out. For more on grief, refer to my website and my other posts. You are also welcome to follow me on Instagram DrChloePsychologist- where I regularly post advice to help those coping with grief, trauma and psychological distress.

Mindfullness for grief

This is an exercise not to clear your mind, or reduce your grief. This is not possible. This is an exercise to allow you to feel valid in your present moment, in your reality and in recognising what your thoughts, feelings are, acknowledging them and letting them go for now. Imagine you are standing at a platform with trains coming and going. Your thoughts are like the trains. They come. They go. None of them you board if you can help it.

Your task in this exercise is to focus on your body’s movements. Breathing in and out. Slowly. With focus only on your breath. Sitting comfortable. Quietly. Without interruption. Tell yourself you are going to do this exercise without judgement. As you breath, imagine you are breathing in love with every breath. Hold each breath for 2 or 3 seconds. Then breath out your upsetting feelings. Do not follow these feelings. Do not engage with them. Just breath them out. Letting them come and go. Remember the thoughts that come up are trains, passing through your station. Do not board them.

The point of this exercise is not to avoid thoughts but to notice them. This gives you mastery over what you are experiencing. Noticing what thoughts and feelings overwhelm you is important. It will help you with getting through the day.

Practice this breathing exercise for at least 5 mins at the beginning of your day if you can. Repeat it later. And set your intention to be compassionate to you today. Self compassion is healing.

american back view burial cemetery
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

Do we ever really change?

Popular parlance has us thinking that people don’t change – “can’t teach an old dog new tricks” type of mindset. Businesses spend thousands in establishing everybody’s personality type and corridor conversations in companies are resounding with “I’m an INTP… what are you?”. Others like to think they’ re a type A or a type B. I get it… we all want to feel that we make sense. Predictability is safety.

An understanding of who we believe we are and how we are offers us security. Recognising ourselves is important and it allows us to feel normal. I am all for insight and understanding. But what I don’t buy into is the idea that we are fixed into a certain self which never changes. This seems so limited to me.

As a psychologist I spend most of my life helping people change. The point of talking therapy is to help people meet themselves, reflect on their life’s dilemmas, recognise blindspots and grow self esteem, self-worth and well-being and inner confidence. Engaging in our authentic unconscious inner lived experience always leads to psychological growth and change.

Life itself is about adapting, growing, evolving.  We all change. I am certainly not who I was when I was 20, 30, 15 or 5.

We all grow. We learn. We shift. We change our views. We continually adapt to what life throws our way. Of course this doesn’t mean we are widely different every day we wake up. Of course not. What I m saying is that we are fluid, relational in our navigating of dilemmas and we have loads of potential for change. I experience myself to be a work in progress – always in development and I refuse to buy into the notion that we don’t change. We do!

Even on a cellular level we renew. Did you know that every cell in your body regenerates and in 10 years from now there won’t be a single cell from today’s cells remaining in your body. Even your skeleton regenerates.

We are evolving daily and non stop! Our brains have been shown to shift shape and size through neuroplasticity depending on what we think and feel. So even biology suggests change is evolutionary and continual.

My point is that we are not fixed beings at all. We are beautiful interpretative minds that are full of learning, growth and change. This is amazing and definitely worth celebrating!

So in answer to the question “do we really change” my answer is a firm yes. The key to being open to change is reflexivity and openness.

Chloe_Shot 3_019

Will Mindfulness really help? How?

Neuroscience and Neuro-Psychology have been showing again and again, in randomly controlled trials and studies with humans, that both mindfulness and meditation help to reduce Anxiety, Depression, Worrying, Panic and Stress. It has been demonstrated again and again at universities all over the world that when we mindfully focus on our breathing and allow our thoughts to float through us and away, without actually paying attention to them, a number of positive health developments occur in our brain and in our body.

Let’s look at how the brain responds and changes it’s plasticity with meditation. You are not in a neurological vacuum. So this matters. Pay attention. Brain imaging studies have shown that when you mindfully meditate you literally activate the 3 brain regions responsible for worrying (the anterior cingulate cortex, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and and the anterior insular). In doing so, feelings of stress and anxiety are neurologically reduced. The more you practice, the more you re-inforce this neural pathway and the better your brain gets at focusing on reducing anxious, dark, negative and depressing interpretations and feelings. Imagine it like landing strip lights, lighting up every time you send your mindful instruction to do so.   The more they light up, the brighter the place becomes.

What you feel, is interpreted by your brain. Vice versa, every thought always connects to a feeling. Feelings live in the body and thoughts in the brain. Your mind is the machine which allows you to read it all. All of this is electromagnetic energy. Literally every thought and feeling you experience (conscious or not, imaginary or real) produces a energetic electrical force. This is science. You are always either producing positive energy or negative. So the obvious question is how do I produce more positive vibrations? Well the answer is clear. By teaching the brain to produce positive interpretations which feel positive. You can’t just think positive. You have to feel positive. This is the trick.

Brain, mind and body are neurologically connected. You literally can’t have a feeling without it showing up somewhere in the brain as a thought. Did you know that your brain processes something like 100,000 thoughts a day (give or take a few thousand)?Judging and measuring this number has caused some controversy but the actual number is not important here. What is important is that an awful lot of these events (thoughts) occur in your brain undetected by your conscious mind. As a psychologist, I am always humbled when a client suddenly accesses an insight they didn’t know they felt or thought.  It is not a surprise then that we all feel burdened by a sense of a busy, hectic brain and we loose our sense of self.

So our neural reality is that a few thousand thoughts go through our brain every day undetected and we need to learn to attend to the good ones, rather than the negative ones. So the point is, Meditation and Mindfulness can help you with lighting up the areas of the brain which process and generate good thoughts, and good feelings. The more you do this, the more you will help your brain to learn to recognise and focus on positive thoughts which bolster your wellbeing and less on negative, judgemental thoughts which deplete your energy resources and flatten your wellbeing.

What have you got to loose by trying?

More brain studies have also shown that when you mindfully focus on your breathing, you also activate that area of your brain which helps to reduce the volume of judgemental thoughts (the right dorsal pre-lateral pre-frontal cortex). This literally means that your mind is not able to focus on processing your experience of mindfully breathing and of being judgemental of yourself at the same time. So

backlit clouds dawn dusk
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

meditation also helps to increase feelings of self compassion (absolutely vital to your recovery) and nourishes your wellbeing.

Practicing even 3 minutes a day makes a difference. What’s 3 mins? Nothing. Everybody can fit that in to their day.

The more we look at the scientific evidence of the benefits of meditation and mindfulness the more it speaks for itself.

Meditation and Mindfulness help you feel and think positively. How do I do it?

I include a few instructions below and will soon be releasing a few videos to help you expand your practice. For more get in touch with me. Happy to help.

MINDFUL BREATHING EXERCISE

Start with 3 minutes in your day. Do this everyday. Preferably in the morning or at the end of your day. Make sure you are not interrupted.

Sit comfortably. Not lying down. Sitting up.

Imagine a cone of silence around you. Immerse yourself in this. Feel it a protective space around you, impenetrable to others.

With your feet barefoot, focus on them resting firmly on the ground. Focus on your back and sit comfortably upright. Hands by your side. Palms down to help you connect with your groundedness. Eyes shut. Keep them shut throughout. This helps.

Focus your mind on your body. Scan the whole of it. Where are you holding tension? Release it. Start from your toes. Wiggle and release. Same all through. Just stop clenching that jaw. Go all the way up to the top of your skull. Let it all gradually release. This is important. Don’t skip it.

Then turn your attention to your breathing. Nothing more. Breathe slowly. Fill your lungs. Then gradually, slowly, mindfully breathe out. When you do this, imagine your breath going all the way into the ground beneath you – connecting you with earth. Giving you that feeling of being one with the earth’s power.  You can use this thought to imagine you are like a strong plant which will not be buffeted about by other people’s energy. You are strong. Each breath heads strongly into the ground. Keep doing this.

If you find your mind is trying to distract you with a million thoughts, let them come up, notice they are coming up, do not judge them, put them in a cloud and blow them away. This is time for your breathing. The mind will try to stop this but you won’t let it. Same with emotions. Do not judge them. Let them come and go. They are all just passing through you. Your attention is on your breathing. Do not give in to thoughts or emotions.

Keep breathing mindfully and go for at least 3 mins. If you can do 5, go for it. If you can do 10 even better. Go with what works for you. This will expand with practice.

When you are ready to come out of it, open your eyes, rub your thumbs across your fingers, wriggle your toes and gradually return your consciousness to the here and now. Thank yourself for making time to do such a positive thing.

And say – I am practicing positive self-care today and I am grateful to me for doing so.

Working towards growth – in Grief

Living with grief is such a personal experience, I am reluctant to pigeon hole the journey in any way. How you respond is valid. It is not pathological or crazy – though I do appreciate that for some Grief turns into  Major Depression and this of course does need sorting.

My view based on years of practicing Grief Psychology is that traumatic experience in life does not have to be catastrophic. With appropriate care, guidance and support it can be a springboard for growth and an enlightened way of living. There are so many examples of people who have overcome their life’s tragedies. Their stories are inspiring and full of hope. This doesn’t mean it’s easy or that they no longer feel pain or sadness. They do but they have found a way to validate their life with meaningful and authentic purpose.

In order to grow out of grief you have to face it. It is an experience that insists on you paying attention. No shortcuts unfortunately.  You are forced to stop and recognise what you feel. You have little choice but to question what life means for you now. This is an experience which is unavoidable. It is normal to feel lost and scared. It is normal to feel upset, depressed, anxious and disoriented. The old you has gone. There is a new you, you are being called to discover.

The first step towards the new you is one of self-compassion and kindness. Do not compare yourself with others. Your experience is unique and absolutely valid. Do not judge yourself for how you feel. It is normal. Do not be destructive. Put your wellbeing first and trust in  your process for adapting to life’s pain. Focus on allowing your feelings to emerge. This can be overwhelming and I would recommend you don’t go through this alone. Lean on a trusted friends and family. If this is not possible, a spiritual guide, a professional counsellor. Choose your support wisely. You will need it.

What is likely to happen is that by processing your feelings of growth, you will experience waves of pain and with every step of self-compassion you will move towards a greater you. A you that has faced loss, that has paid attention to what life means to you now and a you that can heal.

You will heal and grow but this has to happen genuinely and in it’s own time. Do not rush. Do not judge.

If you need help – there is a lot out there. Reach out!

 

 

Coping with Mother’s day

Mother’s day is a poignant day and for those in grief it is a painful reminder of their loss.

As a Counselling Psychologist I am reminded of the difficulties in navigating such days.  This blog is written to help those who are dreading Mother’s Day and for those supporting a loved one in grief.

This may be a person who has just lost their Mum or someone for whom Mother’s Day is a reminder of the years that have passed since her death. Others may be Mothers who are coping with having lost their child and struggling with the gaping hole left in their life. Some may be Grandparents doing their best to get through the day whilst looking after their grandchild who is now without a Mum. And others will be Widowers who are navigating the horror of getting through yet another day without Mum.

The point I want to underline is that all suffering is equal and valid and all grief responses are personal and unique.

There is no doubt that this is a day that reminds all those in grief of the sadness that they feel at the loss of a precious Mum or a precious child. It is a sadness that does not go away and the poignancy of the day is unavoidable.  The tyranny of our obsession with happiness is impossible to avoid on Mother’s day and the antidote to it is to acknowledge the pain of loss, talk about it and invest our energy into meaningful acts of love and care.

We don’t much talk about loss in everyday life but research in grief suggests that unless we do, and unless we openly process the psychological impact of bereavement, grief becomes delayed or develops into Depression.

With this in mind, I feel it is important to recognise that this can still be a day to mark the value, the love, the care and the meaning of your Mother’s or your Child’s life and to celebrate them and their legacy.  This is a day for looking at the footprints of their life and bringing them into the here and now, in heart and mind.

The loss of a Mum or of a child has a rippling effect and it is always a family affair. Expressing what you feel and sharing it with the family is healing. You are not burdening them. They too feel sad and upset and human beings feel nurtured when their feelings are shared and understood. So trust in being authentic and allow the sadness to have a voice. It is appropriate.

Remind yourself that it is ok to allow the tears to flow. This normalises sadness (which is a good message for the little people in your life) and to openly share the loss. You miss them. You love them. And you are sad they are not here today. And you do want to celebrate their existence, their love and Mothering Sunday is still your day for appreciating them.

So in preparing yourself for Mother’s day, be kind to yourself and don’t feel like you are failing because you are not skipping joyfully through what is a devastating day for you.

After all, there is no right way to do this. What matters is your wellbeing and focusing on that which gives you comfort. It is all in the handling and you will get through it. You got this. But do not expect yourself to go through this alone.

When in grief, the feeling of alienation is profound and nothing feels quite normal. So with the dread of Mothering Sunday hurtling towards you, think about how to get through the day and take time to plan and mark the day in a personal and meaningful manner to you. Don’t bury your feelings about it. Share them. Talk about it and involve those who care to help you through the day.

Some people find it very helpful to mark the day with a ceremony, a memorial act of some kind (whatever that may be – visiting their place of rest, going on a long country walk, visiting their favourite place, writing a card to them and putting it into a memory box, raising balloons into the sky, lighting a candle, arranging a memorial gathering). Think about what would work for you and your family and perhaps (if you feel appropriate) together you can make a plan for the day.

If you need to have some time alone on this day make sure you have it. Spend that time wisely. But remember, isolating yourself won’t help in the long run. Bringing others in and leaning on them to share the day helps to cope with the sadness. So think about what would work for you and make a self-compassionate choice.

If you find that your feelings are spiralling out of control and you are finding it difficult to cope with everyday life, reach out to a professional who can offer you guided support and psychological help.

There is excellent help available. Cruse bereavement @crusecare offer free bereavement counselling nationally and at the @TheCounsellingDirectory you can see who your local counselling professionals are. It is completely normal and acceptable to get help through this. After all that is what resilience is. Allowing yourself to grieve, to share your feelings and to feel heard and loved by those you care about heals.

I am very happy to answer any questions. If you want to get in touch, don’t hesitate.