Your gain: You’re taking a small step for yourself and learning how to begin healing. Soon, you’ll be on your way to finding your happy again through these very useful four high-level tips. Remember: it’s not selfish, it’s mandatory.

Let’s get one thing straight: healing is an arduous journey with a lot of layers and chapters.

You may be in the midst of your loss, grappling with a loss that just happened, or be years down the line but still not “healed” yet. Because what is “healed” and “healing”, really? While I lost my parents two years ago, there are days or moments where I’ll catch myself feeling some type of way. Or, a particular trauma will come up and I’ll say to myself, “whoa, okay, haven’t dealt with that one yet… here we go again.” You never know what your triggers may be, when they’ll come up. But not to worry, I have an entire entry on triggers you can check out below!

What is healing, really?

It’s best to go back to basics of what the process of what healing even looks like, or how to even start feeling remotely “healed”. Sometimes, there are aspects of your loss you’ll never fully mend from. You’ll just come to live a “new normal” and not allow your losses to get the best of you. You just have to know that and other wonderful things are coming your way, and it is possible. It’s all about reframing your mindset, and we’ll dig way into that. That is the essence of this community and Losses Become Gains.

This quote is helpful to remember when you feel like no one is understanding you, or you’re out in a deep, massive part of the Pacific on the thinnest of life rafts:

Ashley Ertel quote against a soft pink background with the outline of a palm

The moral of the story? You’re not alone. Not at all. So many people around you, and some you may not even know yet, have gone through what you’re going through. While there’s grief counseling, support groups, therapy, Losses Become Gains (shameless plug), Ben & Jerry’s, and so many other incredible tools and safe spaces to help you, I’ve come to realize a lot of healing has to come from within. From your head and your heart, and it does take some work. 

The key is not to put pressure on yourself to make it happen too quickly. And, certainly not to appease anyone else. It’s truly your own unique journey, and it’s one that is meant to be embraced so you can learn and grow from it. Own it!

My best advice? These four tips.

Tip 1: Breathe

If you read enough of my posts here, you’re going to see this come up a lot. I didn’t truly understand the power of breathing and proper breathing exercises until I went through some anxiety. Like, curled up on the bathroom floor kind of crying sort of thing. 

The first time I ever remember it being bad enough for me to really take a step back was not long after I broke off my first engagement. I had just gotten out of the shower, and the weight of my decision to end that relationship had finally caught up with me. It was a literal “what the f*** am I doing” moment. I wasn’t regretting my choice to end it. It was the fact that I had somewhat inadvertently (I was young, to be fair) blown up my entire life and the shock got me real good.

When those knock down, drag out tears or panic or anxiety hits you, one of the first instructions you’d likely hear from a professional (which I by no means am, I just know this works) is to breathe. But when I had to give myself those instructions, it took a lot of will power, let me tell ya’. I was my own therapist and the one being the stress ball at the same time… no easy feat.

So, breathe in for four counts through your nose, hold a moment, and breathe out for four through your mouth, and really hone in on that. What I feel like I never hear enough is that we have to put every single fiber of our being into those breaths. If you keep giving the stressor the power by pulling yourself out of those breaths even a little, you’re in your head, not in the present, and you’ll never get it under control. 

Meditation is another hugely helpful tool I’ve come to rely on, which as you can imagine encompasses lots of deep breathing and focus on staying present. If you’re curious about that, I go into some helpful tips, benefit, and a little of my journey with it in my entry, “Why You Should Practice Meditation”. I’d love for you to check it out—click below!

Tip 2: Give Yourself Grace

I can’t stress this enough. Whether your loss is present, pending, or in the rear view mirror but still hangs around, you may be in for an emotionally taxing time. It may take a toll that’s larger than you even realize right now, and little bits of stress here and there can really add up. You’ve likely heard stress is bad for you in general. The last thing you need to do is pile on with self blame, guilt, or unfair or unrealistic expectations. 

Miss a workout because you’re emotionally exhausted? Let it go. Eat an unhealthy frozen dinner? Get after it and enjoy, you can reset tomorrow. Didn’t get to the dishes, vacuum the guest room and clean the shower? Totally fine, your house will survive. It’s all okay, because you need time to heal and that certainly doesn’t happen overnight. You’re one person, and you can’t do it all. And guess what? Tomorrow is a new day. Each and every day from here on out is a gift, it’s yours for the taking, and is an excuse for a new beginning and something to look forward to. It’s that simple when you break it down. That’s pretty beautiful, isn’t it?

Keep these things in mind if you’re having trouble focusing on finding the silver lining. Write them on your mirror, keep little mantras written down in your wallet, keep a little notebook in your car you can bust out in moments of strife. You may need all the support you can get right now, and one of the best support systems we have is ourselves. Why? Because if we learn to trust ourselves and are our own advocates of positivity, that’s all coming from the same brain that’s going through the grief and loss. Pretty soon, the positivity takes over. The mind is honestly one of the most powerful, incredibly amazing things.

Tip 3: Treat Yourself

When in doubt, treat yo’ self. Sorry, I had to….

But for real, don’t deprive yourself of the things that make you happy right now. Nothing is too small. And more importantly, and this is so important… don’t you dare feel guilty for being happy and thankful for the treat. A massive part of healing is finding those little things that spark joy. So ahead and eat that ice cream, watch that episode of The Office you’ve seen a million times and let yourself laugh (hi, I did that), go to that concert, get that massage, buy yourself that wallet you’ve been eyeing and enjoy it all with love and embrace it. 

A Side Note About Treating Yourself

A quick personal story, but it leads to a good point, I promise. It was a Saturday night in December, just two nights before my mom passed away. There was a Christmas-themed Irish Step Dancing show (fun fact: I did Irish Step Dancing when I was younger) at a venue right across the street from our house. Months earlier I had wanted to take my parents, and we were going to go if they were both feeling well enough. Low and behold, here was my mom in a state of near-death at the time of this show. Kind of morbid, I know. But, she would have loved that I went and experienced that. I know this. In fact, she probably would have been upset had I missed it because of her, and that’s just who she was.

The next day, I held up the phone to hear ear so she could listen to the music. It was disheartening when I didn’t get a reaction, but I know she would have been tapping right along with us.

Anyway, to cheer me up, my now-husband and I went. I’m not going to sugar coat it, we had an amazing time. We enjoyed mulled wine, it lifted my spirits (as that music often does), and it made me happier than I had been—especially lately around that time. I had been driving back and forth to the hospital–a 40+ minute drive to and from home, and after working a full day—every single day for as long as I could remember. I’d spend as much time as I could just sitting and being with my mom, helping her wash her hair, being with her when she slept, all of it. I was mentally drained, on top of knowing she likely wouldn’t make it to Christmas which was very emotionally crippling.

A Pang of Guilt

During a part of that show, amidst my fleeting moments of joy, feeling a huge ping of guilt that I was having even an ounce of fun was overcame me. As I came to find out the next morning, during that show she had been moved from her regular room in the hospital to the ICU because she couldn’t breathe. I felt like one of the lowest human beings for feeling that joy when my best friend, a piece of my heart, was in such suffering. 

I have a piece I’m super excited to share with you on guilt and processing that coming soon, but the moral of that story is there is not a damn thing wrong with smiling, letting out a chuckle, and feeling warmth within your soul when there is strife going on around you. It’s okay. Your heart needs it to begin healing. Do it in small doses if you must. But tell yourself that as many times as you need to hear it—seriously. Life is too short.

Tip 4: Don’t Live In a Negative Headspace

Dodinsky quote against a soft pink background with the outline of a palm

Last but not least, but man… this one matters. It’s almost too easy to let yourself go to a dark, depressing, frankly scary space when you’re grieving something. It can bring up emotions and thoughts you didn’t even know you were capable of. 

From pity parties to thoughts of “it’s not fair” to complete and utter despair, trying to grapple with a “new life” and everything in between can get the best of you if you let it. 

Steps for Overcoming Negativity

I’ve found it’s nearly impossible to filter out every negative, sad, shocking, debilitating thought. My biggest piece of advice are these steps I take when I feel something negative or stressful coming on.

  1. Allow the thought or feeling to come in.
  2. Acknowledge it.
  3. Ask yourself, “how am I feeling?”. Be brutally honest here.
    I highly recommend Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart if you’re struggling with identifying a feeling past “sad” or “unhappy”. I also recommend Jenna Kutcher’s book, “How Are You, Really?” to dig into how you’re really feeling in a very refreshing way to begin your journey of healing quickly, and in a way that sticks.
  4. Take those three deep breaths we talked about.
  5. Feel your emotions, and let them out if need be. Yes, this could hurt. A lot. I’ve found a lot of pain can live within emotion because there can be so much pent up there. But that’s healthy AF to acknowledge and truly such a brave thing to be able to do. You’ll be a stronger, more empathetic person for it. Do not bury that s***, it’s crucial with healing those wounds!
  6. Begin to move past this moment in time. Because that’s what it is – just one moment. Maybe a few, but it’s fleeting. Remember that, too, as you’re going through it.
  7. As soon as you feel like you’ve acknowledged and identified what you’re feeling properly, let it go. Yes, pull and Elsa and Let. It. Go. Thank it for stopping by, but you have to move on now. You’ve got a bright, badass life ahead of you to live.

This could happen once a day, this could happen hundreds of times a day. It may be the same feeling over and over, or it may be something different or brand new. 

Processing grief can be overwhelming as hell, but here you are learning how to begin healing. You’re starting to patch things up, grow, learn, and move forward. This journey of being a human isn’t always pretty, easy or straightforward, but it is what you make of it. I can’t wait to see what you gain from yours.

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