Your Guide to ‘Good’ Grief 😭

There is a terrible thing that awaits us all. Anyone fortunate to live long enough and be born into a loving family, have meaningful life experiences, and to deeply love others will, in fact, know the anguish and suffering of loss.

Grief is a strong, oftentimes overwhelming, emotion of deep sorrow. At the root of grief is a sense of loss – whether it’s the death of someone they love, a divorce or fracture of an important relationship, a miscarriage, or a terrible diagnosis (loss of health, staring death in the face). What’s left? The abrupt, raw wound is the tremendous absence felt from a loved one’s physical death, or the end of a dream about living ‘happily ever after’.

While we aim mostly to look on the bright side of life (also, an excellent Monty Python Life of Brian song), when someone close to us recently passed, we knew it was time to address the part of life that is The Suck – the 50% that isn’t ‘good’ but is the price we all pay for being here in life. When you’re feeling zombiefied by grief here are some Q+A’s and ways to help you cope:

Do I have to go through grief? Can’t I just skip it somehow? There’s got be a ‘hack’ for this…

The importance of participating in your grief and actually feeling your emotions is that it 1. allows healing to occur and 2. doesn’t compound the issue by adding on over-eating, over-drinking, or over-whatever-short-term-pleasure-actually-hurts-you-in-the-long-run.

It’s a choice: willingly enter the heart-rending, swamp of difficult emotions knowing it’s part of your path forward to healing OR try to avoid and numb-out with food, work, or alcohol only to STILL have to go through the swamp AND now there’s extra weight or a burdened liver carried on with you.

How long does grief last?

Grief is tricky. You might think to yourself “oh, I haven’t cried the past two days, I guess I’m moving on to the next stage to get out of this mess”…but NOPE, grief will pop up out of nowhere and sock you in the nose. It could be song you hear while driving in the car, a phrase you heard your loved one say, a random memory, even an annoying commercial…and you’ll find yourself in tears once again. Expect the unexpected.

Grief isn’t linear and it’s not just five stages. You’ll likely bounce from denial to regret, confusion to despair, anger to bargaining, trying to accept to depression…over the course of months or even a single day. Grief is not a race you can run and be done with. Accepting that simple fact will probably do more for your mental health than trying to force your way through it.

As Dodinsky said, “Grieving is a necessary passage and a difficult transition to finally letting go of sorrow – it is not a permanent rest stop.” Onto entering the ‘sad swamp’ and tips to guide you through your grief:

1. Listen to your favorite sad songs. Our brain thumbed through some old CD racks in a dusty corner of our hippocampus and served up a song we hadn’t heard since 2002 – Do you Realize by the Flaming Lips. We were promptly reduced to tears. Very apropos; thanks brain.

2. Allow yourself to cry. You’re not a robot and neither are we. “Tears have a wisdom all their own…They are the natural bleeding of an emotional wound, carrying the poison out of the system. Here lies the road to recovery.” – F. Alexander Magoun

3. Hydrate. It’s time to take very basic care of your physical body right now. There’s a good chance that in this stage you’ll feel like you’re plodding through heavy storm clouds. Don’t forget that you’ll need to replenish your body with water on a regular basis; set alarms if you need to.

4. Read mournful poems. In our brief research, we found a plethora of poems for every occasion of loss. Heartbreak over a romance ending? The loss of a parent, sibling, or child? Check out poets from Robert Frost and W.H. Auden to Rumi. In some ways it’s really comforting to know others have been through what you’re going through since time immemorial.

5. Eat comfort food. Not too much. Try to get a plant in there every once in awhile. This is a paraphrase/ parody of Michael Pollan’s rules for eating, but seriously, food is an important part of our culture and our memories. Making your Italian nonna’s meatball recipe, with extra cheese, might just be one of the most nourishing meals for your aching soul. Maybe it’s the candy bar you and your bestie shared back in elementary school days. Go for a bit of comfort food and maybe add in a vegetable somewhere in your day.

6. Let yourself sleep. Staying up until the wee hours of the morning, looking at photographs of your loved one or watching Netflix might be exactly what is needed for a night or two, but if your kids are still waking up at 7am to go to school, the 4 hours of sleep you got probably won’t be enough to help you mentally, or physically, get through the day. Being sleep deprived + a bundle of raw nerves = more easily cracking the emotional wound wider or snapping at others. Be gentle with yourself and allow extra time for sleep and rest.

7. Anchor yourself in nature. The lovely person we, and the world lost last week, had an amazing garden. Each family member took time meandering around the yard, or sitting in her favorite outdoor chair, and observing the life that she had engendered and mothered. Hiking or walking in a local park can be a soothing, if temporary, balm for grief. Nature helps to ground us all and reminds us that, while none of us can escape the seasons of life, can anticipate and try to work within them.

8. To work or not to work? That’s a good question. Only you’ll be able to answer it for yourself. Some people go right back into work because they feel they can’t take time off; others might use it to distract from the pain. One of our missions in life is to help others heal and have whole, healthy lives so, for us, working our ‘magic’ in coaching clients is rather cathartic. It’s an anti-dote to the external circumstance outside of our control: we may not be able to help the recently deceased but we *can* help the living.

9. Beware the second arrow. One of the teachings of stoicism (and Buddhism) is to not suffer twice. The first arrow – death, heartbreak, illness- causes pain and is often outside of our control. The second arrow – anger, regret, anxiety – causes suffering and this is a choice. Mindset work and challenging typical stories “if I had one more day with her” actually can help a lot here.

10. Clean. Or don’t. This is another tricky situation. While most of us feel better in a freshly tidied up and vacuumed environment, this may not be a time where even any cleaning gets done. While we were spending 13-hour-days in the ICU last week, all we could really do when back at home was to try to make a quick meal and load/unload the dishwasher. That was enough. Now, especially with needing to declutter and maintain the home of the person we lost, on top of our own, the balance needs to shift. It’s a season. Bottom line: if it makes you feel better to exert some control over your environment, clean til your heart’s content; if you are super-fatigued and burnt out, give yourself a few days without cleaning (or ask a friend/hire someone).

11. Let friends and family help you. Many of us Americans are taught to be independent, individualistic and self-reliant. An additional layer to those in the helping professions is that often they have the hardest time accepting help. And so it is with us. Some of your friends will jump right in with emotional and tangible support. They will offer or insist upon providing: homemade soup and cookies, gift cards for meal delivery from your favorite restaurant, tactical decluttering or clearing out of the deceased’s house. Other friends will probably flounder a bit with the “right thing to say” or how to support you. That’s okay, you’ll probably need to think of an option – “hey, I could really use a hike and a hug. Let’s meet next week” or “can you tell me what steps you took to clean out your aunt’s house when she died?”

12. Get in touch with a bereavement counselor or therapist. People who are trained to be great listeners can help you tell the story of what has happened, explore the complexity of your grieving feelings, and offer a hand to help you back up to face a new reality after loss.

You’re not alone. We all enter the sad swamp at various times in our lives. Take care of yourself, ask for help (professional, if needed), and we’ll all float on alright.

3 Tips & The Summer Slowdown 🐌

Being more of a ‘pitta’ type, according to the ancient science of Ayurveda, our fiery, driven nature has often been amplified by the hot summer season. With the energy of a squirrel possessed, we would run around, overwork, explore and adventure, and constantly be Doing. This year has been different, even strange, in a way. We know something crucial: stacking heat – such as intense exertion in high temperatures – can lead to heat stroke or even burnout. With the latter, we’ve been there before and never want to go back. What to do? Instead of speeding up and pushing the speedometer to 120 mph without rest, we’ve challenged ourselves to exit off the highway of hustle culture and slow down.

Has it been easy? Heck no. Resisting the urge to avoid our feelings and inner lives by salsa dancing, overwork or keeping endless social commitments has had rather dire consequences for our mental and emotional health (not to mention physical). If you too have been feeling a bit burned and frayed around the edges, join us in putting the brakes on. Here’s how:

Increase Downtime & Rest

Most mornings we have an intense exercise class and, though the kinetic energy can continue for hours, we tend to get sleepy in the early afternoon. In past years, we would have dosed up on some sugar, coffee, or chocolate to keep going. Not only that, but the critical voice in our head would have shoved us back into productivity. We’d hear: “You don’t have time – there’s too much to do! Rest later!” Luckily, age has come with wisdom as well as discernment of lies and truth. Now, we give ourselves permission to rest or nap for about 20 minutes. How might want more downtime look and fit into your life? Here are some ideas:

  • Take a break in the middle of the day for ‘tea time’ – even iced tea and a few moments to connect eye-to-eye with your kids, your partner or even your dog
  • Give yourself the gift of an earlier bedtime
  • Transition yourself from work to home life by taking a short walk or a few deep breaths with your eyes closed
  • Create a bedtime routine you enjoy
  • Read a favorite, relaxing book with some hot tea in the evening
  • Give even just 5 minutes of meditation a try, any time of the day, to get re-centered

Monitor your Mental Health & Bring back Joy

If recent news about mass shootings, gun and abortion laws have you rattled, maybe don’t add to it with local, constant news about burglaries or random acts of violence. Also, good news may not make the headlines the way fear does but there are many kind & thoughtful people in this world working for positive change. Consider the thought that there is no such thing as the ‘good old days’ because every period in history has had its positive advances and its social ills. We are all here now so let’s do the best we can to improve our environment and foster community & connection while we hurl through the galaxy together on spaceship Earth.

Do you know what joy is? Where does it live in your life? So many of us are not sure how to answer that question these days. It’s worth exploring and pondering what brings you joy as it adds an element of ‘juice’ to your energy tank. Joy can put a bounce in your step as you run errands and be a buffer against the storms of life. Whether it’s playing soccer, baking, writing calligraphy, dancing, oil painting, playing with pets or children, see how it might be possible to add a little bit of joy-generating activities to your life.

Inner Healing

We saved the most challenging, and yet most rewarding, for last. It’s a fact: our past experiences can and do influence who & where we are in the present. While we needn’t spend all our time in what some would call the ‘basements of our minds’, visiting traumas and slights you’ve experienced can help explain how the old beliefs established back in the day are playing out today. Whether that’s numbing out with food or alcohol, acting out in anger or rage, distracting with ‘busy’ activities, or a myriad of other ways, we often have no clue where we picked up these deeply-embedded and unhelpful coping mechanisms. We love the title from Sarah Wilson’s book First, We Make the Beast Beautiful which comes from a Chinese proverb about conquering a beast (e.g. bad habit, anxiety, etc) by deeply engaging with it. The aphorism has been apt during the past month while we’ve been digging back into a self-healing therapy modality whose exercises have brought us into profound inner connection and understanding. Be forewarned: inner work can be mentally and emotionally exhausting & may require the assistance of a therapist.

Before we all know it, autumn will be here – not just with its pumpkin spice everything, but with harried school preparations and planning for holidays. Take a moment, a few hours, days or a month to slow down in whatever way feels best for you. We promise that ‘productive’ rest (not laziness – here’s a refresher on the difference) and recovery will allow you to speed up once again, this time with a sense of rejuvenation.

How to Talk with Kids about Eating Disorders

Collage piece, circa 1998

Inside and outside of school, there are many pressures on children and teenagers to look or act a certain way. It’s hard to be aware of, and control, what they are exposed to – whether on social media or in their friend groups- but here’s a question & answer guide to facilitate conversations with your child.

This interview may pop up on VeryWell.com and the link will be placed here when the article is ready to view.

  1. Why is it important to talk to your child about eating disorders?

It is important to talk with your child about eating disorders as a precautionary measure. It will help them build awareness of their own eating habits and to notice if it starts to swing into disordered eating. They may be able to help identify peers or friends who may also need help.

  1. Should you have these conversations only if you’re concerned or just in general? Why or Why not?

There are two sides to this. By starting a conversation and saying that sometimes people starve themselves, over-exercise, or purge in order to look a certain way, a child may pick up on that as a valid way to change the way they look. Conversely, the conversation, including the detriments of eating disorders (e.g. on dental, bone, reproductive, or psychological health – even the risk of death) may help them stay on a healthier path with their eating.

  1. Some parents may be concerned that talking about eating disorders will put the idea in their head or make a situation worse? Is that a legitimate concern?

[See above]. For some children, it can plant a seed in their minds to try unhealthy eating behaviors in order to lose weight. A child, depending on age and disposition, may also rebel against the parents by doing the opposite of what they suggest and become entrenched, or further entrenched, in disordered eating. It would be very appropriate, and perhaps necessary, to bring in a more neutral third party, perhaps a therapist or registered dietitian, to educate the child about disordered eating and its effects.

  1. Should parents talk about how to approach eating from a healthy place or give any advice?

It’s always best for parents to model healthy eating. I’ve heard too many stories from my clients about how their disordered eating started because their mom was on a diet and always talked about how “fat” she was or how dad would eat “whatever he wanted” and then run it off. Children model after and emulate their parents, for better or worse. Talking about eating from a healthy, positive place can definitely help. If the child is open to advice, you can offer it, but I would suggest letting them ask questions to get engaged in the conversation, versus delivering a lecture.

  1. What should parents know about talking about eating disorders?

Just like other topics – including sex education, personal finance, healthy relationships – it’s likely to be an ever-evolving conversation, not a one-and-done deal. Making the child feel safe, by being approachable and providing support, is probably the most important factor in getting them to trust you and participate in these important conversations. Pull in an expert for questions you don’t know the answers to or for a more neutral, objective advisor to counsel your child on their feelings, the way they eat, and more.

  1. How do they start a conversation in an age appropriate way?

Most parents are aware of their child’s maturity level and understanding of various topics. Meet them where they are. Just as you wouldn’t give a five year old child a blow-by-blow account of what happens during a birth, explaining the tax benefits of a Roth IRA, or explaining narcissitic or borderline personalities when talking about building friendships in kindergarten, you’d want to match their level of understanding by simplifying the conversation and making it appropriate to what they need to know at this stage of their development.

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❄️ Are you Frozen too? ❄️

areyoufrozentooperfectionism

One of the great joys of having young kids in the family is letting our own inner child come out to play. With the recent release of Frozen II in theaters, we thought this was the perfect time to relate this to being frozen in our own lives. Elsa the Snow Queen’s super-power is turning objects and people to ice. She can build icy bridges, stop an attack, and probably make ice cream whenever she wants (lucky). But her power has to be controlled. And while Elsa freezes things, we often freeze ourselves.

How we ‘Freeze’ ourselves

How do you relate with being frozen? In what area of life are you stuck? It could be around starting an exercise regimen, decluttering the basement or guest room, addressing the issues in your relationships, writing the book, updating the resume or asking for a raise. It could be in the area of health improvement, where we want to lose weight or become more plant-based, but we just can’t seem to begin or sustain our progress.

And because we are frozen, we just find ways to feel better about it. Sometimes we distract ourselves. Have you ever needed to study for a test and then looked at the messy state of your room and thought to yourself, “there’s no ways I can study in this environment”and then spent your study time detail-cleaning the room? We may distract ourselves with lounging in front of the TV, or spending hours on Facebook or Instagram. Numbing out with sugar, caffeine, smoking, or alcohol are also ways we try to make ourselves feel better about being frozen.

What makes this even worse is we put a layer of shame frosting on top. We start belittling ourselves and ‘wishing’ we were better. “Argh,” we think as we get up from the couch after 4 hours of watching Gypsy Sisters or Netflixing World War II documentaries, “I wish I had more motivation to have exercised today” or “I should have cleaned out the downstairs closet, it’s such a mess.”

Perhaps you can relate to unachieved goals, shame storms, and numbing out. Have you ever wondered what lies beneath?

What causes us to be Frozen

In a word: perfectionism. It sounds kind of beautiful, but it’s actually one of the worst words because of the meaning and effect it has in our lives.

It’s hard to say where our perfectionism comes from, but if you’ve ever grown up hearing someone say to you, “If you can’t do it right; don’t do it at all!,” that could be part of the origin. In essence, we are told that our actions, and even who we are, aren’t worthy unless perfect. What a toxic message to carry around with us in our lives.

Perfectionism tends to either paralyze us into inaction or cause us to go overboard and, consequently, burn out.

Why even start to clean the guest bedroom if we can’t do it ‘perfectly’ and we don’t have the five hours we believe it will take? Well, because you CAN make progress, even with 15 minutes of removing trash, clutter, and boxes. 

Perfectionism with our food usually looks like following a certain diet for a few days or weeks, then falling off the wagon and eating everything in sight. There’s an anti-dote to this that allows for sustainable weight loss; chat with us and find out more.

In short, perfectionism usually causes us to procrastinate, get overwhelmed, and shut-down or ‘freeze’.

What’s the cost of perfectionism? The cost is not getting things done at all, whereas we could have made progress. The cost is our inner peace; we don’t feel at peace when we feel stressed and frustrated by not having the time or ability to do something perfectly. Perfectionism can cost our relationships with other people. If you’ve ever yelled at a child or spouse because of a small mess or because they aren’t cleaning the ‘right’ way (your way) you can see the effect your perfectionism and words have on others. Also, and this is two-fold, if you value keeping your home environment museum-perfect over having your ‘messy’ grandchildren visit or if you feel like you can’t have visitors due to a messy, cluttered environment, your relationships with others will suffer.

Check yourself: next time you find yourself frustrated or overwhelmed by a challenge, look underneath that feeling to see if perfectionism is the undercurrent.

How to get Un-frozen

The power of un-freezing ourselves comes from realizing that progress > perfection. Initially, your belief in that statement will recoil. How could progress be better than that which is perfect? Well, considering the high costs and knowing something will never, ever truly be perfect….progress starts looking really good, right? Excellence, according to dictionary definition is, “the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.” If excellence means that we can take action, feel good about ourselves, and not get stuck, why would anyone choose perfectionism instead? 

A small step, taken consistently and continuously reaching toward our goal is better than no action at all. Perhaps you remember My 30-minute Morning Routine about how many people create obstacles for themselves to workout when 6 minutes of strength-training in your own home can still help you feel better and see results. But if you don’t learn to change your way of thinking, perfectionism will keep you hog-tied and frozen.

In Frozen II, Elsa’s sister, Anna, seems to display and embody more of the element – fire – in this movie. Here’s where we have an answer to thawing ourselves out and taking action. Fire motivates, it stirs passion, and, if uncontrolled, it will burn everything in its path. So the key here is to find your motivation and use it as the fire to propel you towards your goals, but without going overboard and burning out.

Motivation isn’t usually enough though, so consider other ‘hacks’ such as scheduling your workout. The 4 Tips to Fit in Fitness blog is a great place to start. When it comes to decluttering, check out our experience with the Konmari Method for inspiration and ideas to make it easier.

Want to write a book? Just start writing, imperfectly. A typo is not the end of the world; besides, there are opportunities to review and make edits (or have others do it!). Allowing perfectionism to rule in this area of your life means your story is never shared, in-print or online.

What’s one area of your life where you’re willing to become ‘unfrozen’ and warm up your ‘fire’ to take action?