Archive for December 2019

Mindfulness Meditation & Grief: Managing Compulsive Rumination

Posted on Dec 20, 2019

mindfulness meditation for grief

Losing a loved one can leave you with an open void in your being — a hole that you try to fill with memories as well as thoughts of what could have been. Clinging to memories, agonizing over their passing, and pondering a world where they’re still with you — all of these mental activities can make it enormously challenging to return to any semblance of a normal life. Some, however, are working to manage their grief by training their minds to focus on the present rather than remain tangled in the past or future. Such a practice is popularly known as Mindfulness Meditation.

Isn’t meditation for people who eat tofu and smell like patchouli? 

If you’re like most people, initial thoughts of meditation include hippies in tie-dye sitting cross-legged with their fingers pinched towards the sky. Unfortunately, this has been the reputation meditation has suffered from for over a generation. As ABC’s News correspondent and meditation advocate Dan Harris once put it, “Meditation has been the victim of the worst marketing campaign ever.” However, a growing body of scientific research is busting the misconception that meditation is solely for vegetarians who burn sage to ward off negative energy. The benefits of the secular practice of Mindfulness Meditation include everything from stress reduction, managing anxiety, depression, and one’s attention span. No hocus pocus required.

How does Mindfulness Meditation work?

The “mindfulness” aspect of Mindfulness Meditation is built on the idea that we can train our minds to better identify moments of rumination, perceive them without judgment, and let them go like clouds in the sky. 

Neuroplasticity: the ability to reshape your mind.

For generations, scientists were under the impression that, once our brains were fully developed, the ability to grow new neural pathways ceases. Studies by researchers in the 20th century, however, provided evidence of neuroplasticity — the ability for our brains to establish new pathways and even change shape. These new studies only confirmed old truths understood by long-time practitioners of Mindfulness Meditation — many who had been retraining their minds towards positive focus for generations.

What does Mindfulness Meditation look like from the meditator’s perspective?

A regular daily Mindfulness Meditation session usually proceeds like so: A person sits comfortably either on a cushion on the floor or in a straight-back chair. They keep their spine straight, head level, and eyes closed. They then bring their full attention to the raw sensation of their breath — either on their nostrils, chest, or belly. While attempting to bring their full attention to their breath, random thoughts inevitably start — what the Buddhists call "the Monkey Mind." These thoughts may vary from what to eat for lunch to regret over a joke that bombed in yesterday's meeting. The goal of Mindfulness Meditation is simply to notice that one is, in fact, thinking. Once a thought is detected, the practitioner returns their focus back to their breath. Many practitioners will even make a mental note once they realize they are thinking, allow themselves to observe the thought without analyzing its contents, and then return their attention back to the present moment by focusing on their breath. These seated Mindfulness Meditation sessions can last anywhere from 10-30 minutes a day. Some practitioners prefer guided meditations in the form of audio recordings or through classes at a meditation center. Others prefer to meditate alone and unguided.

How does Mindfulness Meditation help with grief, anxiety, and depression?

Mindfulness Meditation heightens a mental skill known as “meta-awareness” — the ability to recognize when you are lost in thought. Meta-awareness also allows a person to realize that they are separate from the voice in their head that we all experience. Continued sessions of Mindfulness Meditation helps one resist being dragged around by their thoughts, ruminations, and emotions. Each instance of noticing that you are lost in thought is a “bicep curl for the brain,” according to Dan Harris. Continued practice develops the skill to more quickly notice "monkey mind" ruminations and to return focus on the present moment. Several scientific studies have shown that mindfuless helps develop emotional regulation of the brain.

Though depression and anxiety are also the possible product of chemical imbalance, they can also be the product of uncontrollable rumination. Mindfulness Meditation has been shown in various studies to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. In one study, Mindfulness Meditation was shown to be equally effective as medication in reducing the likelihood of depressive relapse for participants.

“But I’m not trying to forget my loved one.”

One possible objection to Mindfulness Meditation for the treatment of the symptoms of grief is the idea that meditators are attempting to trick their brains into being happy. While greater emotional control is a benefit of Mindfulness Meditation, the primary benefit of the practice is the reduction of compulsive rumination and a renewed focus on the present. Even when the present moment is challenging, regular meditation sessions can help alleviate the emotional suppression that can hold someone back from processing grief. Suppressing emotions can greatly extend symptoms of depression and anxiety associated with grief. Mindfulness Meditation can help sufferers start to gain a footing on their own emotional journey towards healing.

How to Begin a Mindfulness Meditation Practice

To see if Mindfulness Meditation is beneficial to you, various guided meditation apps, books, and classes exist to help. Some of the most popular guided meditation services are Calm, the Ten Percent Happier App, Headspace, and Waking Up. Courses in Mindfulness Meditation also likely exist in your area either through independent centers or wellness institutions.

The friendly specialists at CURA-HPC believe that hospice and palliative care goes beyond the patient — also extending to caregivers and loved ones. You’re invited to learn more about CURA-HPC Hospice and Palliative Services today.

Managing Grief During the Holiday Season

Posted on Dec 19, 2019

lonely grieving woman during the holidays

For many, the holiday season is a time of immense joy — when families come together, braving the cold to enjoy each other’s warmth. Beautiful memories are made and past memories are remembered during this time of year. However, for those grieving the loss of a spouse, a parent, a family member, a friend, or even a child, the holidays can be a great source of distress and reopen emotional wounds. While this is a perfectly normal aspect of the grieving process, there are ways to minimize the anxiety of “the most wonderful time of the year.” 

Withdrawing or faking joy are not your only options. 

A side effect of our fear of being viewed as a burden is a perceived polarization of our social options. You may feel that, unless you can maintain a joyful disposition, that you should withdraw from social gatherings. You might fear that your own emotional state may diminish the holiday experience for others. This mindset frequently leads to two false scenarios. 

  1. You feel the need “to put on a brave face” — a fake smile or a phony cheery disposition. While this feels like a decent band-aid for getting through the holidays, this emotional dichotomy can deepen sadness, perpetuate anxiety, and make any gathering exhausting. 
  2. You may feel that, unless you can appear joyful, that you should just stay home. This may stem from fear of emotionally contaminating the gathering. Withdrawing from events as though your grief is contagious can seem like a logical approach. Though it seems plausible, this too can increase future anxieties about the holiday season. The physical and emotional quarantine can also exacerbate rumination and intensify grief. 

There is an overlooked third option. 

What is the third option? Giving yourself permission to be fully and genuinely yourself. Your family and friends love you. As much as they want to see you happy, even more so, they want to see you — a “you” comfortable in your own skin. They want you to feel safe opening up and being yourself. They certainly don’t want you to feel obligated to keep up appearances or feel the need to remain distant. 

Don’t feel obligated to maintain lofty expectations. 

For being a joyful season, the holidays are frequently loaded with anxiety-inducing expectations even for those not experiencing grief. If you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one this year, you may feel that you need to keep certain family traditions alive even when you’re emotionally or physically exhausted. The good news? You don’t. While you may choose to do certain activities to honor a person’s memory, realize that you’re allowed to set the pace and tone for any holiday activity. 

Give yourself permission to be fully present. 

When you feel depressed, grief-stricken, or even just missing a loved one during the holiday season, these emotions can take you out of the present moment. It can be difficult to fully experience any holiday gathering while this loved one is on your mind. When you start to feel these painful emotions of loss bubble up inside, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and give yourself permission to be fully present. You don’t have to force it or condemn your negative emotions, but by simply allowing yourself to be present and form new positive memories, you can begin to enjoy the holidays. Remember that the loved one you are grieving would want nothing more than for you to be fully present and enjoy your holiday season. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

If you’re experiencing grief during the holidays, it can be easy to feel like a burden to others. You’re not. You may actually be surprised just how much family and friends want to help you, but you have to let them. Whether you need help cooking food, cleaning, preparing for an event, or lending their ear, don’t feel like you are imposing on your loved ones by asking for assistance. During this season of gifts wrapped in elaborate paper and topped with fancy bows, your loved ones would prefer to give the gift of their time and energy. 

Whether you’re experiencing extreme grief or just feel like talking with someone would help you manage negative emotions, there’s no shame in seeking the help of a supportive professional. An experienced therapist can supply the professional support necessary to help you endure the holiday season and lead you into a brighter new year. 

The hospice professionals from CURA HPC are proud to offer grief counseling services. You’re invited to learn more about CURA HPC Hospice & Palliative Care today.