My friend Johnny and I made an acoustic rap song! It started as a poem that I wrote, and then he added la música, and voila. The intro is a lil long, so you can skip to 55 seconds in for the song to start.
I typically think of anxiety and depression as being on opposite ends of a spectrum; on one end, there’s depression, which is exemplified by the image of being unable to get off the couch- that life is hopeless, pointless, and shitty, and there’s nothing that one can do about it. On the other end is anxiety- being unable to sit still, feeling an incessant need to control life, and ultimately having a physical fear response that is too big for the event that triggered it. Interestingly enough, anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand.
Anxiety is thus a fear-based affliction. Our bodies have a fight-or-flight response when we sense danger; back when we were cavepeople, danger was a lion about to eat us. Today, danger is our boss needing to meet with us or a loved one dying. Loss in particular triggers a fight-or-flight response because our environment as we knew it is completely changed. Avigail Abarbanel has a whole article about how our brains find a change in our environment as being an imminent threat to our security, and thus respond to it in fear. Thus, although no lion is about to maul us, a big loss will still release a ton of cortisol and adrenaline into our bodies.
When we don’t deal with our emotions, the cortisol and adrenaline have no way of being released. They sit suppressed in our bodies, manifesting themselves in other ways, both mentally and physically. We might notice that our breathing is more shallow or our heart is pounding; we might notice our thoughts racing or that we wake up in a panic thinking about everything that we have to do that day. We might notice that, all of a sudden, we feel kind of funny while having lunch with friends; that we feel disconnected from the scene or even from reality. We worry that we’re going crazy. Yet we fear being alone or having free time- it makes us feel antsy or panicked. All of these aspects might manifest themselves into a full-blown panic attack.
A lot of people are told to deal with anxiety and panic attacks by using deep breathing or other relaxation techniques and mantras such as “I am safe.” These are important- however, they only treat the symptoms of anxiety. Deep breathing treats the symptom of shallow breathing. “I am safe” treats the fear of going crazy or suffocating or having a heart attack or needing to go to the hospital. A lot of people recommend yoga for dealing with anxiety; I, in fact, am currently doing training to be a yoga teacher and can attest to this. However, my one beef with yoga is that I feel it can be somewhat emotion-denying. The vibe that I sometimes get when reading my yoga texts is that “thoughts, emotions, and the mind are bad. You must conquer the mind.” Conquer the mind? How violent! Not properly allowing yourself to feel your emotions is really unhealthy and is what fuels anxiety.
Thus, my own personal mantra whenever I’m feeling anxious is, instead, “What is the root problem?” If I’m driving on the freeway and all of a sudden I start to feel weird and my breathing becomes shallow, I ask myself why. I don’t try to force myself to calm down or berate myself for feeling anxious over a task as simple as driving that billions of people do every single day. I ask myself what’s really upsetting me. When the answer is, “My dad died and my boyfriend, who helped me to deal with my dad’s death, broke up with me, so now I’m feeling pretty abandoned and like two huge aspects of my life are missing. It’s a tough reality to adjust to,” that calms me down. It calms me down because I realize that those are huge and legitimate reasons to be feeling my ultimate, underlying feeling- which is sadness. Then I allow myself to feel sad, and sadness is not a scary feeling like anxiety is. Then I feel better once I let it out. Anxiety is a feeling that masks an underlying feeling. Recognizing and allowing oneself to feel the underlying feeling and thus release it will release anxiety.
Grief is like the flu (but having it for a long time). When you get the flu, it leaves you with a variety of symptoms, including a runny or stuffy nose, a fever, or a sore throat. Do you get mad at yourself for having a sore throat, mad at yourself that you can’t just feel better or make it go away? Do you try to go to work and school and socialize and continue to live your normal life as if you are in perfect health? No! None of those things are helpful. When you have the flu, the only thing that you are supposed to do is just rest and ride it out until it goes away. You can take medicine to mask the symptoms or immune support supplements such as Vitamin C, but there is no cure for the flu. The only cure is just going through it; in fact, getting mad at yourself for feeling rotten (causing yourself extra stress) or trying to continue to live your normal life as if nothing happened will prolong the sickness and make it worse.
In our culture, we understand how to deal with physical ailments. The flu is something that we all experience at some point in our lives and thus we are taught about what to do when we catch it. Yet, we similarly all experience difficult emotional events in our lives- grief in particular- that leave us feeling rotten with a host of symptoms. Unfortunately, we are not taught properly how to deal with grief when it hits us (if we even talk about grief at all). Instead of resting and riding it out, like one typically does with the flu, a griever will oftentimes beat him or herself up for feeling grief symptoms and will try to continue to live his or her normal life as if nothing happened. It’s as if our society only validates ailments caused by biological pathogens instead of shitty-life-event-pathogens.
Grief is the reaction to a loss. It is oftentimes associated with the loss of a loved one, but it can incorporate really anything that one loses: moving (loss of a familiar environment), losing a job, or the end of a friendship, to name a few. It can even be a reaction to positive changes such as graduating from school, having a baby, or getting married. Symptoms of grief can be all-encompassing: emotional, mental, spiritual, and even physical. In her article, “Grief and How to Deal With It- A No-Nonsense Approach to Grief,” Avigail Abarbanel outlines an extensive list of events that can cause grief as well as symptoms. Here are just a few examples of symptoms that one might experience:
-exhaustion, low energy
-changes in apetite
-sleep disruption- sleeping too much, not enough, or not being able to stay asleep
-loneliness- feeling like no one understands what you’re going through
-dissatisfaction with life
-fear of “going crazy”
-worrying about not achieving or living up to usual standards
-feeling like a burden on others
-wanting to talk about the loss a lot
-wanting to be alone
-feelings of disappointment in the relationship because of the perception that your partner cannot understand what you are going through or that he or she isn’t feeling the same way as you
-anger at God
-thinking more about the meaning of life
-thinking more about illness and death
-feeling a deeper spiritual connection
There are more symptoms, and one might not experience all of them. The most important thing is to recognize that these feelings and experiences are normal- getting mad at oneself for feeling them is counterproductive. It can just be very hard when you know that what you are experiencing is normal, but the rest of the world doesn’t. If you are going through grief, try to educate your friends and family so that they won’t pressure you to just “get over it” or “get on with your life.” Would you tell a person with the flu to just get on with their life?
Just as taking Dymatap or Nyquill can quell flu symptoms without curing the flu itself, so, too, can antidepressants quell grief symptoms without curing the grief. It can alleviate the pain and make one feel better temporarily, but the grief will still be there once the medicine is gone. (**Please note that I am not a psychiatrist or any kind of doctor, so don’t rely on my advice about what psychiatric drugs to take or not take.)
Unfortunately, while the flu may go away after a few days, it takes grief a really long time to run its course- and in the end, a griever won’t stop feeling sad about the person lost or ever stop missing them; it will just not hurt as badly, and the lost person can be remembered in a fond way more so than an achingly sad way. Thus, when a friend or loved one has the flu, we might bring them soup or movies to watch at the beginning to be there for them. Once we leave, the person will feel better shortly. When a friend experiences the death of a loved one, we bring them flowers and food at the beginning- but once we leave, it might take them a year or two to feel better (each person is different, and each relationship is different, so there really is no timeline for how long grief should last. As Abarbanel says, “It takes as long as it takes”).
Others’ impatience with grievers can be exemplified by the fact that, in our country, most businesses will give their employers a whopping three days off for bereavement time. Yet, perhaps that impatience is a combination of both lack of understanding about the grief process as well as simply feeling awkward and not knowing what to say or do. For example, grievers can oftentimes get angry and offended when friends, family, or other people say cliché things like, “He’s in a better place,” “Don’t be sad/don’t cry,” “Time heals all wounds,” or “It was her time to go.” I’ve heard all of these remarks, and they feel more insensitive than helpful. Yet, before my dad died, if I was ever with someone who had lost a loved one, I remember having no idea what to say. Sometimes, I wouldn’t say anything at all out of fear that the person would get mad at me for bringing it up, feel uncomfortable, or start feeling really sad and start crying. I probably made some people feel like they couldn’t talk about their grief with me or that I didn’t understand.
And the thing is, people who haven’t gone through the death of a loved one can’t really understand what it feels like. They don’t know what to say, what to do, or how it feels, and thus in their lack of experience and lack of a proper grief education, they act accordingly. They ultimately want you to feel better and they don’t want to offend you, but they just feel awkward.
We thus must begin to treat grief the same way that we treat a physical illness. Us grievers must give ourselves time to rest and go through all of the emotions. We can try to educate our friends and family on what we are going through so that they can understand a little bit better; we can maybe try to brush off our friends’ weird behavior or clichéd comments. We can understand that what we’re experiencing is totally normal and that there’s nothing wrong with us. We can even be more patient with ourselves.
We also must remember that it’s okay to have fun, too. It’s not required of us to feel sad 24/7, and our laughter as well as our tears are ways of honoring our loved one. ❤
We all want to be good friends to the people whom we care about, but one of the biggest challenges that can face a friendship is how to help someone who has lost a loved one. Death is a taboo topic to discuss in our culture, which has resulted in a lack of understanding about how to cope with it as well as a bunch of unhelpful myths. In this article I will first seek to dispel some of those myths so that you can understand more easily what your friend is going through. I then will offer some practical tips about how to help them out.
1. It can take a person years to feel “normal” again.
Your friend will not feel kind of better 3 months later, then even better 6 months later, then totally healed 1 year later. Or maybe they will. There is no timeline, no due date for normalcy. Furthermore, the notion that “time heals all wounds” is problematic- if they are not doing anything to address their grief, no amount of time will make it go away. It is not uncommon to see a person go to a grief support group whose loved one died ten years ago; during those ten years, they may have tried to stay as busy as possible to avoid their feelings, but eventually realized that the feelings were never just going to go away on their own. Thus, don’t expect that your friend will be “cured” by a certain date.
2. Grief is not a linear process.
Just as I stated above, your friend will not incrementally feel better; each day is not always easier than the last. For one day, one week, maybe one month, your friend might feel totally fine- and the next day, week, or month, they might feel horrible again. Grief is more of a roller coaster than a straight line, and that is normal. There is nothing wrong with your friend.
3. Grieving people are kind of like children.
They are a lot more sensitive and fragile than usual. They may forget to do things like shower or brush their teeth. They may get exhausted or sick easily. Handle them with care.
Now, here are some tangible ways to help your dear friend:
1. Cook or clean for them.
With grief, basic functioning can go out the window. This can happen immediately after the death or even months or years later when the person is on the low end of the roller coaster. So consumed by such heavy emotions, the last thing that a person has energy for is cooking a meal or taking out the trash. People often say, especially right after the death, “Let me know if I can help you in some way!” That enthusiasm is great, but sometimes the griever doesn’t know what they want or need, and delegating tasks can be stressful. Volunteering to do a chore or make a meal is immensely helpful- oftentimes more helpful than bringing flowers or writing a card (though those are, of course, always nice too).
2. Call them.
People oftentimes think that grievers need space. They don’t. Maybe they want a little alone time, but they definitely don’t want to be lonely. However, they frequently end up isolating themselves anyway. This can be due to a fear of being vulnerable in front of others, a lack of energy, or a general loss of interest in doing things that they typically enjoy, such as socializing. Whatever the reason, in their heart of hearts they do not want to be alone; your presence is probably the most comforting, helpful thing that they could have. Loneliness only compounds grief.
3. Ask them to do relaxing activities.
And by relaxing, I don’t mean going to a bar/night club/party/large group hangout. Ask them to watch a movie, get pedicures, or take a walk. Bars and night clubs are draining for obvious reasons, and parties can actually be the worst; what person in mourning wants to go to a house full of acquaintances or people whom they don’t know when the expected behavior of a party-goer is to be “fun?” Furthermore, constantly answering the questions, “Hey, what’s up? How have you been? What’s new?” to acquaintances or strangers is one of the most uncomfortable endeavors that your friend can encounter: do they lie? Do they tell the truth and kill the mood of the party? Hanging out with just you, doing something relaxing, is so much more helpful.
4. Don’t try to fix them.
Trying to make someone laugh can be very healing. However, remember that it’s okay and normal for your friend to feel sad, and trying to force them to be happy or feel better about it isn’t healthy for them. The only way that a person can get through grief is by feeling their feelings. Additionally, you might feel like you don’t know what to say or like you have to say something, so you throw out a cliché statement such as, “He/she is in a better place.” These statements tend to be more harmful than helpful; to your friend, maybe their loved one would be in a better place if they were here on Earth with them. Instead, just listen and reassure your friend that you love them.
5. Don’t peer pressure them into going back to work or school when they are not ready.
No one (in the U.S.) likes a lazy person, and we oftentimes look down upon those who don’t fill up their schedules with demanding classes and a job and an internship and clubs and extracurriculars and so on. It is a sacred value in our culture to be “so busy.” We frequently tell grievers that staying busy will, in fact, help them. However, remember how I mentioned that grievers are like children? Having too much outside stress makes coping with a death exponentially worse. Those in mourning need more balance in their lives: they need time to feel their feelings, time to relax and self-care, as well as, eventually, time for responsibilities. Additionally, staying busy to avoid one’s feelings is an unhealthy coping mechanism.
It might be tempting to abandon your friend because you can’t handle their emotions- or you become burdened by the fact that it takes them a long time to feel better. Don’t. Make sure to take care of yourself as well, but don’t abandon your friend during their most vulnerable time. Be patient, be loving, and remember that your friend will do the same for you when you experience a loss.