Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Grieving puts your body under tremendous stress
Survival fear may exacerbate
Stress for Success
May 25, 2010

Just like with any stress, the death of someone dear to you triggers your stress response along with its resulting hormonal releases, increasing your vulnerably to illness and disease development. But does losing a beloved also trigger a deep evolutionary fear perpetuating an on-going, therefore, a more damaging stress response?

Some researchers believe a survival mechanism is triggered when you lose a close loved one: the natural fear that having lost this person makes you yourself vulnerable to death. This comes from the very human, instinctual bond we have with our families for the survival purposes of protection and finding food. The severing of these bonds could literally mean death to ancestors when affected by such a loss.

So, losing a close loved one not only puts you into a state of grieving but at a very deep, instinctual level it may activate an amorphous anxiety that elevates your stress response on an ongoing basis leaving you stuck in a state of continuous anxiety. Because you don’t physically act on your stress energy but rather “stew in your own juices,” your body is put under tremendous stress. Just some of the symptoms of accumulating stress include:
* Loss of focus;
* Disrupted eating and sleeping patterns;
* Panic attacks;
* Shallow breathing;
* Digestion, metabolism and circulation changes;
* Less coordination possibly causing falls;
* Weakened immune system making you more vulnerable to colds, etc.;

Depending upon your condition before your loss, if the stress from grieving continues long enough you can be vulnerable to developing many physical symptoms or illnesses such as:
* Infection;
* Cardiovascular disease;
* Rheumatoid arthritis;
* Dry mouth;
* Leukemia, lymphoma;
* Lupus;
* Alcoholism and drug abuse;
* Pneumonia;
* Diabetes;
* Glaucoma;
* Malnutrition;
* Chronic itching;
* Depression;

When you’re grieving it’s important to know that you can protect yourself from these and other symptoms. A very important first step is to accept that your body is in a state of crisis and to take care of it exceptionally well for the foreseeable future (and for the rest of your life). Are you:
* Eating healthfully?
* Resting and relaxing enough?
* Taking enough time off from work?
* Exercising?
* Drinking enough water?
* Saying “no” to unimportant things?
* Seeking professional help if necessary?
* Treating yourself to a massage, music, etc.?
There’s no time table of when you “should” experience the different stages of grief nor how long it should take you to move through them. There is no certainty that your increased stress will cause any illness or contribute to the development of any diseases. The best way to ensure that you limit any potential physical and emotional consequences is to take very, very good care of yourself. Develop excellent self-care habits and continue them far beyond your time of grieving. You’ll reap the rewards of more energy and better mental and physical health to help you move into the next phase of your life when you’re ready.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Everybody grieves in their own way
Need to go through it, not around it
Stress for Success
May 18, 2010

Some believe healthy grieving means going through all of the Kubler-Ross Model stages - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance - but don’t take this as an absolute road map. Each of us grieves in our own way. However, the one thing I’ve learned as a licensed mental health counselor is that you need to go through your grief, not around it. If you deny or avoid it you’ll still have to experience it some day before you can move on.

So grieve you must for according to the National Mental Health Association, “The loss of a loved one is life’s most stressful event,” especially if you made decisions about the way he or she passed away.

Psychologists estimate that 15% of grieving people experience especially painful “complicated grief.” This goes beyond “normal” bereavement to feeling that life has lost all meaning and a shaking of the foundation of your personal beliefs, even religious ones. If it’s prolonged, it can lead to physical illness and clinical depression. Other common symptoms include:
* Feeling distant from or hostile toward some people;
* Obsessive and agonizing yearning for your loved one and feeling abandoned when reality returns;
* Avoiding places that remind you of your loved one;

Obviously, the loss of a child is particularly difficult. Columbia University’s School of Nursing researchers’ survey found that more than 60% of parents still actively grieve the loss of their children even 20 years after their deaths.

The sudden loss of a spouse can produce similar pain. Surviving spouses lose more than their partner, they lose a way of life and possibly some friends and financial security.

Many say that sharing their grief minimizes the feeling that they’re “sleepwalking” - numb, exhausted, disorganized, confused - and of feeling overwhelmed. If you’re experiencing these feelings, be kind to and patient with yourself. Postpone important decisions if you can until you’ve worked through much of your grief. If you have trouble coping get help from a counselor. If you develop clinical depression consider an antidepressant.

Self-care is also vital to minimize the possibility of developing an illness: eat well, get sufficient sleep, and avoid self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. Watch for physical stress symptoms like:
* Lethargy
* Sleeplessness
* Appetite loss
* Loss of interest in things you previously enjoyed
* Uncertainty
* Digestive and other health problems
If these symptoms linger, get professional help. Even if you have no obvious symptoms consider having a physical check-up six months after the death of your beloved to make sure you’re not paying any physical consequences.

After awhile you start to realize that you haven’t totally lost your loved one. Looking at photos there’s a sense that they’re still with you through the history you shared together. This is a sign that you’re moving through, not around, your grief. You don’t want to forget your loved one, but accept that progressing through grief is a process that is necessary and normal and eases eventually moving into the next phase of your life.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Human connections ease pain
It is important to be open to support, love when grieving

Stress for Success
May 11, 2010

The loss of a loved one is a special kind of stress. Your world can be fine one moment and upside-down the next. Your grieving symptoms can run from fuzzy thinking to muscle tension to depression to illness.

Once again I find myself grieving the loss of a loved one only six months after my step-son passed away. This time it’s an older, prankster brother - who’d douse my sheets with water in the middle of MN winters and ditch my glasses in the toilet just for fun. He succumbed to cancer, a cruel disease made worse by his horrible treatment hell.

Over the past year of his battle I, of course, worried about him but mostly wouldn’t let myself go there. His situation was so beyond my control and worrying only increases stress. I mostly redirected my thinking to something within my control like imaging his cancer shrinking (which obviously did no good other than to keep me from worrying).

Going through this with him proved to me once again that human connections ease the pain. It’s refreshingly amazing during trying times how people come out of the woodwork to do kind things, like the local doctor who doesn’t know me from anyone but emailed me Internet research study links that might help my brother. There’s goodness everywhere.

I’m grateful for the support I received from so many like my husband keeping a close eye on me, especially at the funeral. Friends and my “paloaltos” and other members of the symphony chorus I sing with who inquired about my brother, suggested resources and checked to see that I was OK. All made me feel loved and protected with their many phone calls, emails, hugs and offers of help.

After my parents passed away so closely together in 1998 I took a grieving class at Hope Hospice in Fort Myers. Everyone else in this group was grieving the loss of a spouse, which taught me two very important things:
* Appreciate my husband while I have him;
* When a spouse dies your entire life changes;

My life hasn’t changed appreciably with my brother’s passing. My sister-in-law’s has. Everything has changed for her. Any goals they shared are now up in the air. Her future looks totally different whereas mine doesn’t. It’s safe to say her stress far outweighs mine. With her best friend by her side the entire time before, during and after the funeral she has the best kind of support to begin her grieving. She, as everyone else, will move through it in her own way. We all grieve differently.

It’s said that it’s better to give than to receive but when you’re grieving it’s important to be willing to receive others’ support. When you lose your spouse it’s even more important to open yourself to the power of love from supportive others. Let it bathe you in the power of human connection, facilitating your movement through your grief. So, I’m going to call my sister-in-law now, it’ll be good for both of us.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at
http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.