Mental health and grief: a complicated combination

The death of a loved one can impact your life in many ways, leaving you feeling as though your world has been turned upside down. Loss affect us all in different ways, especially with regards to mental health and it’s important that you take extra care of yourself during this time. After losing an important person in your life you might experience a range of emotions from denial, anger, confusion, depression to acceptance (though not necessary in that order, if at all).

Not everyone responds to grief in the same way. Grief can have many faces; it ebbs and flows as time goes on and there is no right or wrong way to deal with it. Today we wanted to take the time to talk to you about the importance of acknowledging that going through a series of emotions is normal, but while your grieving, it’s important to take care of yourself.

It’s ok not to be ok
Mental health should be a top priority for everyone. As a society we have made great headway in tackling mental health issues. However, we strongly believe it’s time for all of us to accept that it’s ok not to be ok and start talking more openly about this, moving away from taboo subject status. At some point, everyone will likely have to face difficulties or challenges that will have an impact on their mental health and there’s no shame in that. There are a number of factors that can affect your mental health and with bereavement being a big one, it’s important that you give it the right attention. The death of a relative or a loved one can undoubtedly affect your mental health but, as studies have shown, the loss of a close friend shouldn’t be overlooked too as it can have an impact on health and wellbeing for years. Accepting the fact that you might have a problem and you potentially need help to overcome it is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it’s the most important step to take to start a journey towards recovery.

Let’s get physical
The mind and body are related and there’s research to prove it. 37.6% of people with severe symptoms of mental health problems also have a physical condition as a result of this. But what you might not have considered is that although this close link can hinder you, it can also help you. Have you ever wondered why you feel more relaxed after exercising? The answer is in endorphins, a natural chemical in the brain. Exercise can reduce the level of the body’s stress hormones and stimulate the release of endorphins that can naturally improve your mood and your overall mental health. Poorna Bell is the perfect example of this. After her husband passed away; she turned her attention to weightlifting to feel more independent in her daily tasks. To her surprise, after a few weeks, she started noticing how much this was having a positive impact on her life and her mind. This doesn’t mean that everyone should now turn to weights as the answer but it’s important to consider finding a physical outlet that suits you. Take a walk in nature, try some yoga, cycle to work – all of these activities can promote physical and mental wellbeing and help you on your way to recovery.

It’s time to talk
We’re all human and it’s completely normal to want to express our emotions. Whether this is with someone you trust – a friend or a relative – or a professional, talking is the simplest way to dedicate time to yourself and let go or explore your emotions. Sometimes within our British culture, talking about mental health or feeling can be considered to be a sign of weakness with many opting to take the stiff upper lip. But the truth is that no one is a superhero and everyone should feel able to open up about their emotions, especially during the loss of a loved one. If you feel alone and have no one in your close circle that you feel you can talk to, why not look for support groups in your town? You will soon realise that other people are facing similar problems and need help, just like you. If you don’t feel like you can talk to your family, friends or a new group of people, then perhaps 1-2-1 counselling could help. After all, research from COSCA (Scotland’s Professional body for counselling and physiotherapy) shows that about two-thirds of people who experienced counselling as a way of coping with their issues found it extremely beneficial. We understand that sometimes it’s not easy to talk about death and the feelings associated with it, especially when we need to explain this to our little ones. But if you need to start this conversation with your children, it’s crucial to be transparent with them and have a clear understanding of your emotions too. If you don’t know how to face the subject, here at Coles, we have set up the Hub, a place where you can feel comfortable sharing your feelings; an information centre where you can access the support resources you may need; free 1-2-1 counselling support available; and a dedicated library and kids’ corner.

Get creative
If you are struggling with finding the words that best describe how you feel, grab a brush or some colouring pens and start drawing out your emotions and what’s on your mind. Some of the most famous artists in the world found relief in expressing their troubles on a blank canvas. Colouring can help calm your mind, ease your stress and play a valuable part in the healing process. Don’t worry, no one is expecting Picasso or Monet standards from you (unless that’s your thing). But art can open a door into your mind, helping you find to relief from fear and anxiety and overcome grief. Recent research conducted in New Zealand on a group of 115 women backs this up. The findings showed the positive results that an easy and enjoyable activity like colouring can bring to your mental wellbeing. After a week, the subjects showed lower levels of depressive symptoms and anxiety, highlighting the incredible benefits of art on mental health. Colouring, like any other activity that involves a repetitive action or movement, can have similar benefits as meditation as it requires the brain to focus on that single task. This can make you live in the moment, feel happier, calmer and make the worries and fears temporarily fade away.

Mental illness is more common than you might think and it’s important to recognise the signs as early as possible. When we talk about health, we immediately think of physical ailments but it’s important to remember that body and mind are related and you should be taking care of both to lead a healthy life, but we know that this can fall by the wayside when you’re dealing with grief. Losing a loved one is an extremely significant part of life and you can never predict how this will impact you or your health. But when you recognise the impact it has on your mental wellbeing it’s important to look for ways to take care of yourself, choosing a route that is most suitable for you. We’ve listed some options above as helpful suggestions, but one thing we want to stress is that it’s crucial that you don’t let these feelings build up – mental health is a serious matter and it is important to build in time for self-care, however that looks for you.