Coping with Grief Using Mindfulness

By: Regina Perez, MAC

No two people ever grieve the same way. Coping with grief is unique to each of us. There is a great quote by Dr. Earl A. Grollman who sums up this outlook very well; “Each person’s grief journey is as unique as a fingerprint or snowflake.”

Grief is unique and individual to each person. But what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed. That doesn’t mean needing someone to try to lessen it or reframe it for them. The need is for someone to be fully present to the magnitude of their loss without trying to point out the silver lining.

This need is hardwired in us because our emotions bind us to one another, and those bonds are the key to our survival. From the moment we’re born, we realize we’re not alone. Our brains are equipped with mirror neurons, which is why when the mother smiles, the baby smiles back.

This continues into adulthood. If someone is grieving, they need to feel their grief acknowledged and reflected by others. But in our hyper-busy world, grief has been minimized and sanitized. You get three days off work after a loved one dies and then everyone expects you to carry on like nothing happened. There are fewer and fewer opportunities for those around you to bear witness to your pain, and this can be very isolating.

In those isolating times, there are tools we can use to help us through this process. One of these tools is mindfulness. Being present, or mindful, is a very powerful thing. It helps when people who are grieving can become more mindful of their negative thoughts surrounding it. Our brain is constantly working, and it tends to spin our thoughts in a negative direction. Mindfulness can distract us from that.

There are many things that people can do to practice mindfulness. The idea is to engage with your surroundings and submerge yourself in the present moment. These practices can direct your attention away from negative thoughts. Everyone can find one or a few exercises that work well for them and their grief.

• Take a walk around the block or spend some time outside in the yard. If you can, do it barefoot. Five minutes outside in the sunlight or moonlight can do a lot to make you feel better. The life that surrounds us is part of who we are. When we are present with our surroundings, we start to relax.

• Mindfulness can also help us to regulate our emotional state. If you can name it, you can tame it. If we can learn to ground ourselves in the “now moment”, we can stop the momentum of the “would of, could of, should of” kind of moments that often take us down a rabbit hole of remorse or regret. It is important to be gentle and have grace with yourself.

• Journaling is another way to practice mindfulness. It is not about keeping a diary but assessing our state of mind at any moment. What woke me up? Why can’t I sleep? What is going on inside my mind? Write these thoughts down.

These techniques can make us more aware of the specific thoughts and feelings that are consuming us. Though we often know we are experiencing general feelings of pain, fear, and anxiety, mindfulness can help us notice what specific thoughts and feelings are filling our minds. Seeing and accepting these thoughts can let us find an appropriate time to address them.

It is important to remember that grief is not a linear process and is a journey. It does not have prescribed dimensions and it does not end on a certain date. Many emotions may approach us at once and it can feel raw and real from each passing moment. As time passes, those moments can become less painful and may not last as long as they once did. For more information on grief visit

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