Advertising
Advertising

How to Deal With an Emotional Breakdown After a Devastating Loss

How to Deal With an Emotional Breakdown After a Devastating Loss

It was almost 11:00 pm when I called my long-time boyfriend (with whom I had just recently broken up with), from my dorm room phone. I had been busy all day but had a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach. His Dad answered and my feeling was confirmed with devastating news. *Carl had shot himself and was in the hospital on life support. I hung up the phone, walked into the long hallway outside my room and fell to the dirty dorm hall floor, sobbing. It was like something out of a movie.

The next 24 hours were a bit of a blur. My friend James arrived in his pick-up truck at the crack of dawn the next morning to take me to the airport. There was a huge snowstorm in Denver, and I’d have to go through Salt Lake first. It was freezing and snowing as I boarded the plane. I kept my head down, streaming with tears, and waited and prayed that he would make it. But as I stepped off the plane in Portland, my brother held me tighter than he ever has before and quietly told me Carl was gone. I would never get to see him again or even say goodbye. They called it ‘accidental suicide’ but we would never know all the details of what had happened.

The next few days and months were heartbreaking, overwhelming and intense. I remember making arrangements for and reading a poem at his funeral, spending most of my time in bed, crying in my room. I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. I didn’t want to eat. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to live. I was lost. I felt guilty. Alone. Scared. I felt so many emotions and at the same time, I was numb. All the buoyant vibrancy that is who I was and always had been, was gone.

I’m no stranger to loss. I’ve lost grandparents, jobs, pets. I’ve made major changes in my life, many moves to different cities and countries where I felt the sadness and loss of what I knew, friendships and familiarity. I’ve felt the heartache and pain of leaving relationships with people I loved and some I thought I’d spend a lifetime with. I’ve left jobs, feeling the sadness that comes with that change, even if it was something I had chosen and even physical capabilities I had always prided myself on.

I only realized, as I reflected on my life at a workshop earlier this year, how much loss I have really experienced and the impact that has had on who I am. But this tragedy, by far, was one of my most painful experiences of loss. When someone dies before they’re supposed to go, there’s just no way to make sense of it.

The question, becomes, what do you do when you have no idea what to do?

How do you proceed when you have little hope, life is dark, you’re full of grief, guilt and pain? Because the reality of life is that we will all experience loss. No one is immune to the feelings of grief and sadness.

Whether you relate to losing a job, a home, an important relationship, a hope or dream, your sense of self, a physical ability or mobility, confidence, or most devastating, the loss of a loved one, loss is everywhere. We must all learn how to work through it so we can return to live our lives once again.

7 Valuable Pieces of Advice from Experts on Loss

In this article, I’ve interviewed seven experts on loss from a variety of different backgrounds. Here, they share their words of wisdom, advice, insights and recommendations on how to deal with an emotional breakdown after a devastating loss.

For those of you facing loss of any kind, my hope is that you find at least one of these strategies helpful and supportive in working through your own process and journey.

1. Mike Bundrant, Master NLP Trainer, Life Coach, Retired Psychotherapist, and Founder of the iNLP Center

If you’re having a breakdown after a loss, then that’s probably a good thing.

Emotionally breaking down means that at some level you have accepted the loss. The breakdown means you aren’t in denial! That’s a great start.

Hanging out in denial about a loss or telling yourself the loss isn’t a big deal (when it’s not true) will only prolong the recovery time and the agony.

    Remind yourself that the emotional breakdown is a GOOD thing that needs to happen — a sign that the healing process has begun.

    There is NO HARD AND FAST rule about how intense the grief should be. No rule about how long it’s supposed to last. The best rule about this stuff is: Stay out of the way! Let the process happen.

    If you’re sad, be sad. If you’re terrified, be that. Let your feelings flow and don’t worry about when the breakdown will end. It will pass, guaranteed, and you will heal.

    Your emotions are intelligent. Let them be what they are and ride them out, interfering or interrupting as little as possible. Acceptance is the key here.

    Finally, reach out to people whom you trust. Your emotions are your own, but sharing them with people lightens the burden. After a loss, it’s a good idea to remind yourself who is still present in your life. Connect with them.

    2. Lucia Giovannini, Doctor of Psychology and Counselling

    When faced with a loss, the key element to recovery is resilience.

    Advertising

    Recovery happens in 4 phases:

      1. The first phase is the encounter with the obstacle; you feel you are taken down by a painful negative experience.

      Acceptance is the only way to deal with it. Often loss is something beyond our control; we can’t do anything about it, the only way to react is to accept.

      Because if you cannot accept it, you are going to fight the experience, which might be even more painful. Accept this experience as the part of life.

      2. The second step is actually experiencing the loss, the trauma, the pain.

      After experiencing the loss, we feel like we are missing something that we had before. It’s human and it’s normal to feel the pain. What’s important is not to suppress the feelings.

      If you expect yourself not to feel pain, to be well immediately and you don’t allow yourself some time to actually experience pain, you bring yourself into even more pain.

      Here you’ll need patience. Sit with emotions, knowing it will not last forever.

      3. The third step is the process of confrontation.

      To be able to re-emerge, you need to confront yourself, gather feedback in order to understand what can be done.

      Normally, when we lose a person, job or a house we ask: “Why did this happen to me?” This is a very ineffective question that brings us into a negative spiral.

      The good question to ask yourself instead is: “What is the learning here for me?” This question can make all the difference. The idea is to find the meaning, which will help you to find the end of this pain.

      4. The fourth stage is when you’ve gathered the teaching, gathered the lessons, and have grown from this pain.

      For example:

      During a tsunami I was in Thailand, working with the Thai government as a volunteer to help people who lost their families, houses, businesses to cope with the loss. Of course, people were in pain, they were in despair.

      I still remember one man who lost his child and business to the tsunami. Everything was gone for him; there was nothing that he could do. The only thing he could do was to give some meaning to everything that happened.

      And he did.

      He founded a non-profit to help orphan children in Thailand. Nothing would bring his own child back, but he found happiness and meaning once again after losing everything in that disaster.

      Recommended Reading

      A Whole New Life: Discover the Power of Positive Transformation — Covers being faced with traumatic change, defining your power zone, about getting back on your feet.

      Advertising

      3. Dr. Zach Bush, Triple Board Certified MD

      Whenever you’ve experienced a significant loss or trauma, getting your physical body quickly back into balance is critical.

      Emotional trauma can live in our bodies, and if we don’t deal with it, it sets us up for disease and disorder in the long run. The danger when trauma occurs is that your body holds that trauma memory and defines a space in your body by that momentary emotional or physical event.

      To prevent this, you need to quickly re-balance the parasympathetic nervous system to maintain neurological and functional wellness. If not cleared, your body ages as an encyclopedia of all your mild and major traumas of life; rusting (oxidation) occurs in your connective tissue, muscle, skeletal, immune and neural systems.

      A great way to achieve this reset is by ‘tapping the cortices’. I use the concept of Body Talk with my patients and anyone experiencing loss. It’s a simple strategy which can quickly re-center, ground you and get you back into balance.

      It turns on your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and relieves your sympathetic nervous system response (fight or flight). It lets your body know, “I am here, now. The injury is in the past, I’m safe in my body again.”

      This type reminds your physical body that whatever reverberations of the emotional trauma you are feeling, it’s just that, an emotional echo. It’s not a part of your physical reality now. This technique literally releases the trauma by ‘tapping it out’. You can use it any time and it’s very simple.

      Other ways to manage feelings associated with loss include breathwork, grounding (take your shoes off, in grass or sand), meditation and sensory strategies. These might include listening to music or a bird chirping. Smell essential oils. Feel your feet on the earth, seat on your chair or fabric against your skin. All of these methods aim to reground you in the present moment so to remind your body that the past is the past, and today is an opportunity for a new body and a new mind.

      While others may disagree, you need to be careful not to defer to your emotions, or define your state of being by your emotions. They can be a profoundly inaccurate interpretation of what’s going on.

      Emotions can present a false reality because our physical reality isn’t made of emotions. We are programmed by social training to create emotions in response to events. We are then taught to create our memories in the context of these emotions, and further trained to tell the emotional story of our life. This can severely limit our physical reality and potential. If you are feeling an overwhelming sense of emotion, it helps to acknowledge you are in an emotional experience.

      Neurochemically, an emotion lasts seven seconds. If you are going to stay sad, rejected, or otherwise emotionally caught up, we have to keep manufacturing that emotion by telling ourselves the story over and over again.

      If we take two minutes to break that emotional story telling through tapping, meditation, breathing, or any other method, we can be free.

      Recommended Resources

      Body Talk, Tapping the Cortices:

      4. Veronica Winston, Marriage and Family Therapist

      So often in my practice, I’ve consulted with clients who are high-functioning Type A Personalities. They tell me they were pushed to seek me out by friends, coworkers and family who are worrying because they aren’t coping well. My client assures me they are “really ok,” but that they went through a recent trauma or significant loss.

      Yes, maybe they are drinking a bit more, isolating and maybe missing work, but “it’s ok.”

      Much of my work is to explore whether they are actually in denial. Denial that they are human, that we all have weaknesses, and that they are in reality rocked back on their heels. Maybe to the point that they have fantasized about not wanting to wake up again to yet another day of denial.

      What is denial? It might look like telling everyone you are okay and don’t need help but acting and behaving in ways that suggest otherwise, like having panic attacks, experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, struggling to do your work or take care of yourself or family, and feeling out of control.

      When facing loss, it’s important to recognize that we all must parent, love and protect ourselves as well as we do for others in our lives.

      I help these wonderful people to understand that we all need to reach out sometimes, to open up our emotions to others, and call in some well-deserved favors. Denial kills and it’s important to move through this stage of grief.

      Recommended Resources

      I strongly recommend seeing a therapist. Someone in person who can assess your situation and guide you through the grief process.

      Not sure where to start? Get a referral from someone you trust: ask your friends or your doctor. Psychology Today has an extensive online directory.

      Advertising

      5. Nita Tucker, Author and Consultant

      Expectations of others as well as your own can make the adjustment to loss even more difficult. You may think you’ve grieved, and then six months, two years or even 30 years later you can be overwhelmed with loss and depression.

      Try thinking of grief as a wave (an unsuspecting and unpredictable wave). You may have dealt with the loss and swimming comfortably through life and a wave will hit you and maybe even knock you off your feet. The thoughts can be: a) I thought I was over this! b) I should be over this by now, or c) It hasn’t gotten better and it never will!

      It’s important not to judge yourself, even if it’s a very severe occurrence. Probably the best advice is to treat it like a wave, even name it as a wave and honor the sadness that you feel. “Wow that was a big wave of grief, I didn’t expect it.”

      Also, to acknowledge that loss and sadness is part of who you are; it will come when it comes. Since you don’t have a choice about it being there, you can choose to resist it (which I promise won’t work) or to accept and honor it.

      Years ago, Hugh Downs did a special on 20/20 on aging and longevity. One of the conclusions he drew after dozens of interviews was that one of the keys to longevity is the person’s ability to deal with and live with loss.

      At the age of 95, you have lost parents, spouses, friends, relatives, even children. The ability to continue living with joy and vitality in the face of such profound loss is a skill and capacity that is essential.

      6. Linda Wolff: Occupational Therapist and Values Consultant (she also happens to be my Mom)

      First, and most importantly, honor the grieving process. Our culture doesn’t always honor this process because people want things to move quickly on to the next thing. Grief reflects how significant the person/event/thing was in your life.

        Moving through any type of loss is a “process”. There has been much written on the stages of grief that are helpful guideposts during the process. The Kubler Ross Stages[1] are one of the most well-known of these models. The stages normalize the process and is a great support.

          I know the pain of feeling broken-hearted and broken down with grief. I’ve had times when I’ve felt like the pain will last forever and not sure my heart will survive intact. Here are some strategies I share with clients and use personally:

          • Exercise — You might not feel like it, but it’s critical. For me, it’s a non-negotiable.
          • Journal — As much or as little as you can. Sometimes it might just be a word, sometimes you’ll find yourself writing pages.
          • Reach out to close friends — Even when your very instinct is to isolate. A trusted friend is pure gold when experiencing loss.
          • Spend time in nature — Walking, running, gardening, meditating, reflecting or just sitting outside.
          • Feel your feelings — Life is full of a multitude of emotions and we must not be afraid to feel them.

          If you’re choosing to end a relationship, activity or job that no longer serves you, it’s important to remind yourself that that it takes courage to make the choice. Honor yourself and how difficult the situation is. Self-compassion is an important strategy.

          Loss is a dark place. There doesn’t feel like there is much light when we are grieving…even in the daytime. But loss is also a sacred time. It has the potential, once on the other side, to offer amazing lessons and insights and incredible growth potential.

          It helps me to remind myself that it’s the soul’s journey and the darkness will pass. It may not lessen the pain, but it helps to know you’re not going to be hurting and aching forever. Endings are new beginnings once you move through the pain.

          Recommended Books

          7. Susan Hannifin-MacNab Social Worker, Educator, Founder A2Z Healing Toolbox®

          When I was 41, my husband went out for a Sunday drive and never returned for dinner. Then he didn’t show up for breakfast. Then the search began. Weeks went by, his vehicle was discovered, and his body recovered in the wreckage. I went from living what I felt was a healthy, charmed and balanced life, to suddenly becoming a traumatized young widow and solo parent to our grieving 5-year-old son.

          How does one cope with that kind of life-altering experience?

          Eventually, I began to chase after every tool, resource, and person that might help us. In doing so, I uncovered an alphabet’s worth of mind-body-spirit healing tools and community resources that I now share with others.

          I support bereaved and broken individuals and families with love, support, action and practical tools that everyone can use to deal with the emotional upheaval that comes with any type of loss.

          My advice to anyone navigating the complexities of profound loss? Choose a few healing tools that come naturally to you, then slowly integrate others over time. The 26 A2Z Healing tools may be a place to start.

          Advertising

            As painful as it is, you really must rally your resilience in order to heal.

            Some suggestions:

            Be your own advocate. Ask for help. Accept the help. Take action. Be intentional. Surround yourself with people who “get it”- therapists, peer mentors and group support.

            Lean into experiences that may help you even if they are outside of your current comfort zone.

            Learn from others. Find someone who you know to be resilient and let them model. Are they positive? Do they dive into the pain in order to recreate anew? Do they reach out for help? Do they help others even though they are still hurting themselves?

            Recommended Websites

            Final Thoughts

            I know how hard loss can be. My hope is that at least one of these strategies or insights helps you navigate whatever loss you may be experiencing right now and bring some light, hope and something to grab onto amongst the confusion and pain.

            Was there something specific that resonated with you? Try that. Something that you connected with? Check it out. Something you’d like to explore further? Great, do it.

            And, if you know someone who’s facing a breakdown or loss and you don’t know how to help, please pass on these important strategies and resources. As you’ve read above, community, friends, and knowing you have someone who’s there for you is critical in these times of tragedy and loss.

            In addition to these great experts, here are a few other resources I recommend:

            Recommended Book

            Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief by Martha W. Hickman.

            I’ve heard and read about this book often from many individuals. They appreciate the practical, daily support it provides.

            Recommended Websites

            Option B

            Based on the bestselling book by Sheryl Sandberg (COO Facebook who lost her husband suddenly) and Adam Grant (Psychologist and Author), this website is designed to help people ‘build resilience and find meaning in the face of adversity’. The site provides resources, shares stories and the chance to join groups for support.

            Grief.com

            Developed by David Kessler, one of the world’s foremost experts on healing and loss and author of five bestselling books. Kessler is a grief expert who worked closely with the legendary Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (from the stages of grief model above). This site outlines the stages of grief, provides free videos, resources and connections to counselors and grief groups.

            When all else fails, remember this:

            There is no right or wrong way to grieve after loss. There is no one or best solution. This is your journey. Where you are right now is exactly where you’re supposed to be. However you feel is ok. Wherever you are is perfect for you.

            Lastly, for me, one of the most important things that has helped me through my own losses is to know this with certainty:

              Whether or not you can see it right now, this loss will be another step forward, another experience woven into the fabric of your beautiful life.

              Featured photo credit: Anton Darius | @theSollers via unsplash.com

              Reference

              [1] PSYCOM: The Five Stages of Grief

              More by this author

              Tracy Kennedy

              Lifehack's Personal Development Expert, a results-driven coach dedicated to helping people achieve greater levels of happiness and success.

              How to Build Self Esteem (A Guide to Realize Your Hidden Power) How to Build Self Discipline to Excel in Life 9 Simple Steps to Set Goals in Life to Achieve Success How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life 10 Strategies to Keep Moving Forward When Feeling Stuck

              Trending in Mental Strength

              1 How to Use the Law of Attraction to Make Your Dreams Happen 2 What Is Self-Worth and How to Recognize Yours 3 How to Build Self Esteem (A Guide to Realize Your Hidden Power) 4 7 Stress Management Techniques to Get You Back on Track 5 Why an Attitude of Gratitude Is Essential (And How to Develop It)

              Read Next

              Advertising
              Advertising
              Advertising

              Last Updated on April 6, 2020

              10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively

              10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively

              Most discussions on positively influencing others eventually touch on Dale Carnegie’s seminal work, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Written more than 83 years ago, the book touches on a core component of human interaction, building strong relationships. It is no wonder why.

              Everything that we do hinges on our ability to connect with others and formulate deep relationships. You cannot sell a house, buy a house, advance in most careers, sell a product, pitch a story, teach a course, etc. without building healthy relationships. Managers get the best results from their teams, not through brute force, but to careful appeals to their sensibilities, occasional withdrawals from the reservoir of respect they’ve built. Using these tactics, they can influence others to excellence, to productivity, and to success.

              Carnegie’s book is great. Of course, there are other resources too. Most of us have someone in our lives who positively influences us. The truth is positively influencing people is about centering the humanity of others. Chances are, you know someone who is really good at making others feel like stars. They can get you to do things that the average person cannot. Where the requests of others sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, the request from this special person sounds like music to your ears. You’re delighted to not only listen but also to oblige.

              So how to influence people in a positive way? Read on for tips.

              1. Be Authentic

              To influence people in a positive way, be authentic. Rather than being a carbon copy of someone else’s version of authenticity, uncover what it is that makes you unique.

              Discover your unique take on an issue and then live up to and honor that. Once of the reasons social media influencers are so powerful is that they have carved out a niche for themselves or taken a common issue and approached it from a novel or uncommon way. People instinctually appreciate people whose public persona matches their private values.

              Contradictions bother us because we crave stability. When someone professes to be one way, but lives contrary to that profession, it signals that they are confused or untrustworthy and thereby, inauthentic. Neither of these combinations bode well for positively influencing others.

              Advertising

              2. Listen

              Growing up, my father would tell me to listen to what others said. He told me if I listened carefully, I would know all I needed to know about a person’s character, desires and needs.

              To positively influence others, you must listen to what is spoken and what is left unsaid. Therein lies the explanation for what people need in order to feel validated, supported and seen. If a person feels they are invisible, and unseen by their superiors, they are less likely to be positively influenced by that person.

              Listening meets a person’s primary need of validation and acceptance.

              Take a look at this guide on how to be a better listener: How to Practice Active Listening (A Step-By-Step Guide)

              3. Become an Expert

              Most people are predisposed to listen to, if not respect, authority. If you want to positively influence others, become an authority in the area in which you seek to lead others. Research and read everything you can about the given topic, and then look for opportunities to put your education into practice.

              You can argue over opinions. You cannot argue, or it is unwise to argue, over facts and experts come with facts.

              4. Lead with Story

              From years of working in the public relations space, I know that personal narratives, testimonials and impact stories are incredibly powerful. But I never cease to be amazed with how effective a well-timed and told story can be.

              Advertising

              If you want to influence people, learn to tell stories. Your stories should be related to the issue or concept you are discussing. They should be an analogy or metaphor that explains your topic in ordinary terms and in vivid detail. To learn more about how to tell powerful stories, and the ethics of storytelling, take a look at this article: How To Tell An Interesting Story In 4 Simple Steps

              5. Lead by Example

              It is incredibly inspiring to watch passionate, talented people at work or play. One of the reasons a person who is not an athlete can be in awe of athletic prowess is because human nature appreciates the extraordinary. When we watch the Olympics, Olympic trials, gymnastic competitions, ice skating, and other competitive sports, we can recognize the effort of people who day in and day out give their all. C

              ase in point: Simone Biles. The gymnast extraordinaire won her 6TH all-around title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships after doing a triple double. She was the first woman to do so. Watching her gave me chills. Even non-gymnasts and non-competitive athletes can appreciate the talent required to pull off such a remarkable feat.

              We celebrate remarkable accomplishments and believe that their example is proof that we too can accomplish something great, even if it isn’t qualifying for the Olympics. To influence people in a positive way, we must lead by example, lead with intention and execute with excellence.

              6. Catch People Doing Good

              A powerful way to influence people in a positive way is to catch people doing good. Instead of looking for problems, look for successes. Look for often overlooked, but critically important things that your peers, subordinates and managers do that make the work more effective and more enjoyable.

              Once you catch people doing good, name and notice their contributions.

              7. Be Effusive with Praise

              It did not take me long to notice a remarkable trait of a former boss. He not only began and ended meetings with praise, but he peppered praise throughout the entire meeting. He found a way to celebrate the unique attributes and skills of his team members. He was able to quickly and accurately assess what people were doing well and then let them and their colleagues know.

              Advertising

              Meetings were not just an occasion to go through a “To Do” list, they were opportunities to celebrate accomplishments, no matter how small they are.

              8. Be Kind Rather Than Right

              I am going to level with you; this one is tough. It is easy to get caught up in a cycle of proving oneself. For people who lack confidence, or people who prioritize the opinions of others, being right is important. The validation that comes with being perceived as “right” feeds one’s ego. But in the quest to be “right,” we can hurt other people. Once we’ve hurt someone by being unkind, it is much harder to get them to listen to what we’re trying to influence them to do.

              The antidote to influencing others via bullying is to prioritize kindness above rightness. You can be kind and still stand firm in your position. For instance, many people think that they need others to validate their experience. If a person does not see the situation you experienced in the way you see it, you get upset. But your experience is your experience.

              If you and your friends go out to eat and you get food poisoning, you do not need your friends to agree that the food served at the restaurant was problematic for you. Your own experience of getting food poisoning is all the validation you need. Therefore, taking time to be right is essentially wasted and, if you were unkind in seeking validation for your food-poison experience, now you’ve really lost points.

              9. Understand a Person’s Logical, Emotional and Cooperative Needs

              The Center for Creative Leadership has argued that the best way to influence others is to appeal to their logical, emotional and cooperative needs. Their logical need is their rational and educational need. Their emotional need is the information that touches them in a deeply personal manner. The cooperative need is understanding the level of cooperation various individuals need and then appropriately offering it.

              The trick with this system is to understand that different people need different things. For some people, a strong emotional appeal will outweigh logical explanations. For others, having an opportunity to collaborate will override emotional connection.

              If you know your audience, you will know what they need in order to be positively influenced. If you have limited information about the people whom you are attempting to influence, you will be ineffective.

              Advertising

              10. Understand Your Lane

              If you want to positively influence others, operate from your sphere of influence. Operate from your place of expertise. Leave everything else to others. Gone are the days when being a jack of all trades is celebrated.

              Most people appreciate brands that understand their target audience and then deliver on what that audience wants. When you focus on what you are uniquely gifted and qualified to do, and then offer that gift to the people who need it, you are likely more effective. This effectiveness is attractive.

              You cannot positively influence others if you are more preoccupied by what others do well versus what you do well.

              Final Thoughts

              Influencing people is about centering your humanity. If you want to influence others positively, focus on the way you communicate and improve the relationship with yourself first.

              It’s hard to influence others if you’re still trying to figure out how to communicate with yourself.

              More Tips About Making Influence

              Featured photo credit: Wonderlane via unsplash.com

              Read Next