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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

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.

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    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.

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      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.

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      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.

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            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

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              Tracy Kennedy

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

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              Last Updated on April 19, 2021

              How to Clear Your Mind and Be More Present Instantly

              How to Clear Your Mind and Be More Present Instantly

              You may be wondering how to clear your mind. Maybe you are facing a tough presentation at work and really need to focus, or perhaps you’ve got a lot going on at home and just need to relax for a few minutes. Whatever the reason, having a clear mind can help you find your center.

              The only problem is that you can’t completely erase the thousands of thoughts you have each day. The goal is to be able to observe those thoughts without engaging with each one of them.

              The good news is that clearing your mind and returning to the present moment comes from a simple act of acknowledging that you’re overwhelmed in the first place. A path to better mental health and overall quality of life starts here.

              What Happens When You’re Not Present?

              We’ve evolved to keep looking and working towards a future goal. The very nature of our careers is to make sure that we’re setting ourselves up for the future. Our thoughts and, therefore, our habits and actions consistently point in the forward-moving direction, whether it’s in your relationship, career, or goals.

              The point at which this becomes harmful is when we become too stuck in this forward motion and can’t reduce stress in the short or long-term. The result of this is burnout.[1] It’s a term that is most often used in the workplace, but burnout can happen in any area of our life where you feel like you’re pushing too hard and too fast.

              The idea here is that you’re so engrossed in the forward movement that you take on too much and rest too little. There is no pause in the present because you have this sense that you must keep working.

              On a physical plane, the body takes a real hit with burnout. You feel more muscle fatigue, poor concentration, insomnia, anxiety, poor metabolism, and so much more.

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              These symptoms are the body’s way of throwing you red flags and warning you that you must slow down. But because your mind is so preoccupied with this forward momentum, it disconnects you from listening to your body’s signals. The only time you really hear them is when the signals are too loud to ignore, such as during serious illness or pain.

              As we can see, not being present is something that snowballs over time. Eventually, it can cause serious mental, emotional, and physical ailments. 

              To help you deal with this, you can check out Lifehack’s Free Life Assessment to see where you may be off balance. Then, you can check out the points below to keep moving in the right direction.

              How Do We Come Back to the Present?

              Answering this question will answer the question of how to clear your mind because they go hand in hand. There are many tools you can use to begin a mindfulness practice.

              To reiterate, mindfulness is simply defined as the act or practice of being fully present.[2] Tools that allow you to step into this practice include meditation, journaling, a body-centered movement practice such as Qigong, or simple breathing exercises.

              Underneath it all, however, is one technique that acts as a universal connector, and that is acknowledgment. This term may not sound like a technique, but its power truly flourishes when put into practice.

              For us to come back to the present moment, we have to acknowledge that we have trailed off into the past or the future. Likewise, for us to clear our mind, we have to acknowledge that our mind is overwhelmed, distracted, or scattered.

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              This simple act of pausing and catching ourselves in the moment is how we can build our acknowledgment practice. So, the next time you find yourself overwhelmed at work with mental to-do lists, pause. Acknowledge your state of mind and say to yourself that you’re overwhelmed. This sends a signal to your whole being that you’re aware of what’s going on.

              It cuts the cords of illusion, denial, and ignorance. You are now building your awareness of yourself, which is an incredibly potent gift.

              How to Clear Your Mind

              Now that you’ve acknowledged where you are and how you feel, you can take action and learn ways to clear your mind. You can take a few moments away from your desk or to-do list, and practice something to ground yourself back into the present moment.

              1. Take a Walk

              Grounding yourself can be as simple as taking a walk and admiring the changing of the leaves. This practice is also known as “forest bathing,” and it doesn’t necessarily need to take place in a forest. It can be in your favorite park or even walking around your town or neighborhood.

              Bring your attention to the senses as you enjoy your walk. Can you tune in to the sounds of your footsteps on the earth? Can you notice the smells and take in the sights around you while staying present in the moment? Can you touch a leaf or the bark of a tree and allow the texture to teach you something new?

              Such a practice does wonders in clearing your mind and bringing you back to the now. It also connects you more deeply to your environment.

              2. Box Breathing

              As you’re learning how to clear your mind, a mind-clearing practice may look like sitting down and going through a nourishing meditation or breath practice. Breathing is, honestly, the easiest and best way to clear your mind. Even taking a few deep breaths in and out and feeling and noticing the breath will bring you right back to the present moment.[3]

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              In yoga, we call this breath Same Vrti, meaning a 1:1 breath ratio. It can also be translated as “box breathing.” The idea is to make the length of your inhales and exhales the same, as this allows you to take in more oxygen and slow down the chatter of the monkey mind. It also kicks on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and digestion, offering many health benefits in the long run.

              This will allow your heart rate to slow down so that you can reduce any anxiety you may be feeling. It also aids in digestion, as the metabolism is back on track, and helps you physically process food and drink properly.

              3. Add Meditation

              how to meditate and clear your mind is also helpful when you want to clear negative thoughts and relieve stress. In fact, following your breath is a meditation in itself. Adding a visual, like imagining gentle ripples on a lake or clouds passing along a beautiful blue sky, can give the mind something to attach to without running through the train of your thoughts.

              On the other hand, if you are mentally overwhelmed and meditation sounds like more stress, tuning in to a guided meditation session can be alleviating. It often helps to hear the voice of a teacher or guide who can walk you into more peace and contentment with their words and energy. If you can’t find such a guide in a local studio, turn to the many meditation apps on your phone, or YouTube.

              4. Write Your Thoughts

              Alternatively, another powerful practice for when you’re learning how to clear your mind is sitting down and writing out all of the thoughts in your head. We call this a “brain dump,” and it is an effective method for simply releasing your thoughts so that you can mentally breathe and process things better.

              Grab a piece of paper and write out all of the thoughts that are pressing for your attention. The idea is not to analyze the thoughts or fix them, but to give those thoughts an exit so that you can move on with your day without fixating on them aggressively. This can look like a laundry list of thoughts, or a diary entry.

              Afterward, feel free to close your journal or rip up the paper as part of your stress management. You don’t need to hold on to what you wrote, but it does help to see the expression of what you’re holding on to mentally. Likewise, this practice is very potent to do at night before bedtime. So many of us struggle to sleep soundly with many thoughts bouncing back and forth, and this exercise before bed can allow us to enter a deeper level of rest.

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              Regardless of what you do, understand that practicing mindfulness is a lifelong process. With life’s ups and downs, it’s stressful to attach yourself to the practice of being mindful and in the present moment because it’s never guaranteed that you will be present for 100% of your life.

              In this practice, what matters more than anything is intention. Our intention of staying present and sticking to our mindfulness practice is what will encourage us to keep coming back to it, even when we forget.

              Final Thoughts

              With the thousands of thoughts that we have in our head each day, it can sound overwhelming to even tackle this and try to learn how to clear your mind. The technique, however, is powerful, simple, and effective.

              It all comes down to first recognizing and acknowledging that we are overwhelmed, stressed, or far away from the present moment. That acknowledgment acts as a wake-up alarm, inviting us to examine our state of mind and take action.

              In this way, not only are we clearing our minds in a manner that works for us, but we’re also building our self-awareness, which is a beautiful and powerful way of being in the world.

              More Tips on How to Clear Your Mind

              Featured photo credit: Elijah Hiett via unsplash.com

              Reference

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