9 Tips to Help Your Families Manage the Effects of Grief and Stress

When a person is grieving, they may be experiencing types of stress they haven't encountered before. As a funeral director, you are well suited to help family members see and navigate the emotions they may be facing.

Alisha Joy, April 14th, 2020

”The loss of a loved one is life's most stressful event and can cause a major emotional crisis. After the death of someone you love, you experience bereavement, which literally means "to be deprived by death.

Introduction

How we cope with loss affects not only our mental health but our physical wellbeing as well. In our society, many don’t have the tools to handle loss. As a funeral director, you are in the unique position to both witness grief and offer and support to those who are grieving.

How Our Bodies Handle Stress

Rather than process difficult emotions, some may find it easier to numb out on substances, keep a stiff upper lip, or bury their feelings than face death head-on. Refusal to acknowledge and process through emotions leads to internal stress which can manifest in physical symptoms. Stress can trigger the body’s “flight or fight” response which increases heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. You have no doubt witnessed individuals in agitated states, behaving irrationally, or even fainting during funeral services. When stress is internalized, individuals become more susceptible to small things such as muscle aches and headaches, all the way to much more serious issues, such as heart disease and chronic illness. 

Why We Have Difficulty Coping

The American Institute of Stress attributes three reasons as to why people are not prepared to effectively cope after a loss:

1. In our materialistic society, we’re taught to acquire things, not lose them.

2. Society teaches us that “having things” will make us feel happy and more complete.

3. We are taught by society that if we lose something, replacing it quickly will help us feel better and make the loss easier.

9 Ways to Manage the Effects of Bereavement and Stress

Learning how to manage stress levels is imperative if we want healthy hearts and immune systems. The following are suggestions you may offer to your client families, as well as their friends and community members who are grieving a loss.

1. Exercise Self-Compassion

Give yourself permission to feel. Learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings is a process that becomes easier over time. One comes to recognize that emotions come and go like tourists during the busy season. They stay for a while, and then they are gone. Understanding that difficult feelings will somehow eventually ease helps to lessen the fear that we will always be in this type of pain.  


More like This: It’s Ok To Not Be Ok

2. Talk It out

Release your confusion, frustration, shock, and pain with someone you trust. Choose someone who is a good listener and empathetic. Feeling understood and heard is an important component of healing. If you do not feel comfortable talking to a friend, you may wish to find a counselor or therapist who is experienced in grief work. 

3. Write a Letter to or Journal About the Person You Lost

Release your confusion, frustration, shock, and pain with someone you trust. Choose someone who is a good listener and empathetic. Feeling understood and heard is an important component of healing. If you do not feel comfortable talking to a friend, you may wish to find a counselor or therapist who is experienced in grief work. 


More like This: Grief Journal – 10 Ideas to Get You Started

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Laugh

It is not uncommon to feel guilty about experiencing joy in the wake of loss. Laughter is a natural stress reliever that releases feel-good chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in the brain. Laughter also relaxes muscles, eases tension, reduces cortisol levels, protects the heart, increases immune system functioning and replenishes the lungs. Needless to say, laughter can truly be the best medicine.

5. Rely on Faith

Whether you are religious or spiritual, reading or listening to uplifting texts and/or music can offer hope and keep death in perspective. Simply exposing oneself to positive and uplifting words creates a mind-shift away from dark and negative thoughts that can overwhelm us.   

6. Have Patience

We live in a fast-paced society where instant gratification is coveted. Recovering from a loss cannot be forced. Grieving is often like buying a train ticket without knowing the destination. The journey is long and there may be stops and delays along the way. Practice patience and compassion as you navigate through each twist and turn. 


More like This: Grief And Loss: An In-Depth Guide To Moving Forward

7. Make Self-Care a Priority

Exercise, meditate, do yoga, get a massage, or just take a walk around your own neighborhood. These activities work to keep our minds in the present moment, and relax and rejuvenate the body. 


More like This: The Importance Of Self Care — Why It Is Not Selfish

8. Offer Yourself Forgiveness

It is easy to beat up on ourselves for the things we said or didn’t say to our departed loved one. Let go of guilt; nobody is perfect. Now is the time to forgive yourself, and to focus on all that you enjoy about your memories with your loved one. 

9. Live

Notice that life is all around you–plants, animals, people. It is important to stay conscious of small, yet meaningful moments. Allow yourself to enjoy the sun’s warmth, a loved one’s hug, the squirrels giving chase to one another, the buds of new leaves in spring, a neighborly hello, or a smile from a stranger. Find comfort in being a part of something that is much bigger than all of us.

Conclusion

When someone is grieving, the idea of “getting over it” may be overwhelming and unattainable. By helping those who grieve to understand that the process is slow, but manageable, you can help them to take tiny steps towards healing. Families naturally turn to their funeral directors for guidance in how to move through grief, and your compassion will be remembered long after the services have ended.

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