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Inviting Breath Into Grief

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

What can I do to get through grief? I feel so out of control. I can’t think straight. Make this go away. I can’t breathe. Does any of this sound familiar? Grief can feel suffocating. We either feel like running away as fast as we can to get away from it or curling up in a tight ball, ignoring the world until the grief fades away. However, we know that neither is an option. Death has invited grief into our lives whether we like it or not. It is up to us to learn to live with it.

Grief is a stressor in the body. Think of some of the feelings you are familiar with. Some feelings like anger, anxious, tense or panicked, have a high energetic energy. Other feelings like lonely, despondent, hopeless, or exhausted have a heavier energy. These intense emotions activate the sympathetic nervous system. It is this system that makes us want to fight our grief, run away from it (flee), or curl up on the couch and not move (freeze). Our heart rate increases and our breathing becomes shallow.

Even though the physical reactions in our bodies are involuntary, we can use mindful breathing to bring our bodies back in to balance. We were not created to live in this state of fight, flee or freeze. Paying close attention to our breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system which overrides the sympathetic system and brings our bodies back into balance. Have you ever thought of breathing as self-care? It is. The benefits of mindful breathing are it 1) calms the mind and body, 2) resets the nervous system and 3) nourishes our bodies with oxygen.

Here is how you do mindful breathing. First, make sure you are in a quiet room or peaceful environment. Next, sit in a comfortable chair. Then gently close your eyes. Now you are ready to breathe. Try to inhale for three counts and exhale for three counts. Breath deep enough that you feel your abdomen rise and fall. Take ten breaths, inhale 1/exhale 1, inhale 2/exhale 2……inhale 10/exhale 10. Pause and repeat this again. It’s that simple yet it’s that challenging.

Here are a few hints:

Be sure to do the breathing through your nose with your lips closed.

Place your hand on your abdomen to feel it rise and fall.

You can use words. Inhale calm/exhale frustration, calm/frustration……calm/frustration

Your mind will wander, just bring it back and focus on your breath.

You will begin to experience the benefits of mindful breathing. Your body and mind will feel calm, your nervous system will feel balanced and your body will be taking in the nourishing oxygen that it needs. You can use this method whenever you feel unbalanced and ready to fight, flee or freeze. Practice mindful breathing when you are in a calmer state. Then when you need it you will know what to do. Keep practicing until you can do mindful breathing for at least 5 minutes or longer. Mindful breathing is a great tool to help you live with Grief in Life.


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