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Moving through the stages of Grief; through this pandemic, collectively, together! By Dr. Tanya Wylde, ND

Did you know we are all grieving?  What stage of Grief are you in?
This post is based on an article I read by Scott Berinato, a senior editor at Harvard Business Review; written March 23rd 2020 called “That Discomfort you are feeling– It’s GRIEF” read it and went YES!  That’s it, the world is grieving and they need to know it.  Identify what stage YOU are in and it will help you move through to the next! The world has changed.  We feel it.  We know it is temporary, but right now, it doesn’t feel that way and we are all grieving the loss of what was normal to us.  We are grieving the loss of human connection, our normal routines, our safety,  our financial stability and we all worry that this will forever change the world around us.  The scariest part is that we are all experiencing this together and we are not used to the kind of heaviness in the air.  We are all connected energetically and yes, we feel it!  We are grieving on an individual and collective level.  When has this ever happened on this level?  Never.  

Are you familiar with the stages of grief?  What stage are you in?  You may jump around through the stages of grief as they are not “linear” but just being able to understand and label your emotion is a powerful tool.  Saying “I am grieving” can bring you out of your primitive part of your brain called the “amygdala” aka “fight-flight-freeze” center of your brain and into your processing part of your brain; “The lateral pre-frontal cortex” part of your brain.  It helps you process and feel less sad.  Just like when you are mad and you label it and say “ I am mad” you become less “in mad” and begin to soften yourself.   The stages of grief include: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, sadness and then finally acceptance.   Denial would be the sort of thinking that includes: “This virus won’t affect me, I am invisible” Apparently the news said that Millennials thought this for a while.  Examples of anger around it all would include; “You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities, this makes me angry”; Bargaining would be “Okay, if I social distance for a couple of weeks, the virus will go away and I can go back to the usual routine”; Sadness would be thoughts of “The world is coming to an end, will this ever be over?”; finally there’s acceptance; “This is happening and I have to adapt and make changes that allows me to carry on”  Acceptance is the most powerful.  We find control in acceptance.  
Think of all the things that you CAN control!  I CAN wash my hands, I CAN keep a safe distance, I CAN learn how to work virtually, I CAN show up to my virtual work dressed and ready to go for the day, I CAN take advantage of this time and catch up with all the things that I had planned to do before, I CAN teach my kids and find appropriate resources to help me with them, I CAN connect with people in a new way, I CAN exercise to use up the fight-flight cortisol/stress hormones that causes me anxiety and physical symptoms.  

If you allow yourself to move through the stages and get to acceptance there will be less anxiety and physical pains around this.  The physical manifestations of anxiety can vary from a racing heart, sweaty palms to diarrhea and chest pains.  Anxiety in our minds can create such a huge variety of physical symptoms that often we don’t even know that they are related to anxiety.  This is especially SCARY for someone who has NOT experienced anxiety before.  You worry something is SERIOUSLY wrong with you; when really it is anxiety.  Anxiety can cause you to take your mind to the worst possible scenarios; for example that you will get sick and die, that your family will get sick and die that you will lose all financial stability and not be able to provide for yourself and/or your family.  The KEY to addressing these thoughts is recognizing them as anxiety; say “I have anxiety”.  As I mentioned before; labeling an emotion helps and by labeling your anxiety you realize you aren’t going to die of a heart attack; it’s just chest pain from anxiety .  

Develop a tool box for your anxiety and see which works the best for you.  Exercise to prevent or move you though it and use up your stress hormones, keeping a routine so you have control over something, reaching out to other friends and talking about it, mindfulness and deep breathing exercises. If you are experiencing panic, move through your five senses (sight, smell, sound, touch, taste) and name 2 things for each.  Even just go to your fridge and suck on a lemon.  This can help you get right into your senses and out of panic.  Then move your thoughts to positive ones “ I am safe, I am healthy, I have food, we are in this together, we will get though this, I will focus on the things that I CAN control rather than on the things that I CAN’T control”  This doesn’t mean that you simply label your thought and then turn to positive ones.  Allow yourself to feel.  Stifling your thoughts and feelings or immediately trying to change them to positive ones won’t allow you to process.  You ARE allowed to FEEL.  Just don’t get stuck there.  Talking about how you feel, labelling how you feel and then feeling the emotion(s); these all help you process the emotion(s) at a comfortable pace.   

Scott Berinato, wrote in his recent article that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s family, the original author of the Five Stages of Grief, gave him permission to add a sixth stage of grief; “Meaning”. Meaning is the stage that comes after acceptance.  

I LOVE this.  The reason I love this is because it makes sense and it allows us to find purpose in maddening situations.  He says “ And I do believe we find light in those times. Even now people are realizing they can connect through technology. They are not as remote as they thought. They are realizing they can use their phones for long conversations. They’re appreciating walks. I believe we will continue to find meaning now and when this is over.  I wrote an instagram post yesterday on another article I read discussing dissociation.  At first I thought that maybe going through 5 years of infertility and multiple miscarriages that maybe I over dissociate.  But then I realized after this article, not only have I learned to dissociate in a healthy-ish (immersing myself in my family life and job), I also learned to move through the stages of grief a little quicker than others.  Why? Because I recognize the emotion of grief right away.  I have had A LOT of grief in my life.  I have experienced the loss of my dad at a young age through divorce, my first crush/boyfriend to a bike-car collision, the loss of my grandfather and maternal aunt to breast cancer and my mom to dementia/alzheimer’s (She’s still going through this so we haven’t completely lost her yet).  Now, if you are going through infertility or have had miscarriages then and only then; will you understand this.  Of all my grievances, infertility was by far the worst.  Research shows the feelings of grief associated with the diagnosis of infertility is comparable to the feelings of grief associated with a cancer diagnosis.  I can’t imagine having cancer but I remember the sadness and grief I experienced with the lack of control when my womanhood was totally rocked and I lost multiple possibilities. (miscarriages)  The inability to have a child and then losing 5 over a process of 8 years was by far the worst grief I have ever experienced.  Losing them wasn’t as bad as not getting pregnant for 3 years. Scott’s brilliant idea to add a 6th stage of grief; finding meaning resonates so well with me.  Since infertility taught me to dissociate really well.  Which isn’t always healthy but can be very useful through times like this.  For me, dissociation involves pouring all my energy into my kids, work and exercise since I have control over these things and not on the world around me. (not necessarily all that bad) Infertility also taught me to move through the stages of grief very quickly because for me nothing has been as heart breaking or sad.  Infertility taught me patience, resilience and adaptability.  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but for those of you going through it now, I can empathize like crazy.  I feel your pain.  I hope though that you are lucky and can conceive miraculously over this time where perhaps you are forced to take a break from infertility treatments like I did when I conceived our daughter.   Christmas 2015, I was ready for my 3rd embryo transfer after losing twins and a 2nd failed frozen embryo transfer.  My 3rd embryo transfer however was going to be delayed to January because my cycle didn’t align when the clinic was open and they were closed over christmas break.  I was angry but I let go of all control, and instead poured my energy into writing a chapter “Naturopathic Perspectives” for a book written by my friend and author of “Embrace Your Fertility, empowering you with the tools to succeed”  At the time I had no idea that writing this chapter would be so therapeutic for me, nor did I realize that letting go of all control would help so much but retrospectively this is what happened as I was able to conceive our daughter Phoenix, naturally; while waiting for an embryo transfer.  I always talk about finding your “silver linings” and “meaning” in life.   This essentially is the same as the 6th stage of grief….finding meaning… By going through what I went through with infertility it allowed me to grow as a human and doctor and be the best parent I could imagine ever being.  It has also allowed me to move through the stages of grief at a more easy and comfortable pace in times of crisis; including my  mom’s alzheimer’s and this pandemic.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t fall back into anger or denial…(since again this isn’t a linear set of stages); but staying mostly in acceptance and finding meaning has been so much easier for me than than going through infertility.  So in a strange way, I am grateful for my infertility.  It helped me grow, find meaning in my life and learn to accept and adapt quickly in this pandemic. I hope this blog helps you find acceptance and process your emotions more easily!

This article was based on http:// https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief

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