While a person is grieving they may want to lash out at different times. How can they control this and how do you advise a grieving person to stay calm?

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AZBodyMindCounseling (Professional Therapist (Verified) ) - 10 / 19 / 2011

In body-mind-spirit medicine, it's important to use interventions that address the whole person. I don't always advise a grieving person to "stay calm" as that can produce additional pressure on them to have to be responsible for making everyone else feel o.k. Grief is one time where a person has earned a right to be a little selfish and let it all hang out. Now, that shouldn't give the person who's grieving carte blanche to strike out at anyone in their path, but they do need to be given a little lee-way to express themselves without fear of retribution.

BODY: People often lose control because they feel overwhelmed and tired. Start with stress management and self care. To reduce stress, encourage them to eat well, get rest, and be as active as they can be without feeling over taxed. Pain management is a biggie here. Encourage them to stay ahead of the pain with medication rather than wait for the pain to get bad enough and then take the medication. That lag time until the medication takes effect will be taxing and distressing.

The increased stress level from pain, fatigue, insomnea, etc. pushes their sympathetic nervous system to the edge creating a physiological reaction we call the "Fight/Flight Response". If the feeling is associated with fear, the person has an anxiety attack and wants to get away. If the experience is associated with anger, then the response can be rage and a behavior of striking out verbally or even physically.

The best way to undo the Fight/Flight Response is to engage in relaxation breathing techniques, often simple yoga breathing techniques, which calm the body and decrease the excitatory hormones raging through the body. Grab Dr. Andrew Weil's "Breathing: The Master Key to Self-Healing" and use cut #7, "The Relaxing Breath." Engaging in muscle stretching, physical exertion and massage can be helpful only if it doesn't provoke pain.

MIND: Help the person understand what this event means to them. Don't try to correct them or rebut their comments. Just listen, express understanding and empathy. Someone who has just had a mastectomy may feel quite certain that they will never be attractive again. It won't work to tell them, "But look at how beautiful your face is." or "Phsyical beauty isn't everything." Listen to what they are saying and express how you understand that they would feel the way they do. Trying to convince them they are wrong in their thinking will only lead to conflict. There will be time later in the grief process for them to come to terms with a different view point on life. But it will take time, their time.

If the person is wanting to deal with their anger differently, have them try to conceptualize something that is the real source of their anger and, using various techniques, communicate their anger. Too often people will try to hold it all in causing themselves much more distress in the long run. They need not actually communicate it to the person (if there is an identifiable person). They can simply write their thoughts down or tell them to an empty chair symbolizing a person or scream the thoughts into the ether. Emotive activities can be quite a release as long as they have an end point. Carrying on too long can simply re-indoctrinate the person in their grief and anger.

Encourage them to seek counseling and/or a psychiatric appointment if they decompensate or things don't seem to be getting better within a few months. That's right, I said "months." Grief is a long process that can take a year, or more. But it isn't the same level of distress every day. It gets better a bit at a time. Some may never fully recover from a significant loss. Your indicator for whether they need to go to therapy is functionality: how functional are they on their own when you take into account any mental or physical limitations they may have.

SPIRIT: Not just talking about a person's religion here, but the more basic level of spirituality. Help the person connect to nature, to themselves, and to other people. Encourage them to be engaged socially. Perhaps they could benefit from a support group where people can truly express themselves and feel understood by someone in their shoes. Encourage them to get back to doing things that they loved to do, een if they don't feel like it yet.

Lastly, speak to the people around the grieving person, ask them to have patience and to understand that the lashing out isn't about the situations and people at the time, but probably about deeper issues. Suggest patience and understanding if the person turns their back on their faith for a while. There may be things to work out between them and God before they can do that. If there is a God and s/he is eternal, s/he can wait.

Grief is part of the process of adapting to a new reality. It comes at a time when a major life transition has occurred. It's understandable that that transition would take time and affect our moods and functioning. Have patience with the person who's grieving and practice forgiveness, especially if that person is you.
Shared Experiences

member817 (Survivor (10 - 20 years)) - 10 / 20 / 2011

This is a wonderful, detailed and thoughtful post. Thank you!
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