Many of the widowed women I work with have either traumatic conditioning or full-blown PTSD. Like me, they have undergone so many stressful situations so many times that their bodies are now set on full-blown, on-going disaster mode. And, once the death occurs, this becomes their “new normal” so they are almost oblivious to it. Are you in this heightened state of ongoing stress response?
Here are a few of the warning signs that you might have traumatic conditioning or PTSD: heightened startle response to noises in your home or unexpected en- counters with people or animals; a rapid heart or respiration rate in response to new situations or normal street noises (such as sirens, motorcycles or trains), recurring dreams about the illness or death, and heightened anxiety about new situations or a break in your routine.
So, if stress and your response to it, are damaging your health, what can you do? Well, here are some ideas that are proven to work and a few that don’t help. Let’s look at the don’ts first.
Don’t drown your stress in alcohol or caffeine or blow it up in smoke from nicotine. These habits actually lead to greater cravings and a dip in energy as your liver and kidneys try to filter these toxins from your bloodstream.
Don’t ignore what you’re feeling. It’s not going to go away on its own. You need strategies, not avoidance. (The Navigating Loss program is filled with ideas you can apply. And each video ends with a healing meditation guaranteed to help you relax and let go of stress.)
Don’t hibernate. While it’s tempting to want to spend days on end under the covers, hibernation does not lead to recovery but more often leads to more depression, isolation and weight gain.
Now here are some things you CAN do to reduce your stress and, more importantly, your conditioned stress response:
Get out and take a walk. The Vitamin D you receive is an immune system protector and exercise is really good for you! Plus, walking has been proven, in numerous studies, to be as effective at combating situational depres- sion, like the kind you have when you are grieving, than anti-depressants. Plus, it lowers your blood pressure, lowers blood sugar, increases the release of toxins, and helps you lose weight. Not bad for a walk in the sun, right?
Take a bath. A gentle soak has long been known to release feel-good chemicals in your body. Enhance your expe- rience with aromatherapy by adding lavender to the water or lighting a scented candle.
Get a regular routine in place. It’s important to take the time to nurture yourself now. Make a schedule as to when you’ll exercise, when you’ll use your grief container, when you’ll meditate and set aside a time a few days a week to deal with those things we all procrastinate about: paying bills, reviewing your to-do list, and making your needed medical and dental appointments. Having a routine increases your sense of control over your life, which decreases your stress.
Use a small personal notebook to make notes about what you need or want to do so you can keep all your niggling stress boosters in one place and under control. Rate your to-do list to make sure that the important things get done while acknowledging all those little things you wish you could get done!
Express your gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal or, better yet, end each day by naming, out-loud, 3 things you are grateful for that day.
Visualize calm. See a place in your mind where you have felt safe and calm. Maybe it’s the beach or a meadow or a shady spot filled with flowers. Several times each day, close your eyes and see that place. Breathe in deeply and really see it. Research shows that your body actually produces less of the stress hormone cortisol when you engage in this type of guided imagery every day.
The Navigating Loss program will walk alongside you as you recover from your partner’s death and rebuild a new life. It includes the handbook, “Navigating Loss: A Survival Guide” and a 6-part video series.