by Carleen Newsome, LPC, CPCS, ACS Clinical Director at The Summit Counseling Center
If you have experienced a major loss this year, the last thing that may be on your mind is New Year Resolutions or 2019 Goals. It is possible you are still in the midst of grieving, and just when you feel you have taken a step forward, you wake up feeling you have taken five steps backward. Maybe the goals that were important to you before your loss hold little importance to you now. For many of us, New Year Resolutions often include losing weight, and concentrating on losing five pounds may seem ridiculous to many on the heels of losing a child or spending a year in and out of the hospital fighting for your child’s life. So, should we just forget about goals this year and give ourselves a break? Possibly. But I would like to suggest an alternative look at goal setting with grief in mind. Goals, when appropriate, can help us stay healthy and resilient in our deepest grief. Here are five goal setting ideas specifically designed with grief in mind.
Allow yourself to lean into your pain for defined and limited time periods.
It is important to lean into our grief at times, allowing ourselves to experience sadness and name the things we are missing. In fact, it is even okay to feel sorry for ourselves. We may ask, “Why did this happen to me when others seem to skate through life with minimal trauma.” Leaning into our grief allows us to move effectively through the stages of grief. Avoiding our emotional pain can contribute to feeling stuck and hopeless in our grief. On the other hand, simply leaning into grief can become overwhelming. An appropriate goal for 2018 may be to find “the middle ground.” Give yourself permission to lean into grief but give it a time limit. For instance, you may decide to stay in your pajamas and cry on the couch one morning. Allow it, but plan to get dressed by noon and meet a friend for lunch or go to the grocery store.
Practice self-soothing techniques during difficult emotions.
On those mornings when you allow yourself to grieve until noon, head to a designated spot in your home where you keep distress tolerance tools. Have a basket filled with items that can soothe your emotions as you experience them. Practice soothing all five senses. In the basket put a plush blanket, hot water bottle and your child’s favorite stuffed animal to soothe your sense of touch. Include a scented candle, essential oils, and your favorite scented lotion to soothe your sense of smell. Find other items to soothe your sense of sight, taste and hearing. To be most effective, keep them together in one place and use one item for each sense simultaneously.
Take a shower and get dressed each day.
Whether you intend to leave the house or not, plan to shower and get dressed each day. An appropriate goal would be to do that each morning even if you plan to binge-watch Netflix. Put a limit on your grief and accomplish something each day that gives you a sense of Mastery. A sense of Mastery is the feeling you get when you push yourself and accomplish something that in turn makes you feel better. This is one of the first steps in lifting depression and it is called Behavioral Activation. Behavioral Activation means that instead of waiting until you feel better to accomplish something you push yourself and end up feeling better as a result. A sense of Mastery may come from something as simple as making a few important phone calls or writing a block of thank you notes. It is definitely easier to accomplish something after you have taken a shower and dressed.
Identify three things each morning that you value.
Although there may be mornings where you would rather not face the day, turning our minds to those things that we value can create a different mindset for the day. Sometimes this practice is called gratitude journaling. Because I believe it is hard to be grateful when you have experienced the death of a child, I like to call this practice acknowledging the things that are going right in the midst of our loss. What is going right? It could be that the air is crisp and the sun is shining. It could be that a friend called last night and it was a comfort. It could be that I slept through the night. Focusing on these small gifts helps us navigate grief and become more resilient.
Give of your time and talents where you can.
We know that focusing on the needs of others and feeling that we have made a positive impact gives our life purpose and meaning. Having purpose and meaning increases our life satisfaction. It does not take away our grief but it helps us create a new normal and allows us to begin to create a life worth living. It is not a surprise that so many people who have lost their child find a way to give back to their community. Giving back honors the child, keeps their memory alive, and allows us to positively impact the pain of someone else who may be going through a similar event.
These may not be your typical New Year Resolutions but they certainly are life transforming, loving, compassionate, and healing! I challenge you to try them and find at least one that would make a positive impact on your life this year.