How grieving your losses could save your life

As COVID-19 continues to hold the world’s population hostage, we’re all suffering through losses in one form or another. Some, for whom the virus has hit especially close to home, are dealing with the literal deaths of family members or friends.

Others may be mourning the loss of jobs—or simply grieving their pre-pandemic lives, when restaurants were still bustling, social calendars were still full, and simple trips to the grocery store were safe, calm, and uncomplicated.

Whatever your particular situation, it’s safe to say that we’re all struggling to adjust to a “new normal.” One marked by the swift destruction of old, familiar routines, and paired with an increasingly urgent need for isolation.

It’s a dangerous combo, to say the least. But research shows just how important it is to grieve these losses…

Why it’s more than just “okay” to cry

A recent study from researchers at Rice University found that it’s just plain healthier—mentally and physically—to express your emotions in the face of grief.

These scientists looked at nearly 100 people, all of whom had recently lost a spouse. They surveyed each subject to assess how well they were coping with the loss, rating them on a scale of one to seven based on their responses.

They also collected blood samples in order to measure subjects’ cytokine levels. (These include key markers of inflammation—which, as you know by now, lies at the root of just about every chronic disease in the book.)

Their findings: Bereaved spouses who kept a stiff upper lip and avoided expressing their anguish had higher levels of systemic inflammation than subjects who openly shared their pain and grief.1

In other words, it’s more than just “okay” to cry in the aftermath of tragedy. In fact, not giving yourself permission to grieve could send your immune system into a tailspin and pose a very real hazard to your health.

So what does that mean for you? Well for starters, you’ll need to rethink your support system—especially now, as we continue social distancing.

Coffee dates and in-person bereavement groups might be off the agenda, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer in silence. Virtual connections—like streaming church services, Zoom chats with friends and family, teletherapy, telehealth, and online resources for meditation and stress relief—are more important now than ever.

But supporting your adrenal system is essential in the face of grief, too.

Weathering the stress of staying at home

First things first… diet is the most critical component when it comes to staying healthy during periods of intense stress. But since no one wants to jump through fiery hoops when they’re already dealing with trauma and/or loss, the best approach is the most basic one.

With that in mind, these two rules of thumb are really all you need to focus on:

1) Cut out all sugars and grains.

2) Opt for organic, nutrient-rich produce and grass-fed and finished protein whenever possible.

In other words, when it’s time to restock at the grocery store, avoid the center aisles, where all the packaged, processed foods are stored. Instead, stick to the outside perimeter and focus only on fresh, whole foods. (Better yet, if your local farmer’s market is up and running, take advantage of their fresh, locally grown and raised foods instead.)

There are also a number of supplements that can help you better manage the stress you may face in the midst of grief, loss, and upheaval.

In particular, adaptogens are great tools to have on hand during times of stress. Adaptogens are exactly what they sound like—natural extracts that help your body adapt to difficult circumstances. Here are a few of my top picks:

  • Rhodiola rosea. This herb can help guard your body against stress. I recommend 30 mg, three times per day.
  • Schizandra chinensis. This herb works a lot like Rhodiola and helps to stabilize your adrenal gland. I recommend 60 mg, three times per day.
  • Ashwagandha extract. This adaptogen guards against stress and enhances immunity. I recommend 150 mg, three times per day.
  • Eleutherococcus sinensis root extract. This is also known as Siberian Ginseng. I recommend 150 mg, three times per day.
  • Panax ginseng. This is a classic adaptogen. I recommend 50 mg, three times per day.

Of course, these herbs can’t make the ongoing pandemic disappear. And they can’t cure the heartache of loss, or lighten the emotional burden of trauma. Nor can they ease the daily struggles of the self-isolation that we’re all collectively navigating right now.

Only time and tears—along with all the connection and communication your phone and computer will allow—can do that.

But they can help you to weather this storm by keeping your body strong and protected in the process. And I don’t think there’s a person in the world who couldn’t benefit from that—now, and always.

Reference:

Lopez RB, et al. “Emotion Regulation and Immune Functioning During Grief: Testing the Role of Expressive Suppression and Cognitive Reappraisal in Inflammation Among Recently Bereaved Spouses.” Psychosom Med. 2020 Jan;82(1):2-9.


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