Emotional First-Aid

How to tend to a broken heart

The pain of traumatic loss, whether it’s the heartbreak of a break-up or the loss of a loved one, is one of the most emotionally painful experiences we can have as human beings. What you are experiencing is valid, a natural response to a significant loss, and journeying through grief is an important process for healing your heart in a healthy way.

Don't avoid or minimize painful feelings. If we try to suppress a wave of emotion, it'll eventually come over us like a tsunami. Avoidance can look like using alcohol or drugs to numb how we feel or delaying grief could be over preoccupying ourselves with other tasks like school or work.

Accepting and allowing ourselves to feel painful emotions is ultimately what will bring relief. All emotions including grief will come like a wave, it'll peak and feel intense, but it will eventually subside. It won't feel this emotionally painful forever, but we don't want to make it feel worse with unhealthy coping.

Give yourself space and permission to grieve. If you need to take time off from work or school, request a mental health day. Give yourself the space and time you need to tend to your feelings with kindness, care, and compassion.

Take care of yourself. It's important to still do the basics right now like drinkwater, eat, try to sleep, get a shower. It'll Be hard to feel better if we're dehydrated on top of how we're feeling.

Journal. Sometimes our best confidant can be found between the lines of an emptypage. Journaling can be a cathartic experience to unload all that we're thinking and feeling safe within our notebook pages. Allow the stream of consciousness to flow, don't worry about spelling or punctuation, take pen to paper and utilize the space to process what's weighing on your heart and mind.Afterwards, you can plan a soothing activity, like taking a walk, having a cup of tea, or sitting outside.

Practice self-soothing. Show up for yourself by taking the very best care of yourself in this moment. Self-soothing is about bringing yourself comfort in this moment. It could look like wrapping yourself up in a cozy blanket, taking warm bath, having a cup of tea, watching your favorite t.v. show, or listening to music.

Take it one day at a time, one hour at a time, or one minute at a time. Although Intense, these feelings will pass, over time they will feel less painful, this experience won't last forever. This too shall pass.

Ask for help when you need it. Although it can feel very vulnerable to let others into the raw painful emotions experienced post break-up, vulnerability is the very element we need for connection. Others won't be able to show-up for us, if we don't ask for what we're needing or if we don't give them an invitation into our world. If you struggle with vulnerability I'd recommend reading or watching some of Brené Brown's work.

Practice self-compassion. How we speak to ourselves matters. If your friend was going through this what would you tell them? What words of hope or encouragement would you offer them? Create a self-compassionate statement and trying writing it on an index card, place it somewhere you'll see it each day, like on the mirror, as a gentle reminder to yourself, "that you're doing the best you can right now and your best is goodenough."

Grief has no prescribed timeline. If you find yourself thinking, "I should be over it by now," try to remember that you're on your own journey through grief. We can't compare our experience to someone else.Your heart needs the time that it needs to heal without judgement. Expect progress and valleys, one day you might be feeling better, the next day, you might find your mood drops again. Allow the feelings to come and go, like waves on the ocean. Remembering that each wave is bringing you closer towards healing.

Reach out if you're needing more support. If feelings of grief are feeling too much for you to hold, know that it's okay to reach-out for help from a mental health professional. As a psychologist I'veworked with individuals in all stages of grief. Sometimes that looks like creating a secure space to hold what you're going through, other times we're creating healthy coping, exploring meaning, uncovering your values, and paving a path forward. Reach out today if you'd like to talk more about starting therapy.

Take good care,
Dr. Laura-Beth Fitzpatrick