There is no manual to follow when we lose someone or something that we love. Grieving can turn our worlds upside down as we attempt to process and make sense of the loss.
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"When someone is grieving, their mind and body are working overtime to create meaning of the life change," Juhee Jhalani, PhD, a NYC-based psychologist, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
"The experience of grief is very personal and unique," Jhalani says. "There is no right or wrong trajectory to grieving." The process can take days, months or years.
While each person's path to healing is different, practicing self-compassion and patience during your grieving process is paramount, she says. And one way to do that is through mindfulness and meditation.
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How Meditation Can Help With Grief
There is extensive scientific evidence to support the mental health benefits of meditation and interventions such as mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, Jhalani says.
In fact, mindfulness-based interventions may help regulate emotional and cognitive reactivity (which may be heightened during the grieving process) and mitigate worry and rumination (which are symptomatic of grief), according to an April 2015 meta-analysis in Clinical Psychology Review.
The same study also found that mindfulness-based therapies "promote self-compassion and psychological flexibility, which are much-required coping skills when surviving a loss and accepting the new reality of life," Jhalani adds.
Preliminary research also suggests that mindfulness meditation can positively affect markers of immune system functioning — which may be compromised during grief — like cell aging and inflammation, per a June 2016 systematic review in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
To address grief, Jhalani recommends practicing acceptance-based mindfulness meditation since it "promotes gradual acknowledgement of distressing situations."
This technique also encourages you to "embrace the negative emotions, unsettling thoughts and uncomfortable bodily sensations that may arise in the grieving process while helping you avoid the urge to disengage or ignore the physical and psychological pain associated with the loss," she explains.
"In a nutshell, the ultimate goal of this practice is to 'just be,' practice self-compassion and be patient," Jhalani says.
Meditate twice a day for at least six weeks to “experience its benefits to the fullest,” Jhalani says. As you commit to the practice and grow more comfortable, you can increase the intensity and frequency of your meditation sessions.
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A 5-Minute Meditation for Grief and Loss
Be kind and loving to yourself as you practice this five-minute, acceptance-based meditation by Jhalani to help you cope with loss.
If your mind wanders, that's OK. Simply observe it and return to your breath. "The sheer practice of focusing and bringing the attention back to the breath helps calm the mind and embrace the many mixed feelings associated with grief as they arise," Jhalani says.
And remember: There is no right approach to process your grief, so feel free to modify this meditation in whichever way that is most helpful.
- Sit in a comfortable position in a calm and quiet space.
- Write on a piece of paper or speak softly acknowledging to yourself the person or the experience that you are committing to grieve mindfully today.
- Create a mental image of the person or the experience. Close your eyes and breathe deeply for 15 breathing cycles as you stay with the image.
- Speak out loud or in your mind what you want to say to the person or to the experience. ("I miss you, I forgive you, I am sorry for..., I wish I could..., I thank you," etc.) Repeat these statements as many times as you feel the need to.
- Acknowledge your breath and observe if it has changed. Continue to breathe the way you are breathing with no harsh judgements.
- Acknowledge the emotions and feelings that are arising within you. Observe them quietly and label them. ("I am feeling sad/angry/relieved/guilty.")
- Take a few deep breaths and let go of the feelings and emotions that are arising. Bring your attention back to your breath.
- Notice how your body feels at the moment. If tears arise, let them be. If your facial muscles or your chest is tense, observe these sensations and let them be. No need to change anything. Accept experiences as they emerge.
- Breathe deeply and gradually return your breath to a natural rhythm.
- Continue to focus on your breath for the next few breathing cycles.
- Visualize the word "CALM." Notice the font, color and texture in which the imagery of the word appears in your mind. Repeat to yourself "I feel calm. I am here. I will just be."
- When you feel ready to end the practice, take a few more deep breaths. Slowly open your eyes if they are closed and reorient yourself. Rub your palms gently and observe the front and back of your hands with compassion.
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- Clinical Psychology Review: “How Do Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Improve Mental Health and Wellbeing? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Mediation Studies.”
- Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: “Mindfulness Meditation and the Immune System: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials.”