Some Tools for the Physical Side of Grief

Only three days after the horrifying attack on a Latin music night in a gay bar in Orlando, I've decided to write about the physical manifestations of grief, and some tools for working through it. Partially, this post is for myself and my own processing, since as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, this hit me very hard personally. I hope it offers you some reprieve too, for whatever type of grief you're experiencing. The tools here are useful for all types - communal grief like Orlando or the loss of a friend, a family member, a beloved pet, a relationship, and more.

Grief can of course manifest very differently person to person, but for many it comes in three forms. A sense of physical heaviness (did you know the phrase "heavy heart" has been around in the English language since at least 1300?), a sense of disconnectedness from the world despite feeling heavy, and a burning anger that usually doesn't have a clear outlet.

So what can be done with these giant, seemingly overwhelming sensations and the emotions that pair with them? Here are a few things to try.

Breathe. Think of the breath you take when you sigh or yawn. It's a full lung breath, all the way from your diaphragm at the base of your ribcage to the tops of your lungs, all the way up under your first rib, under your collarbones. Try placing your hands around different parts of your ribcage (front, back, sides, up, down) and breathing into the gentle pressure of your hands - literally help yourself open places in yourself that get closed off by grief. Go easy though. Breath is a very powerful tool, and if you disrupt its normal pattern too abruptly, it can set off a sense of panic. If at any moment it feels like too much, pause and back off, then come back later.

Stomp. Do it. Sitting, standing, on grass, on a floor, on a sidewalk, do it. The earth can take your anger. It won't get scared away, no matter how big and fiery your anger is. Stomp so that you can feel your own connection the ground. Feel your bones reverberate with the impact. (If you aren't in a physical place where you can full out stomp, just a few strong taps with your heels can do a lot of good.)

Define your space. Bring your hands in front of you. How far do you extend your hands in front until you've found what feels like the edge of your space? To the sides? Backwards? Above your head? In the midst of grief, that boundary could be really close or really far away, and both are okay. Find out for yourself, what kind of boundary is it? Acknowledge it and its importance. Is it the space of your sadness, of your anger, of safety, or of something else? Does it have a hard edge or a soft edge? Does it change if you define it with your hands in a different position?

Cry and laugh. Both are enormously physiologically important for dealing with stress and grief. If you feel like you can't cry or can't laugh, be patient with yourself and they'll show up in their own time.

Got some more tools that have helped you? Feel free to leave them in the comments so other people can try them too. Also, go find someone to give you a really good, solid hug.

Versions of this article can also be found on the Seattle Globalist, Elephant Journal, and the Feldenkrais Guild of North America.