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Coping With Loss After Sandy

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While many people are moving on with life as usual post-Sandy, others are still dealing with her wrath. Loss following the hurricane can come in different forms: financial, structural, emotional, energetic, physical, social or spiritual. It may even include the loss of a loved one.

How can you cope with your loss and best move on? Here are seven tips to help you:

1. Check your reasoning: You are right; it is not fair that this happened to you. And while you are mourning your loss, really explore what you are saying to yourself as the explanation for what happened. For some people it may be, "I am being punished." Others may generalize: "Life is horrible," or "Why me?"

While there are those who could argue these points, the real consideration is this: What will best help you get through this challenging time? The fact is, bad things happen to good people. (Yes, that is the title of a book. And it is true.)

So allow yourself to go through the stages of mourning: depression, anger, denial and bargaining, and then get to the acceptance. Acceptance means you acknowledge what happened (and that bad things can happen in life) while choosing to move on. You choose to take this as a learning experience, as a reminder that life, people and experiences are precious and meant to be appreciated. Acceptance does not mean that you deserve what happened or that you ever wanted it. It does, however, allow you to let go of the anger, guilt, or overwhelming sadness and move on with the next phase of your life.

2. Focus on what you still do have: When we lose something or someone it is so easy to focus on that loss. While this is completely understandable, it is also important to see other parts of your life.

I am not suggesting you deny what happened or even suppress emotions that are less than pleasant. However, I am recommending that you look at the whole picture.

We have all heard of the proverbial glass half full vs. glass half empty. One indicates you are an optimist, the other a pessimist. But which is the actual, factual truth?

The answer is "both." So while you are looking at the half that isn't there, try looking at what IS there. Focus on the people and things that are still in your life and how they make you feel. Maybe during this tough time, you have realized how many wonderful people you still have in your life. Or perhaps you have come into contact with complete strangers who are generously lending a hand. Make sure you are mindful of those experiences, too.

3. Take care of your basic needs: During tough times, we often forget to take care of our basic needs such as getting the sleep and nutrition we need to optimally function. Unfortunately, this makes things worse, with less energy to function and greater emotional stress. Prioritize your health as you are coping with your loss to help you and those around you get through this difficult time.

4. Help out others: Reaching out and helping others can be very therapeutic for you. This does not mean to give all of your time and energy to others at the expense of your own needs. It does mean reaching out to a fellow human being and helping them in some way, even something as "small" as opening the door for a stranger or giving a heartfelt "thank you" to the cashier. Research shows that when we help out others, we feel happier and better connected.

5. De-stress: Stress makes everything worse. It can increase depression and helplessness, cause our bodies to break down, result in strained relationships and make it hard (if not impossible) to do what needs to get done -- at home, work or anyplace else. Stress also causes us to only see the negative in a situation.

While you may not realistically get rid of every ounce of stress, taking steps to better manage it can be incredibly powerful. Practice deep breathing, meditate, take a warm bath, do something fun or anything else to help you reduce stress in a healthy way.

True, this will not change what has happened. It will improve your ability to deal with it.

6. Exercise: I call exercise the non-medical version of Xanax, only better. Research shows that exercise decreases stress and depression, improves our mood, helps us see things from a more positive perspective and boosts our resilience. While I realize the term "exercise" may not induce a lot of happiness in some, please realize any type of movement will be beneficial. Try jumping on a bed, dancing around the house or going for a walk with a friend.

7. Use this as the opportunity to become who you really want to be: Sometimes traumatic events have an incredible way of turning our life around for the positive. During my years of training in psychology, I worked with people who had been diagnosed with cancer. My friends used to ask me, "Isn't that depressing?" but I had a completely different experience. So often, after my clients were diagnosed with cancer (regardless of the severity of their disease), they had a transformation in their lives. They started to reassess how they spent their time and energy. Workaholics realized that their loved ones were more important than the job and started to spend more time with family. People who had been holding a grudge forgave their loved ones. Individuals would stop beating themselves up about "not being good enough" and instead embrace who they were.

Why not use this opportunity to make similar positive changes in your life?

For more on emotional wellness, click here.

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