Written by: Pamela Bills, LPC
Many grieving people with whom I have spoken recently have expressed that during this time of pandemic, they feel as if their own grief and loss have been minimized. When others minimize our feelings, or when we ourselves do so, it can be a natural tendency to “shove it down.” This brings to mind a helpful activity I like to practice with grieving people, those struggling with anxiety, and coping with extreme stress. I would say at this intense and uncertain time it may well apply to just about all of us.
Emotional balance is somewhat difficult to achieve even under normal circumstances, because it involves allowing ourselves to experience feelings as they happen and not suppressing them. Sometimes it is easier to shove down the painful feelings, but then we can feel overwhelmed or stifled. By learning to name and accept our feelings without judgement, our load can be considerably lightened.
You will need- a backpack, blocks, (something with some weight) or canned goods, and post it notes
(Or if you prefer to do this activity as a mental exercise, that works too!)
Before you begin, think about feelings such as: Uncertainty, Anger, Fear, Sadness, Longing, Worried, Overwhelmed. These are just a few examples. Remember, you have a right to your feelings and some may be positive ones too! It might be helpful for you to use sentences such as: I am exhausted, Feeling trapped, etc.
- Take some time to write how you feel on post it notes and attach these individually to your blocks or canned goods. As you write each feeling think about what it means to you and if you have someone you feel comfortable to talk with about it, do so.
- Load up your backpack! Shove it all in there, zip it up and look at it. It probably looks pretty heavy and maybe a bit daunting. What else do you observe?
- Now, put on your backpack and walk around for a bit. Here are some questions you might ask yourself: Is this heavy? What is in here? How does my body feel right now and what parts of me are having a reaction? You may even have some more great questions since you loaded the backpack yourself.
- When you are ready, put down the backpack and take an object out for “unpacking.” How did it feel to carry this object around and what might it mean if you could set it aside for a bit? Your process of unpacking your items will be as unique as you are, and that is O.K.! I find it helpful to unpack a few at a time, then zip up and carry the rest for awhile before unpacking further. Your backpack may feel a bit lighter as the exercise goes on. Note your body’s reaction to this and breathe deeply in and out. Did you note that it was easier to carry less than the whole packed bag?
As we travel down this path that let’s face it, none of us signed up for, let us remember that everyone has their own backpack. However, that doesn’t mean that yours is of less importance. Give yourself permission to set your burden down for a moment and acknowledge that you have been carrying a lot on your shoulders!