IN THE WAKE of loss or tremendous change, such as a life-altering medical diagnosis, feelings of isolation and fear can be overwhelming. And understanding how to help someone move through those difficult times can be a challenge. However, when it comes to offering consolation and comfort, simplicity is key.
“Human beings are wired for connection, and reaching out to others for support when we are hurting is a natural way to handle emotional pain,” says Amy Segerstrom, MS, LPC, Coordinator of The Healing Place: A Center for Life’s Journeys with HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals. “By listening to someone who is grieving, you help the person know that he or she is not alone.”
To be an attentive listener, focus on making eye contact and being present when someone is speaking. Don’t worry too much about what you can say in response. Your presence in itself will be enough.
“Remember that less is more, and usually people are looking for someone who is willing to sit with them in pain, tension, discomfort, or grief,” Segerstrom says. “Something about sharing our experiences with another person helps us cope better.”
INTRUSIVE, UNWHOLESOME THOUGHTS can make us feel worse both mentally and physically. While they may seem unavoidable, that doesn’t mean you’re simply a negative person.
“It is the nature of the brain to focus on the negative,” says Amy Segerstrom, MS, LPC, coordinator of The Healing Place: A Center for Life’s Journeys with HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals. “Depression and anxiety can result from a brain that ruminates about the past, or catastrophizes about the future.”
Fortunately, there are tools to manage negative thinking that you can put in your skill set.
POSITIVE THINKING TACTICS “Having a mindfulness practice helps you to see things more clearly,” Segerstrom says. “Having a gratitude practice, such as creating a gratitude list, helps you focus on all the good things in your life.”
Yoga and meditation are common mindfulness practices. If you prefer journaling, you can combine it with your gratitude list and start your day with half an hour of positive thinking.
“Remember that you are the driver of your life,” Segerstrom says. “Your brain is sort of a noisy, obnoxious adolescent that demands the keys to the car, but is clueless about how to actually drive.”
Positive thoughts are not something you either have or don’t. They’re a skill that can be cultivated through daily practices