Mental Wellness & Technology: Addressing the Side Effects of Grief & a New Framework for the Grieving

21 Feb 2020 - Tracey Wallace

Welcome

He wasn’t the first. Before him was Arianna Huffington, and Melisse Gelula. But when Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri admitted to having anxiety on a podcast in December 2019, it felt important. After all, one of the biggest questions facing our always-connected era is “What is all of this doing to our mental health?”

Mosseri immediately related his anxiety back to his job.

“There’s a question about where and how Instagram can play a role. Are we exacerbating it? If so, then how can we make sure that we don’t do that. But can we go further than that? Can we reduce someone’s anxiety?

That’s a hard question to answer, because… I mean I’ll speak personally, my anxiety has to do with a lot more than my use of Instagram. It has to do with having little kids. It has to do with work/life balance. It has to do with my job. It has to do with my family, et cetera. So, not to be dismissive at all. We just want to make sure that whatever we decide to do we have the capacity to do really well and to actually make a difference.”

He’s right. Our collective anxiety comes from a lot more than social media –– despite how helpful or harmful it is to any existing anxiety. For many of us here on this article, grief is a big contributor to our anxiety.

These are brilliant questions, and ones that speak to our personal identity and how we engage in the world around us. Even for wellness leaders, these questions are important.

“I’ve learnt just how many wellness leaders are part of the wellness walking wounded,” says Melisse Gelula, co-founder of Well+Good. “I want to advocate for an introspective sabbatical, not simply to make you more productive. I don’t argue it’s a great side effect, but we really have to find out what fills us up, not just in service of our wellness mission, but in service of ourselves.”

Of course, such monumental questions can make us feel immobile and paralyzed. The answers aren’t simple, especially when we have to face them without our loved one by our side. In recent years, there has been an explosion of mental health and wellness apps like Calm, BetterHelp, TalkSpace, ReThink My Therapy, and still others.

“They don’t want to see anybody, they prefer talking to people, and they need it to be very convenient,” says Richard Rosenblum, CEO of Rethink My Therapy. “This is the wave of the future.”

Maybe so. After all, the Global Wellness Institute named “Mental Wellness and Technology” one of only a handful of 2020’s global wellness trends. The timing seems right. The World Health Organization estimates that 25 percent of all people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, with roughly 450 million individuals currently struggling with a condition.

And Silicon Valley has been quick to offer solutions. Nearly 10,000 mental health apps currently crowd the market, with meditation tools such as Calm evolving into billion-dollar companies. And it’s not slowing down: The behavioral health software market is projected to reach $2.31 billion by 2022, growing 14.8% annually, according to a MarketsandMarkets research report.

But one thing seems to be missing from this mental health technology boom… grief wellness.

“The biggest trend in wellness in general is the shift/expansion to a focus on mental wellness, but at the same time the specific category of grief is still too ignored,” says Beth Mcgroarty, Director of Research and PR at the Global Wellness Institute. “One area where you see the most movement is in wellness resorts and retreats. A few years ago, we coined the word ‘painmoon’ to point out that wellness destinations are getting beyond all the ‘celebratory’ focus/retreats – like honeymoons, babymoons, etc. – to help people get through difficult periods of loss and pain, including grief.”

Grief Remains Stigmatized, a Larger Life Shift

Grief remains stigmatized in the U.S., where most of us aren’t culturally taught how to work through grief, or how to help those we love through grief. Instead, the current mental health and wellness world aims to help with side effects of grief: sleep, anxiety, the need for ritual.

But by not building programs for those specifically experiencing grief, one big component of wellness in general is left out… community.

Millennials are opting for grief retreats. Baby boomers love their Facebook grief groups. People of all ages grieve differently, but one thing that is proven to help to the support and encouragement of a community.

“In the United States, though, most of us have no idea how to behave in the first year of grieving. We do not have the benefit of a collective healing experience; instead, we have adopted the phrase, everyone grieves differently, as a slogan that allows people the freedom to respond to their feelings on an individual basis,” writes Dr. Carder Stout for Goop.

“With very few grieving rituals in the U.S., people must rely on their own intuition for guidance, and that lonely and confusing time is usually not aided by a shared understanding of how to respond to grief the way it is in other cultures. The people around us walk on eggshells and are afraid to intervene. We try not to appear too disheveled, for this would be a sign of weakness. We are told to be strong, and we walk through fire, but yearn for a marker in the distance. We search for some sort of bearing, scanning the horizon in vain.”

Grief drops us in the middle of the ocean. Lost. Barely keeping our head above water. Many people find their way back to land.

In many ways, there is a need for an updated role model and framework for Americans in how to face grief.

The answer may be multifaceted (an app, a therapist, a legacy project, a community), but one thing is for sure –– finding meaning and purpose in loss can be transformative (technology or not).

A New Framework for Grief

Everyone grieves differently, yes. But there are commonalities that make this all encompassing human experience such a crucial part of the human condition.

Life is grieving. From Dr. Carder’s essay on Goop once again (because it is so good!):

“We lose things that we cherish almost every day. As children we are faced with the emergence of new ideas. We outgrow the teddy bear we loved so much and place it high on a shelf; we miss how it feels in our arms. We say goodbye to the old house and move into a new one. The backyard looks different and we long for the old tire swing. We untangle the myth of the tooth fairy and catch our mother depositing a dollar under the pillow; we figure out that Santa Claus couldn’t possibly come down the chimney. We are shattered by the idea that our parents lied to us for so long, and we lose a bit of our innocence. Summer days of running down the slip ‘n slide are replaced by the beginning of the school year; we daydream about the next vacation and mourn the loss of our freedom. We have a crush on a girl in our class who fails to give us a Valentine’s Day card: devastating. Later, the moment arrives that we have all thinking about for so many years: Our virginity is taken and we cannot ever get it back. We feel older, but realize that a piece of us—our innocence—is missing.”

“As we grow into adulthood, we search for the perfect mate. We experience heartbreak. We get hired and let go. We finally get hitched and have a glorious wedding day but soon remember the fun we had when we were single. We try to slim down, and give up gluten for Lent. We dream about bagels. We give up weed and promiscuity and lying. We embrace parenthood and stash away the thought of a leisurely afternoon nap—but, man are we tired.”

“Yes, life is full of change and when we move forward, we have to leave things behind. But there is beauty in all this movement.”

Beauty, indeed. Heartbreak, of course. Joy, so often.

But how to get here –– to this point of being able to see that beauty, to feel that heartbreak, to experience that joy? Here is a non-scientific grief framework taught to us by Eterneva customers –– our grief role models.

1. Honor & Memorialize.

In the days and weeks and months after a loss, let it seep in and feel it. Do perhaps the only thing you can: honor them.

Let their memory linger. Let the physical items they behind stay put.

Let them speak to you through what you know about them, the way they lived their life, and find a compromise, the same way you would as if they were physically right here, on how to memorialize them in way they’d want and you need.

2. Activate & Communicate.

The feelings of immobilization or paralyzation are normal. They are your first hurdle to jump as you begin to learn to live with this event. You cannot yet answer those big questions swirling in your head. The whys. The hows. The what nows.

Don’t.

Instead, take a walk. Listen to music at the 432 frequency. Let friends and family in to help. Tell them how you are feeling, really.

Perhaps the condolences need to stop. Stories are better anyway.

You are living now half in the past and half in the present. The future feels so far, so undesired, so unreal.

That’s OK. Let the past live on. Let it have a voice in this present. You don’t have to be strong. You don’t have to like any of it. All you need to do is move, even in small bites, and let your community commune with you. This is for them as much as for you.

3. Assign Meaning & Find Renewed Purpose.

Loss strips us bare. It feels to have severed a critical connection. It hasn’t. The memories you carry with you are real –– more so even than any thought of the future. And the person you are is a physical testament to their impact, and the lasting connection.

But our identities are shaken with loss. Finding a continuing bond in the absence of physical presence is hard. Anyone who tells you it isn’t, isn’t telling you the full truth.

Figuring out how you carry forward is important, and you can do that by recalling those memories and the connection that you have to understand how they would best be honored by the life you live from this point forward.

In this way, you continue the bond by honoring it, by always acknowledging it, and by letting it lead you.

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Conclusion

Mental health technology is booming. And what a blessing. What a great thing. Truly. Stigma exists, too, for mental health of all types. And it is so important for folks to get access to help, whatever it is that helps them in a healthy way.

For those of us grieving, we can tune in.

But few tools exist for grief just yet. Instead, we are working on rebuilding what grief looks like and highlighting its role models. At Eterneva, we are investing in new grief research with Baylor University.

Others are doing similar work –– producing more helpful cards or better funeral home experiences.

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