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How to Process Grief After Loss

How to Process Grief After Loss

thought about writing on the topic of grief this afternoon before I learned the news of the most recent school shooting.   Hearing of the news of the shooting in Florida today reminds us that so many people are grieving every day.  It's horrifying to hear of such news, and the tragedy reminds us that each day we live is a sweet blessing.  Our hearts break for those affected by the senseless violence.  Some of us grieve sudden and unexpected losses, similar to the one in the news today in Florida, and others grieve over time as loved ones suffer from a terminal illness or fragility from old age.  

Identifiable stages of grief include; denial, anger, deep sadness or depression, bargaining, and acceptance. 

by Gretchen Flores

My top 5 Tips to battle Depression

We all have our ups and downs.  When we get down it can feel pretty overwhelming and it can be a long battle to overcome what got you there.  Life beats us down, we neglect our health, we get tired...and depressed.  Here are a few tips to battle the blues:

1.  Probiotics-  Did you know that there is a connection between poor gut health and depression?  There are many ways to add probiotics to your diet; yogurt, Kefir (fermented yogurt drink), supplements.  Make sure your brand is high quality.  Not all brands are the same quality, you could be throwing your money out the window with no good health benefit.   For example, low fat yogurts with

by Gretchen Flores

Mrs. Lonely and Her Rejection Complex

Introducing Mrs. Lonely:  How her core beliefs set her up for feeling badly and how she changed it.

In my counseling work I often ask clients to fill out worksheets using Cognitive techniques.  The worksheets help clients develop greater insight.  Often, what we think about life is deeply ingrained in us from early experiences.  It is called internalization which I often describe as a process of absorbing messages that influence us throughout our lifetime.  Children especially are like sponges soaking in every word and every attitude that comes their way.  If our early experiences are mostly negative we often develop negative thinking patterns.  Breaking those patterns is part of how therapy helps us move forward.  


by Gretchen Flores

Trauma at the Dark Knight Theatre Premier

Trauma at the Dark Knight Theatre Premier

In light of the movie theater shooting I thought I would write about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  Initially we have our response to the deaths and visible injuries of the people who went to the opening night of The Dark Knight Rises.  I have been brought to tears several times thinking about what the victims went through and what their families are going through now.  It is just heartbreaking and so difficult to grasp why this would happen.  

Then there are the invisible wounds.  The wounds that are under the surface.  The scars that trauma leaves behind and that alter the lives of the people who were there.  Many people may have an acute stress reaction that will last only a few weeks or months.  Others may develop PTSD symptoms.  

I, myself, have PTSD.  I wish I didn’t, but I do.  I could describe to you several of my various traumatic experiences.  I have had, at least, a handful.  I could describe each one but then this blog post would be way too long.  Let’s see, I’ll choose the time I was held up at gun point. 

It’s an interesting story but I am not writing to talk about myself but to talk about how PTSD can affect you for a lifetime.  Those who were at the theater in Aurora, and survived, are forever changed.  They are deeply affected by trauma and it will be something that doesn’t just go away, but it may be something that they can learn to live with.  

For me it started on

by Gretchen Flores

Feeling Weak

After years of slipping into the sedentary lifestyle I decided to start running again.  I used to be an athlete able to run fast or far depending on the race.  Hurdles and the 200 yard dash were among my races, and I also ran cross country.  On the cross country team the coach would load us on a bus and drop us off miles from campus.  We had no choice but to run until we got home.  

Now, years later, I set out to run again.  At first it felt great!  I was thrilled to get my stamina back and to push the pace.  I felt the thrill of getting back in shape again, that is, until my knees seized up in pain.  Pushing the pace was not an option as I stopped on the trail and gave my legs a shake in dismay.  I had no choice but to slow my pace considerably, ice my knees and run shorter distances.  It was discouraging.  

Several weeks later my knees are starting to get stronger.  I don’t look at all like the athlete I used to be.  I kind of shuffle along monitoring my knees and giving them time to build up muscle again.  I never had knee problems before.  It used to be my shins but never my knees.  I guess after years of a sedentary job, putting off running after two kids and a busy life have caught up with me.  

I realize that this applies to many areas of life, physical, spiritual, emotional and mental.   I like to tell my clients that

by Gretchen Flores

What is this feeling?

Sometimes life is hard, discouraging, even sad.  Grief is an important process we go through in life.  Often we may be in a grieving process and not even realize it because we equate it with a death.  No one has to die for you to be going through grief.  Sometimes we lose a dream, a hope, or a relationship begins to fail.  Suddenly a direction in our life takes a turn and we feel a range of strong emotions that we cannot place.  Often we might hold onto something that we know we need to let go of and don’t even realize we cannot let go because we are avoiding the strong emotions of grief.  

The 5 classic stages of grief are:

1.  Denial- This isn’t really happening.

2.  Bargaining- If only...  or Why did God let this happen?

3.  Anger- This shouldn’t have happened, it is somebody’s fault.

4.  Sadness- Weeping and feeling the pain of loss

5.  Acceptance-  Coming to terms with the pain of loss.

Going through these stages does not need to be sequential and there is no specific time limit for each stage.  However, if you do not allow yourself to

by Gretchen Flores

Helping People with Depression

What is Depression?

“Oh, life is so unfair! Nothing ever works out for me.” 
“Nobody cares about me or my pain.”
“I am just a stupid idiot that can’t do anything right.” 
“Why did God let this happen to me?” 
“Nothing is ever going to change.” 

Such is the self talk of a depressed person. 

Depression brings up a lot of questions:

How do you know if you are depressed? 
How do you know if a loved one is depressed? 
If you are depressed, what should you do about it? 
Why can’t people just snap out of it?
What is the difference in depression in men versus depression in women?  Why do men commit 80% of the suicides committed each year? 
How do you help someone who is severely depressed? 

Some statistics:

Mood Disorders (National Institute of Mental Health Statistics)
Mood disorders include major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder.

Approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood disorder.

The median age of onset is age 30.

Depressive disorders often co-occur with anxiety disorders and substance abuse.

Major Depressive Disorder
Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44.

Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.

Major depressive disorder is more prevalent in women than in men. (although some say depressed women are in treatment and many depressed men are in jail).

Dysthymic Disorder
Symptoms of dysthymic disorder (chronic, mild depression) must persist for at least two years in adults (one year in children) to meet criteria for the diagnosis.

Dysthymic disorder affects approximately 1.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.

This figure translates to about 3.3 million American adults.

Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million American adults, or about 2.6 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.

In 2006, 33,300 (approximately 11 per 100,000) people died by suicide in the U.S.

More than 90 percent of people who kill themselves have a diagnosable mental disorder, most commonly a depressive disorder or a substance abuse disorder.

The highest suicide rates in the U.S. are found in white men over age 85.9

Four times as many men as women die by suicide; however, women attempt suicide two to three times as often as men.

Where Does Depression Come From?

Depression can come along for a variety of reasons.   When someone grew up in a controlling or abusive home a child will feel a sense of helplessness to change their circumstances.  That child will grow up and be pre-disposed to depression due to an ingrained belief that their circumstances are hopeless and they are powerless to change it.  Then, a series of unfortunate circumstances will affect their sense of well-being.  The person may be convinced that they are always going to be a victim of life’s cruelty. 

The hallmark characteristics of depression is a sense of hopelessness or helplessness.  Events such as going through a divorce, losing a home to foreclosure, losing a child, learning a spouse has had an affair, getting laid off from work, are just a few of the circumstances that can lead to or increase feelings of hopelessness and despair. 

Sometimes the feelings of despair are so strong a person can feel convinced that the pain will never end.  Often, due to learned helplessness in childhood, due to abuse or neglect, a person will lack some of the skills needed to weather the storms. 

In helping a person with depression, infusing hope into their lives and building a sense of resiliency will help them get to the other side.  Helping someone recognize that their feelings are normal based on what they are experiencing is helpful.  Many feel isolated and that they are an abnormality.  Because they feel their pain is abnormal they won’t reach out for help. 

Dysfunctional families operate with “family secrets” that no one talks about.  The individual learns that talking about the pain is not acceptable and the isolation increases the depression.  The smiling depressed is a phenomenon of someone who feels they need to maintain a certain public image.  The false image of being okay on the outside keeps the person from attaining the help they need. 

A depressed person left alone with their negative thoughts is a combination for deepening depression and suicide.  Suicide is an attempt to end the suffering.

Clinical Depression Symptoms (From the The DSM IV):
5 of the symptoms over the course of two weeks or more

  1. Depressed mood (e.g. feels sad or empty)
  2. Diminished interest in activities once enjoyed
  3. Weight loss or weight gain
  4. Insomnia or hyper-somnia (sleep too much)
  5. Slowed body movements
  6. Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or helplessness and/or excessive guilt
  7. Diminished ability to concentrate, indecisiveness
  8. Fatigue or loss of energy (simple tasks become difficult)
  9. Thoughts of death or suicide (mild and fleeting to severe with a plan)                   

Chemical Imbalance in Depression:

  • Reduced availability of neurotransmitters like Serotonin, Dopamine, Norepinephrine, GABA and Acetylcholine.
  • Increased levels of toxic neurochemicals such as Homocysteine
  • Lower levels of serum Magnesium, Zinc or Potassium
  • Unhealthy, or deficient levels of essential vitamins like B6, B9, B12 and Vitamin-C
  • Undersupply of key cofactors like amino acids that are used to help transport neurotransmitter precursors into the blood-brain barrier.
  • Increased cortisol stress hormone levels

Specific Symptoms Men Experience:

  1. Irritability
  2. Anger
  3. Aggression or rages
  4. Substance Abuse
  5. Risk-taking (gambling, reckless driving, sexual liaisons)
  6. Withdrawal (“I don’t want to talk about it” or “I just want to get away”)
  7. Reduced libido
  8. loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  9. Thoughts of suicide (Men tend to follow through more quickly than women)
  10. Escapist behavior such as working too much, or watching lots of TV
  11. Body aches and pain


Around 32,000 suicides occur each year and men complete 80% of the suicides.  The reason men commit most of the suicides is that men are more likely to use lethal means such as firearms or jumping out of buildings.  Men are less likely to talk about it with anyone beforehand, and tend to decisively act on thoughts quicker than women do.  A woman told me about the time her dad walked past her in the front yard and said “I’ll be right back.” and then shot himself at the park after getting laid off from his job. 

Women make more attempts and will try overdoses and slitting wrists more often.  Attempts are considered a “cry for help” and some will recover from their attempt and then get the help they need. 

Specific Symptoms Women Experience:

  1. Difficulty caring for their children
  2. Thoughts of harming their baby or child
  3. Low Self-Esteem/ Worthlessness
  4. Agitation or getting upset easily
  5. Weepiness (Crying without knowing why).
  6. Worsening symptoms during menstrual cycles (PMDD or Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder)
  7. Body aches and pains

Social Pressures:

Men are much less likely to admit that they are depressed, most likely due to social pressures to be strong. Social pressures for men include being a provider, being strong, being a leader.  A man is likely to become depressed when he struggles to provide for his family or loses his home to foreclosure, for example.  Men identify with their career or employment and will be left reeling after a layoff.  I heard one story of a family man who went to a park and shot himself after he was laid off from work. 

Social pressures for women include the pressures of being a homemaker (a complex and multifaceted job), if women also have a career or job there is pressure to keep up with both and women often feel burdened by the two full time jobs (the second shift at home).  Women tend to take primary responsibility for the demands of caring for children or elderly parents. 

Both Women and men who have been sexually abused as a child are more susceptible to depression (girls are sexually abused 2-3x more often than boys).  Women also suffer depression after a miscarriage, infertility, or a pregnancy they weren’t ready for.  Post-part-um depression is very real and can be severe. With a first child, a women’s identity shifts and they go from being a career woman to a woman with a child who needs them around the clock. Hormones are out of balance after a pregnancy and mom’s are often sleep deprived. Power imbalances in the home can also lead to depression. 

A lack of social support increases the risk of suicide and is a hallmark component of depression.  Depressed people will tend to isolate themselves or lack the energy they need to get out around people.  If you notice someone is beginning to isolate after a loss, reaching out to them and encouraging getting out can help. 

A Manic Episode (Bi-polar Depression):

1. Decreased need for sleep (2-5 hours of sleep)
2. More talkative then usual with pressure to keep talking
3. Flight of ideas (thoughts racing) and/or grandiosity
4. Distractibility
5. Increase in goal directed activity
6. Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high risk potential (i.e.Spending sprees, foolish business investments).

Someone who has a bi-polar depression will swing back and forth between depression and a manic episode.  The mood swings can vary in intensity and length.

How to help a depressed person:

1. Infuse Hope
A depressed person feels hopeless.  Help them to see “the silver lining,” or the good in things around them, “It’s not all bad.”  Help them to see and focus on what is going well.  Rejoice in small accomplishments. 

2. Break the Isolation
Encourage being around people or reaching out for support.  Participation in activities, groups, church attendance, Celebrate Recovery, having coffee with a friend all apply. 

3. Provide Empathy
Be empathetic and try not to minimize their pain.  Just saying to them “look at the positive things” will increase a sense of isolation.  Any effort to look at the positive must include empathy and concern or it will seem disingenuous.  Statements that validate such as, “I know this is really difficult for you” will help.  Just listening and showing empathy can go a long way. 

4. Challenge Negative Self-Talk (Improve inner self worth)
Find out what they are thinking about themselves, such as “I’m stupid,” “I can’t do anything right,” “Nothing is ever going to change.” You might be surprised at how people abuse themselves in their thoughts.  Ask them to catch their negative thinking at replace the thought with something more balanced.  Some may even need to tell themselves opposing statements such as, “I’m not stupid.” to break the habit. 

5. Understand Grief and Anger
Often depression is grief stuck in a mud pit.  The person may have something to grieve but lack the understanding or time to process it.  The stages of grief are; denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance.  Also, there may be anger or hurts that are unresolved as well.  Help the person through the process of forgiveness. 

6. Temporary State (many depressed people will recover eventually on their own).

Depressed people feel convinced it will never end.  It feels terrible and seems unbearable.  Suicidal thoughts are an effort to end the suffering.  People often think it is selfish but the person is convinced other people don’t care and won’t miss them when they are gone.  Sometimes they need to be shown the big picture and reminded that they do matter. 

7. Encourage Physical Exercise
Exercise can be a more effective anti-depressant than anti-depressant medications.  However, many depressed people can’t get themselves to go for a walk.  To be effective, exercise must be frequent and vigorous several times a week.  You have to start somewhere so encouraging a short walk is a starting point. 

8. Anti-depressants

Many people shy away from anti-depressants but they are a useful tool in the process of recovery.  Never ever tell a depressed person they shouldn’t be on their anti-depressants.  That could trigger a manic episode or a deepening depression. Often there is a significant shortage of important neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin that need a boost (similar to a person with diabetes or a thyroid condition).  People are often afraid they will be on them forever, but I know of many cases where people improved their self care and worked through issues and were able to discontinue the medication successfully. 

9. Psychotherapy
Talk therapy can really help a person identify and overcome entrenched negative thinking.  Often it takes time to peel away the many layers and resolve old hurts.  Finding a therapist you can trust to talk openly to can be instrumental in overcoming depression. 

10. Hospitalization
If a person is severely depression and a risk to themselves or others then it is important to be in a hospital setting.  This setting will provide safety and rest.  A doctor will determine when the individual is safe to go home. 

11. Natural Supplements (for Mild depression)

  • Sam-E and St. John’s Wort have anti-depressant properties
  • Kava Kava and Valerian Root have relaxing properties 
  • Melatonin is a natural sleep aide 
  • Vitamin B complex vitamin
  • Vitamin C
  • A multivitamin
  • Probiotics can help with absorption of nutrients

12. Diet
Foods rich in magnesium, Tryptophan (increases serotonin), Vitamins C, B complex, and minerals are important for recovery.  Omega 3 fatty acids (Fish oil or Flax seed oil) help the brain function at its best.  Most westerners are not getting enough.  Avoid simple sugars and simple carbohydrates (White breads, white rice etc...) Simple carbs will increase sluggishness and irritability.  Foods that can help treat depression: Oranges, red bell peppers, sweet potatoes, dried apricots, nuts, turkey (L-Triptophan increases serotonin), spinach and leafy green vegetables, Salmon and other fish, avocados. 

13. CBT  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Help person identify extreme thought patterns and modify them to be more balanced.  Challenge All or nothing thinking, Catastrophizing, Personalization.

14. Journaling
The $3.00 therapist.  Often when hurts and negative emotions are held inside the person becomes a type of pressure cooker without a proper vent.  Vents can be destructive behaviors such as alcohol abuse or spending too much. A healthy way to vent can be to write out all of your thoughts on paper.  It is private and no one is grading you.  Your handwriting can be sloppy and your thoughts random.  It can be a big relief to put it somewhere else besides deep inside.

15. Music
Music can be a soothing way to relax if you select calming music. 

16. Light Therapy

Studies show that using broad spectrum lighting or being outside in the sun can help alleviate depression.  Reveal lights have a broader spectrum than traditional bulbs.  Replace your old ones with Reveal lights.  Stronger bulbs can be purchased online. 

17. Massage
Massage can help to relax tension and get rid of toxins.  Be sure to drink lots of water before and after. 

18. Scripture
A person of faith can write out meaningful verses for memory and meditation on to assist in gaining perspective and a sense of hope.  I tell clients to find some verses that encourage them and write them on notecards and place on their mirror, by the kitchen sink, in their car. 

John 16:33
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Deuteronomy 31:8
The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."

Psalm 46:1
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

2 Corinthians 12:10
That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The National Suicide Hotline 1-800-SUICIDE (748-2433).

I hope some of this was helpful.  I welcome any comments and always read them. 

Blessings to you, 


by Gretchen Flores

When Life Drains You: Adrenal Fatigue

Do you find yourself wondering, "What happened to the days when I had tons of endless energy?" Do you drag yourself out of bed with no motivation for the day?
Do you feel dread has replaced enthusiasm? Possibly you have adrenal fatigue.

I developed an interest in adrenal fatigue when I completely ran out of steam.  After years of taking on too much and not getting enough sleep I finally crashed and couldn't rebound.  I wondered how I had rebounded so well in the past and why suddenly I wasn't able to any more.  I started researching.

At first, my research was focused on how I could recover so I could start pushing myself hard again and be as productive as I used to be.  I soon realized that if I was going to recover, I needed to learn how to slow down and pace myself.  No more two and three hour sleep nights so I could do more than humanly possible.   No more taking on a full time job, a full time ministry, and saying yes to everyone who asked me to do something for them.  I was at the end of my rope and realized that if I kept up my insane pace I was in serious trouble. 

Recognizing why I pushed myself so hard was critical.  What drove me to push myself so hard? What was I trying to prove? What would my identity be once I learned to say no? Would people still like me?  A good hard look inward is a critical part of the process.  Unless you figure those things out, it will not matter what you learn about recovery from adrenal fatigue.  You will certainly fall back into old habits. 

What is Adrenal Fatigue Anyway?

Adrenal fatigue is when you have drained your adrenal system of it's reserves and you no longer have adrenalin or other similar hormones to keep you going.  Your body does a pretty good job of regulating itself on it's own when we pace ourselves reasonably.  It's when we push our body past it's own capacities over and over again that they system becomes taxed. 

If you push yourself past your limits of fatigue to accomplish more then your adrenals release powerful hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline; God given hormones to help us arise to a stressful situation if needed.  I'm glad for such a system in case I need to outrun a bear someday.  However, what research is showing is that modern day bombardments of work related stress and demands of an over-scheduled life tax our adrenals constantly.  It's like we are trying to out run a bear everyday.  As a result, a system that is supposed to help us out "in case of emergencies only" becomes a daily factor in our lives. 

Eventually, the adrenals will announce "I've had enough" and will shut down.  To keep up with my commitments I used to function on two or three hours of sleep, and then I would crash by going to bed at 6:00 pm and sleep 12-14 hours and then start over again.  Each time I was able to rebound with new energy to press ahead, at least until I couldn't anymore. 

Why are you reading this article?

Possibly you are reading this because you too are tired beyond belief and you are wondering how you can possibly keep up with the demands.  Or, possibly you are wondering how you can continue to be be Superman or Wonder Woman and want to make sure nothing stops you.  Or, maybe you see yourself on the path to self destruction and you realize at some point you need to stop but you just don't know how. 
Whatever your reasons are, I hope you learn something important to apply to your life to make it more fulfilling and not more demanding. 

Tips For Keeping a Better Balance

  • Get enough sleep! Do not skimp on sleep.  When you do it forces your adrenals to produce more stress hormones to keep you going.  Eventually you will run out and a taxed adrenal system will leave you vulnerable to a variety of health problems.
  • Take vitamin C and eat foods rich in vitamin C.  This will help your body recover from stressful events or lifestyle habits that tax the adrenals by lowering oxidative damage.
  • Take a vitamin B complex to help you recover.  Your adrenals need vitamin B especially B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), and B6 (pyridoxine) to function.
  • Eat a well balanced diet with whole grains, fish, legumes, meats, and veggies. Processed foods will not help your body recover.  In fact they will tear it down. 
  • If you feel a need to pump your body with caffeine take a nap instead.  Fatigue means you need sleep.  If you consistently push yourself past your limits, you will tax the adrenals causing greater and greater levels of fatigue later on.
  • Eat breakfast.  This helps stabilize your blood sugar and supplies your body with nutrition so it doesn't have to draw from stress hormones that can be toxic at higher levels.  Go for whole grains and protein for breakfast. 
  • Give up the notion that you have to accomplish it all perfectly. My dad once asked me how I manage to get blogs done with a family and a job.  My answer; if I get a blog out then I am probably behind on laundry (and a few other things).  It’s okay to prioritize.
  • Learn how to say “no.”  For some of us this is a frightening proposal.  Your need to please others and attain approval is so high you cannot fathom saying no.  Well, it’s time to learn.  Go ahead...practice.  Say it out loud several times.  Say “no” to yourself in the mirror.  Start saying no to people who ask you to do things.  Realize that the world doesn’t come to an end and you are still liked and appreciated. 
  • Honor your limits.  Learn to tune into your body and when you reach a threshold don't ignore it.  Take a break, put your head down on your desk and take a power nap, go home on time.  To honor your limits you need to tune into yourself and learn when you start to go beyond what is necessary. 
  • Prioritize.  If you need to take some things out of your busy lifestyle then do it.  Tell yourself you can fit in in later.  If you are adding things take other things out.  You cannot do it all at the same time.  Tame the over-achiever in you and slow down.
  • Keep fulfilling things in on your priority list. What fulfills you?  Time with friends? Family? Golf? Jogging?  Don't skimp on is not just about being productive.  It is about having some fun too!

Truthfully, if you learn these important skills then you will be more satisfied with the things that you do choose to do.  You will have more energy for your family and less dread when you head to the office.  I hope you can find some of this useful.   Depending on how far along your adrenal fatigue is it may take time to recover.  Start implementing a few things and don’t give up if you don’t see results immediately.  For me it took a good year to start to feel better.  Then, each year after that just got better. 

Best wishes to you! 


great resources:

by Gretchen Flores