Myths of Grief Recovery #7 – Keep Busy

  by Glynis Sherwood MEd

Time plus ‘Right’ Action Helps to Heal the Pain of Grief

Distraction Does Not Equal Healing

The myth that those in grief should just stay busy is a lot like myth #1 – Time Heals All Wounds.  And like that myth, staying busy in itself does not promote healing, just as time does nothing but pass unless you do something constructive with it.  But grieving people often hear from other well intended people that if they stay active then grief won’t get a negative hold over their lives.  This can propel grievers into a flurry of activity, based on the false hope that through busy-ness they will avoid or transcend grief.  But like other potentially compulsive behaviors, staying busy is in essence just a distraction, and will always disappoint if it’s the core coping strategy, as grief remains after the distraction ends.  What is needed is to find the right solutions to the ‘problem’ of the pain of grief.

Keeping busy doesn’t heal grief – you just get better at running on the spot!

While it’s true that being able to distract oneself can be a temporary reprieve from the pain of loss, healthier approaches to grief recovery involve facing loss directly and finding constructive ways to deal with pain, such as attempting to understand and accept grief feelings, speaking with an understanding friend or loved one, attending a support group or seeing a counsellor.  It’s difficult to change a situation or to feel we have choices if we are running or hiding from the problem by keeping busy.   Distracting oneself in the face of grief can also undermine confidence in our ability to cope. 

Although each person deals with loss in their own style, grief theorist William Worden identified four ‘tasks’ of bereavement which I believe can apply to any significant loss to reduce pain and elicit healing.  These include 1/ accepting the reality of the loss; 2/ working through the pain of grief; 3/ adjusting to an environment in which the important person, place, activity, relationship, etc. is missing, and: 4/ moving away from grief and longing for what is lost, and finding a place for it in our memories as we move on with life.  These tasks of grief recovery require active, open engagement in dealing with loss.  By dealing with loss directly, and finding the right support and solutions to manage the pain, people can move through the grief process in a way that builds self confidence and helps to mend a broken heart.

Glynis Sherwood MEd, CCC, is a Counselling Therapist specializing in recovery from chronic grief, anxiety, depression or addictive behaviors related to sudden, traumatic or long term loss.