Grief Meets The Smart Phone

It won’t be news to any of you when I say that while you are grieving you can be doing fine one minute and having a total meltdown the next (sometimes in Target, in the sock aisle).  There are plenty of phrases to describe this phenomenon – grief waves, TUGs (temporary upsurges of grief), grief attacks, you get the idea.  All capture that distressing reality that sometimes, especially early on, grief makes daily functioning feel almost impossible.

Then there are the days that just suck.  Maybe you aren’t crying in public or feeling totally dysfunctional, but it is just an overall totally crappy day.  In the early days of grief almost everyday falls into one of these categories.  As years pass those days may spread out a bit, but they don’t go away completely.  Sometimes you see them coming from a mile away – birthdays, anniversaries, holidays.  Sometimes they catch you off guard, knock you off your feet and you just can’t pull it together.
crying GIF The other day  I was listening to Snap Judgement and in one of the stories a woman referenced in passing using her phone as a tool to remember her reasons to live when she was considering suicide.  You may be feeling a little confused about how that works, so let’s take a step back.  Reviewing reasons to live is a common technique suggested for those struggling with suicidal thoughts, but it can be easier said than done.  When your brain is fixating on only the negative things in your life if can be very hard to force yourself to think of anything else, even when you want to.  This is why having something tangible is often suggested – photos, cards from people you love, etc.  Looking at things like photographs (or using our senses in different ways) can actually trigger changes in our brains that can help us feel just a little more positive.  Problem is, when despair attacks (be it grief, depression, suicidal thoughts, or anything else) we often think we have nothing tangible to look at -no photo albums, letters or other recommended items.  But fear not, because what do most of us always have on hand?  Our lightsabers smart phones!

Inspired by Alana Massey on Snap Judgement, today we suggest looking at your phone just a little bit differently.   Instead of seeing a texting machine or lifeline to social media, we are going to help you turn your phones into a brilliant little pocket-sized survival tool for those especially bad days when you have nothing else to reframe your thinking.  Pull out your phone (if you’re not reading this on your phone already!) and let’s get going.

Step One: Create an Album Folder

In the photo area of your phone, create a new folder that will specifically be filled with things that make you feel good.  You can name it anything you want.  Alana Massey calls hers ‘Stuff’ – it doesn’t matter what you call it, just so you know what it is.  In this folder you will start compiling just about anything that makes you happy.

Step Two: Start Filling Your Folder with Photos 

Start with photos already on your phone – friends you love, family you love, pets you love, places you love, things of beauty, you get the idea.  These may be photos you have taken, they may be photos you saw online or on social media and saved to the folder.  It doesn’t matter, whatever brings you joy, but make sure to just pick the ones that make you really really happy.  If you have photos you love that aren’t digital, don’t stress.  Just snap a photo of the photo with your camera phone and add them to the folder. Save videos in this same spot and consider creating new videos.  Watching your grandchild playing on a tire swing and wishing the moment would never end?  Record a quick video on your phone and add it to the folder, so you can watch it at a moment when you really need it.

Step Three: Screenshot!

Sometimes an email, facebook message, text message, tweet, or instagram comment makes your day.  It may be something super nice from a friend, it may be something that just makes you laugh or smile.  Whatever it is, you can add this to your folder too so you can easily revisit it later.  Take a screenshot and save the image.  Not sure how to screenshot on your phone?  It is super easy – it takes approximately one second, literally.  Here are instructions for screenshotting on an iphone and a galaxy.  If you have another type of phone just google ‘how to take a screenshot on’ and add whatever phone you have.  Don’t even know what a screenshot is?  It’s exactly what it sounds like – a photo captured of whatever is on the screen of your phone at any given moment.  I am including a screenshot example below (and an example of identifying gratitude, to boot).

gratitude 18

Step Four: Use Your Playlists

The role of music in coping is often, imho, grossly underestimated.  We have an article here all about music, grief and the brain, breaking down what is going on in our heads when we listen to music.  Having a playlist of songs you love, that cheer you up, that bring you joy, or that otherwise motivate you can be a great tool to have at your fingertips at the moments you’re struggling. Check out our short post on playlists and why we love them.  If you have a playlist like this, we would love to know what’s on it! Leave a comment.   And you can listen to this song that is on my playlist for when I am having a crap day.

Step Five: Videos, videos, videos.

In case you don’t know, or have somehow forgotten, Eleanor and I are big supporters of random YouTube video therapy* (*disclaimer, YouTube therapy is not an official or evidence-based therapeutic approach, nor should it be.  But that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes random YouTube videos are pretty awesome).  Many phones come standard with the YouTube app or you can always download it.  What you may not know is you can set up a playlist in your YouTube app.  This is a list of all your favorite videos so, at any moment, you can watch a video to brighten your day.  Not familiar with our YouTube-Love posts?  No worries, you can check out some samples like our YouTube Cure for the Mother’s Day Blues or our YouTube Cure for the Christmas Blues  (are you seeing a theme emerge here??).   Research may not back up YouTube, but it does back up the reality that laughter can legitimately boost you up when you are having a bad day and that looking at baby animals can actually help with concentration and productivity (for real, I’m not making that up).   Whether it’s flashmobs or cute puppies or kids saying the darndest things or movie clips or whatever else floats your boat, having YouTube at your finger tips can help your mood if you use it right.

Step Six: Meditation and relaxation, anytime anywhere. 

Along with music, don’t forget that your phone is a great place to download guided meditations of all sorts, guided progressive muscle relaxation, guided breathing exercises, visualization techniques, and tons of other great tools.  When we have a grief meltdown (or any emotional meltdown) it can be hard to refocus.  You have to let the pain come, to be with it, but ultimately we need to calm ourselves and refocus.  Having these tools on your phone, either as audio download files or meditation podcasts, can be hugely helpful when you just need another voice to help guide you through some calming techniques.  Check itunes for audio downloads, or podcasts like The Meditation Podcast and many others like it.   These are also great tools if you are struggling with sleep, as are the many apps that provide relaxing sleep sounds.  Healthline counted down the 16 best sleep apps of 2014, which you can check out here.

Step Seven: Use your phone the old fashioned way – calling and texting.

Don’t forget that you phone can connect you to real, live people!  Program in not just the numbers of your friends and family, but of grief support friends, your therapist, a suicide hotline, and you favorite day spa (you never know when an emergency massage is just what you need!).  The key is then to use those numbers when you need them.  Call friends or family or those support resources if you are feeling especially low and can’t dig yourself out of the hole.  Even when we feel alone, we are often not as alone as we feel.

Wondering about the Snap Judgement episode that inspired this post? You can check it out here:

We are sure there are many other creative ways you use your phone in those deep dark moments or on those deep dark days.  Leave a comment to share your own suggestions!  And as always, subscribe to get our posts right to your inbox.

March 28, 2017

3 responses on "Grief Meets The Smart Phone"

  1. Lost my husband Oct.26th, 2014 to a brain anuriseym . It was instant death. In that one moment my life changed forever.

  2. I lost my wife to cancer in September of 2o14 so I know first hand the roller coaster that geif takes you on

  3. First, I am sorry that anyone has to read this post. Grieving a loved one is the hardest thing anyone will do and endure. The reason for my comment is to say, I love that you reference the song/video Nothing More by the Alternate Routes. This song was written for the foundation we started for our little girl Charlotte after she died at Sandy Hook Elementary. Alternate Routes and our foundation encourage everyone to make their own video to the song. This would be a great way to combine step 2 and 4 of this article. As an example, I have attached the link to the video we made of Charlotte and her friend. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSHRsYp5VX0. May you all find little comforts in each day.

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