Grief Meets The Smart Phone

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Litsa Williams

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It won’t be news to any of you when I say that grief often has you feeling fine one minute and a like a total mess the next. There are plenty of phrases to describe this phenomenon: grief waves, temporary upsurges of grief (TUGs), grief attacks, etc. All capture that distressing reality that sometimes, especially early on, grief makes daily functioning feel almost impossible.

crying grieving

Then, there are the days that just suck.  Maybe you aren’t crying in public or feeling totally dysfunctional, but it’s just an overall 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.

The other day, I was listening to Snap Judgement. 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, it 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 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. So without further ado, here are some of the reasons we love our phones:

1. You can create an easily accessible folder, filled with things that make you feel good.

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,’ but it doesn’t matter what you call it. In this folder, you will start compiling just about anything that makes you happy.

Start with photos already on your phone—friends you love, family you love, pets you love, places you love, things of beauty, etc. These may be photos you have taken or photos you saw online/on social media and saved.  It doesn’t matter, just 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.

Sometimes an email, Facebook message, text, Tweet, or Instagram comment makes your day. It may be something super nice from a friend or 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 and takes approximately one second, literally.  Here are instructions for screenshotting on an iPhone and an Android.

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).

grateful my little brother knows how to have a good time 90s style

2. You have easy access to music..

The role of music in coping is often grossly underestimated. We have an article here all about music, grief, and the brain, which breaks 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 some of our grief playlists here and here. If you have a playlist like this, we would love to know what’s on it… So leave a comment below!

This is my favorite song when I am having a crap day:

3. You can watch all the videos your heart desires.

In case you don’t know, or have somehow forgotten, Eleanor and I are big supporters of random YouTube “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.

After downloading the YouTube app, set up a “playlist.” This is a list of all your favorite videos so, at any moment, you can watch a video to brighten your day. Some of our favorite videos are linked in previous blog posts: here and here.

Research may not back up YouTube, but it does support the idea that laughter can boost you up when you are having a bad day. Research also suggests that looking at baby animals can actually help with concentration and productivity. So, whether it’s flash-mobs or cute puppies or kids saying silly things or movie clips or whatever else floats your boat, having YouTube at your finger tips can help your mood.

4. Meditation is available, anytime and anywhere. 

Along with music, don’t forget that your phone is a great place to download guided meditations of all sorts, as well as 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. While it’s important to sit with our pain/discomfort, we ultimately do need to calm ourselves and refocus. Having these tools on your phone, either as audio download files or meditation podcasts, can be helpful when you just need another voice to help guide you through some calming techniques.

We recommend The Meditation Podcast and other similar resources. There are also a ton of meditation apps, including Headspace and Calm. You can read about some other highly recommended apps here. These are also great tools if you are struggling with sleep!

5. With a phone, your support system is at your finger tips.

Don’t forget that you phone can connect you to real, live people! You can readily contact your friends and family—as well as grief support friends, your therapist, a suicide hotline, and you favorite day spa (because you never know when an emergency massage is just what you need). Use these resources when you are feeling especially low and can’t dig yourself out of the hole. This can help reminds us that feeling alone doesn’t mean we are alone.

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. Leave a comment to share your own suggestions! And, as always, subscribe to get our posts right to your inbox.

Let’s be grief friends.

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3 Comments on "Grief Meets The Smart Phone"

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  1. Carla Maxwell  August 18, 2016 at 8:54 am Reply

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

  2. Michael cooney  August 16, 2016 at 6:32 pm Reply

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

  3. JoAnn Bacon  April 11, 2016 at 9:16 pm Reply

    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. May you all find little comforts in each day.

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