A psychologist explains how to process emotions at a time of national grief

Dealing with national grief can be overwhelming. Here, a neuropsychologist explains how to process your emotions in the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s death.

If you’re still trying to wrap your head around the events of the last couple of days, you’re certainly not alone. No matter what your relationship with the royal family, it’s safe to say the death of Queen Elizabeth II will leave a lasting impact on us all – not only is she the only monarch many of us have ever known, but her presence has brought a sense of stability to the country during many challenging moments.

So, as we begin to navigate the period of national grief that Queen’s death has triggered, it’s important that we cut ourselves some slack.  

It may feel strange to be mourning someone you didn’t know personally, but it’s completely normal, especially when you consider the sense of change her death represents. And as such, it’s important to know how to process the emotions that will inevitably surface.

Rachel Taylor, a neuropsychologist, podcast host and founder of UNBroken, believes the transition the Queen’s death inevitably symbolises is what makes this moment so challenging for us all.

“This is going to change the fabric of society – and our brains do not like change,” Taylor explains. “Being gentle and taking things slowly is essential because these are very early days, and information takes time to be processed by the front lobe.

“Our initial emotional responses will also be governed by what the Queen represented to us and the people who were important to us as well as the communities we live in.” 

The Queen’s death has triggered an outpouring of national grief.

While Taylor acknowledges that some people will be more affected by the Queen’s death than others, she suggests taking some time to sit back and identify how the events of the last few days have made you feel. Grieving is, she explains, a form of learning, and as such, we need to give our brains time to catch up and adapt to our new reality.

“When we lose a major public figure, we have to think about both how and what that public figure represented to us as well as what their loss means for our day-to-day lives,” she says. 

“Good coping strategies for grief all start with acceptance, not denial, so it’s important to think about how the Queen’s passing will affect you now and going forward.” 

Even if you don’t think the Queen’s passing will really have an impact on you, it’s worth taking some time to think about the quiet role the Queen has played in many of our lives. 

From her colourful fashion to her constant presence on bank notes and stamps, it’s easy to underestimate the presence she’s had in all of our lives – and while these things may seem small, their disappearance still represents a sense of change our brains are uncomfortable with.

It’s also important to note how our past experiences of grief can influence our reactions to moments like these, Taylor highlights. Unprocessed emotions can rise to the surface when confronted with a trigger like the death of a public figure, and it’s important to give yourself the time to deal with these feelings if you’re struggling.

So, how can we give ourselves time to process the national grief and look after our mental health during this strange time? According to Taylor, the answer lies in showing ourselves some kindness.

“A really good place to start is to realise that the initial stages of grief are shock, denial and disbelief at what is happening,” she says. “We need to treat the brain and body for this, so start by trying to keep healthy, familiar habits and connecting with people who support and love you.”

She continues: “People need to seek solace and comfort in areas of life that are predictable and certain. It’s good to connect with yourself to ask what you need to support yourself at this time – our bodies are extremely wise and will give us the answers if we ask the questions.”     

Where to seek help for grief

If you’re struggling with feelings of grief, you don’t have to suffer in silence – there are plenty of organisations that offer support and guidance. Keep reading to check out some of the help available:

  • NHS website – the NHS website is home to a grief hub which contains plenty of suggestions and information about coping with bereavement and loss. It also has links to other organisations that can help. 
  • Mind – the mental health charity Mind has a comprehensive guide to coping with grief on their website. It covers the common symptoms you might experience and features personal stories from people navigating bereavement. 
  • Cruse Bereavement Support – Cruse Bereavement Support has a dedicated website full of information about coping with loss, from how to understand grief to supporting others who are grieving.

Images: Getty

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