Coping with the traumatic loss of a loved one is an agonizing challenge for years, and Israelis certainly have had more than their share for decades and especially since October 7. Given the current lack of psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotrauma experts in Israel, helping oneself could ease the pain.
A new study from North Carolina State University suggests some simple activities that can carried out immediately to help people improve their mood and emotional well-being on a day-to-day basis and relieve some suffering and alleviate heartache.
“The untimely or traumatic death of close friends or family is emotionally taxing, and navigating grief can be difficult,” said Caitlin Reynolds, co-author of the study and a doctoral student at the university. “Our study suggests there are specific things people can do to bolster their emotional well-being following a traumatic loss.”
The team members were conducting a larger study that looked at how daily behaviors affect emotional well-being and day-to-day functioning, “and we realized that a significant number of study participants were dealing with the traumatic loss of a loved one,” said psychology Prof. Shevaun Neupert, a corresponding author of the study/ “This gave us an opportunity to gain insights into how daily behaviors in the wake of a loss can influence our emotional well-being.”
A previous US study examined traumatic loss in the context of US military veterans. It found that participants who reported a “sudden death of a close family member or friend” as their worst traumatic event were at risk for somatic symptoms like chronic pain and other psychological issues like loneliness. Overall, there are individual differences in how people respond to a loss.
How did the researchers come to their conclusions?
For the new study, published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being under the title “Traumatic losses permeate daily emotional experiences: roles of daily uplifts and subjective age,” the North Carolina researchers worked with data from 440 American adults between the ages of 50 and 85. Of the total, 356 of the study participants reported the traumatic loss of a loved one. Study participants completed a daily diary survey for two weeks in a row. The survey questions were designed to capture changes in each participant’s day-to-day experiences and mood.
“The survey questions also helped us capture information related to subjective age, or how old people report feeling each day,” Neupert said. “Do they feel older than they actually are? Younger? And how does that correlate to their mood or emotional well-being? One of the study’s big findings is that activities we call ‘uplifts’ can have a significant impact,” says Ali Early, a co-author of the study.
Uplifts refer to a variety of activities that can improve our mood including completing a task; getting enough sleep; dining out; visiting, phoning, or writing a friend; or spending time with family.
“Uplifts were good for everyone, but there is some nuance in not only who is most impacted, but when the uplifts are most powerful,” Neupert said. “For example, we found that the positive effect of uplifts was more pronounced for people who had experienced traumatic loss, and especially so on days when they reported feeling older.”
Based on their study, daily events and perceptions can have a considerable impact on daily functioning and may serve as important mechanisms after a traumatic loss, they wrote. “Although traumatic losses may impact individuals differently, incorporating daily uplifts, based on available resources and capacities, may foster daily emotional well-being.
The findings held true even when researchers accounted for the socioeconomic status of study participants, their age and the age at which they first experienced a traumatic loss. “In other words, there are things we can do that are accessible for most people to improve their moods,” Neupert says. “And those things can help us most on days when we most need it.”