The Good and Bad Habits of Going Through Grief and Becoming Mentally Strong

The Good and Bad Habits of Going Through Grief and Becoming Mentally Strong

I haven’t posted a blog interview for quite a while.  I’m actually working on compiling 3 years worth of my monthly interviews into a book.  When I stumbled upon Amy Morin online, I had to ask her to do a blog interview.  Her personal and professional life is the theme of my work and blog-  rebuilding life through and beyond adversity and loss.

Talk about overcoming challenges.  Ms. Morin had to deal with tremendous loss over a three year period.  First she lost her mom and then her 26 year old husband, both suddenly.  A few years later her father-in-law became ill with terminal cancer and died.  As a result of all this, Amy wrote “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do” and it went viral.  She turned it into a book by the same title which was recently published.  As a social worker/therapist, she brings her personal and professional skills to the specific area of resiliency-building.  Resilience is a muscle we can all build and grow.


What helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

My education as a social worker and my experiences as a psychotherapist certainly taught me a lot about grief. So fortunately, I had an understanding of what to expect and what sorts of things are helpful.

I also have really supportive friends and family and a strong faith in God, which helped me deal with that pain. I always held out hope that life could get better and I knew I could create a future that I looked forward to if I used my grief to heal.

Did you go through a period of self-pity?  If so, what helped lift you out?

I had many times where I experienced self-pity. But I tried to keep them brief, because deep down, I knew that feeling sorry for myself only serves as a temporary distraction from the pain. Ultimately, it would only hold me back.

I was a foster parent and shortly after my husband died, I had a foster child whose parents had both died. It was a great reminder about how fortunate I was – I had my mother until I was 23, and she had been great the best mother I could have asked for. And although I had only been married for five years, my husband was a wonderful person and we’d had a great marriage. So I tried to focus on all the things I had to be grateful for, rather than all I had lost.

I think the most helpful thing of all, however, was choosing to celebrate my late husband’s birthday with a family adventure. Rather than throw a pity party on his birthday, his family and I decided to go on an adventure each year that honored his adventurous spirit. We’ve done everything from riding mules into the Grand Canyon to skydiving and it’s turned his birthday into a day we look forward to each year.

Was there a specific moment, thought or epiphany that helped guide you to a better place    mentally and psychologically?

Well, there were plenty of moments that helped guide me to a better place and I learned plenty of lessons along the way. After the death of my mother, I really focused on developing the healthiest habits possible to deal with my pain.

But then, when my husband passed away, I realized it’s not always enough to have good habits. That’s when I realized that I also needed to give up my bad habits – no matter how small they seemed. Dwelling on the past, feeling sorry for myself, and expecting immediate results, are just a few of the things that I had to give up if I wanted to be strong.

Then, a few years later when my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I wrote my list – 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. Seeing all those things written down in one place really opened my eyes to the bad habits that could keep me stuck in a place of pain.

So while there wasn’t a single epiphany, there were certainly “aha” moments along the way.

What were/are your day-to-day coping skills that keep you afloat?

I used the same skills I teach people in my psychotherapy practice. I used mindfulness skills to keep me from dwelling on the past or worrying too much about the future. I focused a lot on concrete problem-solving so I could get my life in order after the loss of my husband. And I spent a lot of time with my loved ones.

I also focused on self-care. I knew if I wasn’t eating right or wasn’t getting enough sleep, it would be impossible to manage my grief. I exercised every day and tried to take care of myself the best I could so I would have the strength to focus on healing.

In general, how have you managed to rebuild your life after your losses?

Well I knew it was best not to make any major decisions for at least a year after a sudden loss. So I stayed patient while I considered my future life changes. In the year after losing my husband I made some small changes, like selling our boat and buying a motorcycle, but I waited a long time before making any big changes.

I took my time to consider which goals I still wanted to pursue, and which dreams I wanted to let go. I developed some new interests and met new friends. And I held off on dating again for several years. But about four years later, I found love again and got remarried.

I’ve since moved to a new area and over the last couple of years, my career has been kicked into overdrive. Writing about my experiences led to lots of new opportunities – including writing my book and being invited to lots of speaking engagements. My life is much different than it used to be, but I love what I do and I’m grateful for all that I have.

 What advice would you offer someone going through loss, in the hope of coming out of the darkness able to reengage with life in a meaningful way? 

It’s tempting to try to avoid the sadness and distress associated with grief – but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you have to face your emotions head-on. Other people will try to cheer you up because they’re uncomfortable with you being sad – but let yourself feel sad and angry and lonely.

Time doesn’t heal anything. It’s what you do with that time that matters. So it’s important to use your time to heal – and part of healing means experiencing a wide variety of emotions. And don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends, family, and professionals. Your connections with other people can make all the difference in the world.


Thanks for stopping by.  What’s one good habit that helps you in your dealing with your challenge(s)?  Or what’s one unhelpful habit you’d like to get rid of?  I love to hear your thoughts and connect with you.





2 thoughts on “The Good and Bad Habits of Going Through Grief and Becoming Mentally Strong

  1. Alicia says:

    Thanks Harriet, After recently being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer I have been on an emotional roller coaster. It’s nice to hear someone else say you must go through the feelings because if I could tell you how many times people have said to me “Are you taking anything?” I don’t necessarily think that antidepressants are the answer. I would rather have someone sit and listen and be able to empathize with the pain I am going through rather when I need an ear. I have found a lot of people that can do this . I have also found out that many people can not and I don’t share these thoughts with them. Nor, however do I take a happy pill so other people can be more comfortable. I am not shunning pharmacology ( I will receive my NP in 2 weeks) but I just think listening and psychotherapy are vastly under-rated. I don’t necessarily consider myself mentally strong either but I do like this woman’s take on things.

    1. Alicia,
      I’m so sorry. I’m very glad you have people who can simply be with you and listen. Yes, it is under-rated. Our society is a pill-popping one to quickly alleviate all pain. There’s definitely a place for pills but to truly heal our psyches and souls and develop coping skills to manage our difficulties, we must go through the pain; allow ourselves to feel it and know we can tolerate it and that it won’t kill us.
      Congratulations on {almost} receiving your NP!
      Mentally strong to me means being able to cope, manage oneself through challenges and come out the other end able to live on in a positive way – not succumbing and becoming bitter but rising above and maybe even becoming better, ie. growth.
      I wish you healing. If you ever want to connect with the spoken voice, I’m here for you.

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