Coping with grief and loss is one of the hardest things we’ll ever do. Especially around the holidays, when it feels like everyone else is happy but us. You end up feeling lonely, isolated, a burden on those around you.
But Michelle Collins wants you to know there’s a way through.
Not only is there a way to live with the pain so it stops consuming you, but there are concrete ways to feel better. It starts with treating yourself really well, with good food and exercise, and refusing to beat up on yourself for what you could have or should have done.
Michelle is a wellness coach who specializes in helping people through grief and loss. After surviving her own personal tragedies, she found that people who knew what she’d been through were coming to her for advice. With her background in meditation, mindfulness, Reiki, and yoga therapy, she was able to help others cope with their pain and find their way back to peace and joy.
In this week’s YBTV interview, Michelle shares her story with us. You’ll learn why loving yourself is a pillar of recovery, how digestion can play a part in feeling better, what it means to visit the “Room of Doom,” and the truth about joy.
This interview is meant to be shared. Please help others by posting it with a reminder that no matter how much it hurts, no one is alone in their grief. There’s help and support all around.
What You’ll Learn
I go to study when I need an answer, and the answer I needed was, ‘How do I stop feeling so terrible?'”
Michelle Collins was that friend people came to when they felt down.
But when she was hit with one personal tragedy after another – she lost her mother, then went through a divorce, then fell deeply in love and remarried … and less than two years later, her second husband died by suicide – it was up to her to work her way out.
“Underneath it all, I’m a generally healthy, joyful person,” she says. “My basic wiring is that way.”
When she found herself drinking more than she should and going to bed for months, unable to dig her way out of her grief, she knew something needed to change. “I realized I was getting sick a lot. Being sick, I couldn’t do my work, and I wasn’t as adept at taking care of the house and the kids.”
She knew there had to be “a better way where I could be my best self for the people who are counting on me.”
So she began to study, to find out how she could lessen the pain and regain the joy she once had.
Afterwards, people who knew what she’d been through began coming to her with questions. “People would seek me out. ‘You went through this. How’d you do it? How did you survive it?”
That’s how Michelle became a wellness coach. She now helps others do what she did: learn and grow through trauma, grief and loss. (Get her Transition Anxiety First Aid Kit.)
Hit by Tragedy
Most of us are never taught what to do when tragedy hits. We cope the best we can. We drink, shop, eat, exercise, sleep. We go into denial. We numb and self-soothe.
“Our nervous systems are not incredibly resilient to begin with,” Michelle says, “because we’re all under a low or medium level of stress, just based on our society [and] the lives we live. There’s very little down time. There’s very [few] health-focused practices. We’re work-work-work, go-go-go.”
So when something major happens, “it can really knock us down.” We don’t have the resources, emotional or otherwise, to bounce back again.
That’s why Michelle not only teaches ways to manage the grief, but also ways to build resilience, so that you’re better able to cope the next time something bad happens.
She’s quick to mention that resilience practices are not a magic bullet.
You get knocked down; you feel pain. I’m not saying that these practices make it so you don’t get unhappy, angry [or] hurt. But what happens is, when these terrible things happen, you’re able to process them and get up and move on a little bit quicker.”
So how do you survive tragedy and build resilience?
Coping with Grief and Loss
If you’re not used to big emotions, “and then something big happens, like a death or divorce, you can’t feel all that, or you’ll just lose it.”
It’s okay to numb in the beginning. Michelle recommends leaning on a therapist or supportive friends.
Then, “when you’re feeling okay, when you have some okay moments, you open the door [to the pain] just a little bit. You take a little peek into the ‘Room of Doom,’ is what I call it, or the place where you hold the pain. And then you can slam the door if you want….
“And then, eventually, with just little bits at a time, with health practices on board, with maybe a really good therapist or a really good friend – or both – you can slowly, slowly step through that door and start working through your grief in a healthy way, so that it becomes integrated and you can grow through your pain.”
Nothing you can do will erase the pain or undo what happened. But what you can do is stop blaming yourself for it.
One of the very first things Michelle does with clients is to help them pull out of self-admonishment.
You can’t change the past. You can’t change what you did. You can’t change what happened to you. All you can do is change your relationship with it. Pull the bad energy out of it, and change your reaction to it.”
One of the main pillars of recovery, she says, is self-love. “If you want to live a joyful, healthy life, quit beating up on yourself.”
The Path to Feeling Better
Then, Michelle helps clients with practical ways to feel better. She starts with nutrition.
You may have heard the saying, You are what you eat. “From an Ayurvedic perspective,” Michelle says, “it’s, ‘You are what you digest.'”
She helps clients “prepare and eat foods that will nourish their bodies.” There’s no diet involved. It’s a gradual process of learning how food supports your body.
Then she encourages clients to find ways to move that fit in with their lives. We weren’t made to live sedentary lives. Any kind of movement – even if it’s just walking your dog or going for a hike – can get your energy flowing.
Next, Michelle introduces breathing practices. Learning how to control your breath helps you find that calm place within.
She also recommend gratitude journaling, “which can be life-saving when you start ruminating about the past and worrying about the future, neither one of which is now.”
The goal of these practices is to get you into the present moment, which is the place where you can begin to live again.
You control your breath, you get into gratitude, [and] you become present. When you’re present – if you even for a moment have a present-moment awareness experience – then you’re not worrying about the future or regretting the past.”
Finding Joy Again
Michelle’s business and website is called Inhabit Joy, which may seem like a stretch for someone in pain.
When “you’re sitting next to your sick loved one’s bedside, joy is the absolute last thing on your mind,” Michelle says.
But if you manage to be in the present moment for just a moment, there’s freedom.
Our culture’s idea of joy is like, ‘I’m running through a field with balloons and flowers,’ and that’s great…. But to inhabit joy really means to connect to that stillness and presence within you.”
Michelle believes that joy is our natural state of being.
She pictures it as a crystal sphere that gets covered with dirt over time. Negative messages and conditioning make it cloudy and out of focus.
But “when we do our health practices – especially meditation, mindfulness, present moment awareness – it clears that sphere off, so we become this joyful being that is our birthright.”
Michelle’s Coaching Practice
Michelle offers meditation, mindfulness, and wellness coaching as well as yoga therapy. She’s attuned to mastery in Reiki and is able to intuitively spot imbalances in her clients.
She not only helps clients with grief and loss, but also concerns like weight loss or managing anxiety.
She helps clients with their first concern, whether it’s losing weight or managing anxiety, then says, “Let’s go a little bit deeper and see how we can strengthen you so that you are really resilient and able to cope when stuff happens – because it will.”
She not only offers one-on-one coaching but also group coaching programs.
Group coaching involves weekly meetups on Zoom, plus homework and practices to get people meditating and becoming more mindful. Her latest group coaching program starts in the new year, so, if you’re interested, make sure to check it out.
If you’d like to start practicing mindfulness and meditation on your own, here are a few of Michelle’s favorite resources:
Ultimately, Michelle wants you to know that it will get better. Keep trying. “Joy is in us at all times,” she says. “It’s just covered.”
Jump to Topics of Interest
2:13 How Michelle began helping others through grief and loss
3:32 Common ways we deal with loss
5:21 How Michelle dealt with her pain
8:06 How to face those intense feelings
11:35 Resilience practices
14:44 From stressed to rested
15:47 Inhabiting joy
17:46 Breaking the habit of rumination
19:40 Michelle’s coaching
22:03 It can get better
Michelle Ann Collins is a joy maker, yoga therapist, meditation and Ayurvedic lifestyle teacher, speaker, author and wellness coach. Her own journey from the loss of her mother to leukemia through divorce, and a second marriage that ended with her husband’s suicide, forced her to go deeply inward and develop life changing skills to survive, recover from tragedy, grow through it and thrive. Utilizing wisdom from great spiritual teachers in combination with her background in yoga therapy, meditation, wellness coaching/positive psychology and Reiki and Ayurveda, Michelle gained the skills not only to survive but to learn and grow through trauma, grief and loss. Now, Michelle teaches what she learned, that post-traumatic growth is possible and no matter what experiences life brings, with attention to your own physical, mental/emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing, you can live a healthy and joyful life. Find out how you can work with Michelle.