How to Cope with Grief and Loss
It is normal and healthy to go through a grieving period if you've ever suffered a loss. Grief is a natural response to loss that looks different for everyone. It can be an emotional and overwhelming experience where you feel extremely sad, angry, confused, or guilty. It’s important to understand that grief can trigger a wide variety of responses in your body.
Normal responses to grief include:
- Changes in appetite
- Aches & pain
- Restlessness or sleep disruption
- Outbursts of tears and crying
- Difficulty concentrating
- Altering personal beliefs
- Questioning why the loss occurred
The more significant of a loss you experience, the more difficult the grieving process may be. Experiencing the death of a loved one is often one of the most difficult and painful losses to go through, but any loss can bring you grief. Grief can be caused by the loss of any person or thing that you lose, such as going through a breakup, losing a pet, cutting out toxic relationships with friends or family members, losing a job, or even selling a home you’ve lived in for many years.
Types of Grief
While grief is a normal response to loss, there are some types of grief that are less common and could become more problematic.
After experiencing a significant loss, like the death of a loved one, the grief may never heal entirely, but the pain should begin to ease up and allow you to resume your life and find happiness still. With complicated grief, the pain does not ease and it interferes with your ability to live your life and maintain your relationships in a healthy manner.
Anticipatory grief is caused by the anticipation of a loss, such as the loss of a loved one suffering from a terminal illness. Anticipatory grief can also be caused by thinking about your children growing up and moving out of the house, your pets growing old, or knowing you will be retiring from a job you love. Any loss that you are worried about happening in the future can trigger grief. Anticipatory grief can be good, because it allows you to make the most of the time you have left before losing someone or something you love, but it could also cause over-worrying or anxiety that may interfere with your ability to function normally.
Disenfranchised grief happens when your loss is not recognized, devalued, stigmatized, or you feel like you are not allowed to mourn. One example could be losing a pet. Losing a pet for many people is losing a family member, but others may try to minimize your loss by saying “it’s just a pet” and making you feel like you should move on quickly.
This type of grief can also happen when your relationship with the deceased isn’t recognized by others. For instance, if you mourn a coworker, a classmate, an old childhood friend, or a short-term relationship you were in, you may not be granted as much sympathy and understanding as a blood relative. If you feel denied the opportunity to grieve, it can make it much more difficult for you to cope and move on with your life.
Coping With Grief
Even if your loss seems insignificant and normal, you may still experience grief. Grief is extremely personal to each individual and can be triggered by any part of your life that you are losing or “moving on” from. Regardless of what you are grieving over, it’s important to learn how to cope with grief so that you can be happy and move forward with your life.
Understanding the Grieving Process
Understanding the grieving process can help you become more compassionate and patient with yourself and others who have suffered a loss. It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to grieve and that the grieving process looks different for everyone from situation to situation.
Here are some important reminders about the grieving process:
- Grieving takes time, and the timeline is different for everyone. For some people, the grieving process could be only a few weeks, and for others, it could be many years.
- In order to heal, you have to acknowledge your grief.
- You can grieve without crying. There are many responses to grief, and if you are not a crier, it does not mean you are not grieving.
- “Moving on” is often used when talking about the grieving process. “Moving on” means acknowledging your grief and finding ways to cope and resume your life. It does not mean forgetting or minimizing your loss.
- The grieving process is not always linear, but healing usually happens gradually. Even as you are starting to feel better and resuming life as normal, you may still experience grief responses when thinking about the person or thing that you lost.
Seeking Support for Grief
Experiencing a loss can make you want to isolate yourself and push through your grief on your own. It’s okay to take some time to process your emotions, but that shouldn’t mean avoiding all social encounters. Having support from others is an important part of healing from a loss.
You do need to be able to talk about your loss in order to heal. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about your emotions with everyone, find a trusted loved one, or even a mental health expert to talk about your experience with. Simply being around people can bring comfort and healing even if you aren’t talking about your loss.
Depend on Friends and Family
While you are grieving, it is important to turn to your friends and family for additional support. Let your loved ones show up for you. Accepting help can give you more energy to focus on healing and can bring you comfort. If a loved one is unsure of how to help or says “let me know if there is anything I can do for you,” remember they care about you and genuinely want to help you out. Don’t feel bad about telling people what they can help you with. Tell them if you need someone to talk to, go out with, cook you dinner, or even help you out with household chores.
Join a Support Group
You may not feel fully supported or comforted by your friends and family. Joining a support group with others who have also experienced similar losses in their lives can help you feel more comfortable opening up. You might feel less judged or stigmatized when you get to witness that you are not alone and others are also looking for support with their grief.
Seek Professional Help
If your grief is making it too difficult to move forward with your life, you should seek help from a mental health professional. Mental health experts can help you process your emotions while teaching valuable coping mechanisms.
Other Coping Techniques to Help With Grief & Loss
Find a Creative Outlet
If talking is difficult, you can express your emotions in other ways. Try writing, painting, drawing, singing, or finding other creative outlets to help you process your feelings. Journaling is a great option to help track your grieving process and get your emotions out on paper.
Physical activity can help some people process their emotions. Going for a long walk, run, or bike ride can help clear your head and work through your thoughts.
Stick to Your Routines
Going through your daily routines can help you stay connected with the people in your life and maintain a sense of normalcy. It can also help reduce stress and give you tasks to focus on.
Take Care of Yourself
Don’t neglect your physical or emotional needs. Stay on top of your hygiene and physical health. Stay hydrated, eat nutritious foods, and prioritize sleep and exercise. Your physical health and mental health go hand in hand. If you are physically healthy, you will be better able to tend to your mental health.
Discover Your Grief Triggers
Determine what triggers your grief, and come up with a plan to be prepared for whatever emotions those triggers may bring. Triggers can be significant dates like a birthday or anniversary, or anything that reminds you of what you lost. You can try to reduce the pain that a trigger might bring by planning ways to commemorate your loss with friends or family.
Grieving is not an easy process to go through, and you should not have to go through it on your own. In order to take care of yourself or a loved one who is experiencing grief, you should seek support. Support can be talking to a friend, joining a support group, or seeking professional help.
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