Author Topic: Coping with Grief and Loss  (Read 3886 times)


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Coping with Grief and Loss
« on: December 23, 2019, 02:27:54 PM »

Coping with Grief and Loss
There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but there are healthy ways to deal with the grieving process. These tips can help.

What is grief?

Grief is a natural response to loss. Itís the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. Often, the pain of loss can feel overwhelming. You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. The pain of grief can also disrupt your physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or even think straight. These are normal reactions to loss and the more significant the loss, the more intense your grief will be.  Coping with the loss of someone or something you love is one of lifeís biggest challenges. You may associate grieving with the death of a loved one which is often the cause of the most intense type of grief but any loss can cause grief, including:

    Divorce or relationship breakup
    Loss of health
    Losing a job
    Loss of financial stability
    A miscarriage
    Death of a pet
    Loss of a cherished dream
    A loved oneís serious illness
    Loss of a friendship
    Loss of safety after a trauma
    Selling the family home

Even subtle losses in life can trigger a sense of grief. For example, you might grieve after moving away from home, graduating from college, or changing jobs. Whatever your loss, itís personal to you, so donít feel ashamed about how you feel, or believe that itís somehow only appropriate to grieve for certain things. If the person, animal, relationship, or situation was significant to you, itís normal to grieve the loss youíre experiencing. Whatever the cause of your grief, though, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can ease your sadness and help you come to terms with your loss, find new meaning, and eventually move on with your life.

The grieving process

Grieving is a highly individual experience; thereís no right or wrong way to grieve. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and how significant the loss was to you.  Inevitably, the grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it canít be forced or hurried and there is no ďnormalĒ timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, itís important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

Myths and facts about grief and grieving

Myth: The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.

Fact: Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing, it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.

Myth: Itís important to ďbe strongĒ in the face of loss.

Fact: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesnít mean you are weak. You donít need to ďprotectĒ your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings can help them and you.

Myth: If you donít cry, it means you arenít sorry about the loss.

Fact: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but itís not the only one. Those who donít cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it.

Myth: Grieving should last about a year.

Fact: There is no specific time frame for grieving. How long it takes differs from person to person.

Myth: Moving on with your life means forgetting about your loss.

Fact: Moving on means youíve accepted your loss but thatís not the same as forgetting. You can move on with your life and keep the memory of someone or something you lost as an important part of you. In fact, as we move through life, these memories can become more and more integral to defining the people we are.

How to deal with the grieving process

While grieving a loss is an inevitable part of life, there are ways to help cope with the pain, come to terms with your grief, and eventually, find a way to pick up the pieces and move on with your life.

    Acknowledge your pain.
    Accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions.
    Understand that your grieving process will be unique to you.
    Seek out face-to-face support from people who care about you.
    Support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically.
    Recognize the difference between grief and depression.

The stages of grief

In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth KŁbler-Ross introduced what became known as the ďfive stages of grief.Ē These stages of grief were based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness, but many people have generalized them to other types of negative life changes and losses, such as the death of a loved one or a break-up.

The five stages of grief

Denial: ďThis canít be happening to me.Ē

Anger: ďWhy is this happening? Who is to blame?Ē

Bargaining: ďMake this not happen, and in return I will ____.Ē

Depression: ďIím too sad to do anything.Ē

Acceptance: ďIím at peace with what happened.Ē

If you are experiencing any of these emotions following a loss, it may help to know that your reaction is natural and that youíll heal in time. However, not everyone who grieves goes through all of these stages and thatís okay. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go through each stage in order to heal. In fact, some people resolve their grief without going through any of these stages. And if you do go through these stages of grief, you probably wonít experience them in a neat, sequential order, so donít worry about what you ďshouldĒ be feeling or which stage youíre supposed to be in.  KŁbler-Ross herself never intended for these stages to be a rigid framework that applies to everyone who mourns. In her last book before her death in 2004, she said of the five stages of grief: ďThey were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.Ē

Grief can be a roller coaster

Instead of a series of stages, we might also think of the grieving process as a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, highs and lows. Like many roller coasters, the ride tends to be rougher in the beginning, the lows may be deeper and longer. The difficult periods should become less intense and shorter as time goes by, but it takes time to work through a loss. Even years after a loss, especially at special events such as a family wedding or the birth of a child, we may still experience a strong sense of grief.

Source: Hospice Foundation of America

Symptoms of grief

While loss affects people in different ways, many of us experience the following symptoms when weíre grieving. Just remember that almost anything that you experience in the early stages of grief is normal including feeling like youíre going crazy, feeling like youíre in a bad dream, or questioning your religious or spiritual beliefs.

Emotional symptoms of grief

Shock and disbelief. Right after a loss, it can be hard to accept what happened. You may feel numb, have trouble believing that the loss really happened, or even deny the truth. If someone you love has died, you may keep expecting them to show up, even though you know theyíre gone.

Sadness. Profound sadness is probably the most universally experienced symptom of grief. You may have feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning, or deep loneliness. You may also cry a lot or feel emotionally unstable.

Guilt. You may regret or feel guilty about things you did or didnít say or do. You may also feel guilty about certain feelings (e.g. feeling relieved when the person died after a long, difficult illness). After a death, you may even feel guilty for not doing something to prevent the death, even if there was nothing more you could have done.

Anger. Even if the loss was nobodyís fault, you may feel angry and resentful. If you lost a loved one, you may be angry with yourself, God, the doctors, or even the person who died for abandoning you. You may feel the need to blame someone for the injustice that was done to you.

Fear. A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears. You may feel anxious, helpless, or insecure. You may even have panic attacks. The death of a loved one can trigger fears about your own mortality, of facing life without that person, or the responsibilities you now face alone.

Physical symptoms of grief

We often think of grief as a strictly emotional process, but grief often involves physical problems, including:

    Lowered immunity
    Weight loss or weight gain
    Aches and pains

Seek support for grief and loss

The pain of grief can often cause you to want to withdraw from others and retreat into your shell. But having the face-to-face support of other people is vital to healing from loss. Even if youíre not comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, itís important to express them when youíre grieving. While sharing your loss can make the burden of grief easier to carry, that doesnít mean that every time you interact with friends and family, you need to talk about your loss. Comfort can also come from just being around others who care about you. The key is not to isolate yourself.  Turn to friends and family members. Now is the time to lean on the people who care about you, even if you take pride in being strong and self-sufficient. Rather than avoiding them, draw friends and loved ones close, spend time together face to face, and accept the assistance thatís offered. Often, people want to help but donít know how, so tell them what you need whether itís a shoulder to cry on, help with funeral arrangements, or just someone to hang out with. If you donít feel you have anyone you can regularly connect with in person, itís never too late to build new friendships.  Accept that many people feel awkward when trying to comfort someone whoís grieving. Grief can be a confusing, sometimes frightening emotion for many people, especially if they havenít experienced a similar loss themselves. They may feel unsure about how to comfort you and end up saying or doing the wrong things. But donít use that as an excuse to retreat into your shell and avoid social contact. If a friend or loved one reaches out to you, itís because they care.  Draw comfort from your faith. If you follow a religious tradition, embrace the comfort its mourning rituals can provide. Spiritual activities that are meaningful to you such as praying, meditating, or going to church can offer solace. If youíre questioning your faith in the wake of the loss, talk to a clergy member or others in your religious community.  Join a support group. Grief can feel very lonely, even when you have loved ones around. Sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help. To find a bereavement support group in your area, contact local hospitals, hospices, funeral homes, and counseling centers, or see the Resources section below.  Talk to a therapist or grief counselor. If your grief feels like too much to bear, find a mental health professional with experience in grief counseling. An experienced therapist can help you work through intense emotions and overcome obstacles to your grieving.

Using social media for grief support

Memorial pages on Facebook and other social media sites have become popular ways to inform a wide audience of a loved oneís passing and to reach out for support. As well as allowing you to impart practical information, such as funeral plans, these pages allow friends and loved ones to post their own tributes or condolences. Reading such messages can often provide comfort for those grieving the loss.  Of course, posting sensitive content on social media has its risks. Memorial pages are often open to anyone with a Facebook account. This may encourage people who hardly knew the deceased to post well-meaning but inappropriate comments or advice. Worse, memorial pages can also attract Internet trolls. There have been many well-publicized cases of strangers posting cruel or abusive messages on memorial pages.  To gain some protection, you can opt to create a closed group on Facebook rather than a public page, which means people have to be approved by a group member before they can access the memorial. Itís also important to remember that while social media can be a useful tool for reaching out to others, it canít replace the face-to-face support you need at this time.

Take care of yourself as you grieve

When youíre grieving, itís more important than ever to take care of yourself. The stress of a major loss can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time.  Face your feelings. You can try to suppress your grief, but you canít avoid it forever. In order to heal, you have to acknowledge the pain. Trying to avoid feelings of sadness and loss only prolongs the grieving process. Unresolved grief can also lead to complications such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and health problems.  Express your feelings in a tangible or creative way. Write about your loss in a journal. If youíve lost a loved one, write a letter saying the things you never got to say; make a scrapbook or photo album celebrating the personís life; or get involved in a cause or organization that was important to your loved one.  Try to maintain your hobbies and interests. Thereís comfort in routine and getting back to the activities that bring you joy and connect you closer to others can help you come to terms with your loss and aid the grieving process.  Donít let anyone tell you how to feel, and donít tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when itís time to ďmove onĒ or ďget over it.Ē Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. Itís okay to be angry, to yell at the heavens, to cry or not to cry. Itís also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when youíre ready.  Plan ahead for grief ďtriggers.Ē Anniversaries, holidays, and milestones can reawaken memories and feelings. Be prepared for an emotional wallop, and know that itís completely normal. If youíre sharing a holiday or lifecycle event with other relatives, talk to them ahead of time about their expectations and agree on strategies to honor the person you loved.  Look after your physical health. The mind and body are connected. When you feel healthy physically, youíll be better able to cope emotionally. Combat stress and fatigue by getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising. Donít use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief or lift your mood artificially.

For help facing up to and managing distressing emotions like grief....

Use HelpGuideís free Emotional Intelligence Toolkit.
When grief doesnít go away

As time passes following a significant loss, such as the death of a loved one, itís normal for feelings of sadness, numbness, or anger to gradually ease. These and other difficult emotions become less intense as you begin to accept the loss and start to move forward with your life. However, if you arenít feeling better over time, or your grief is getting worse, it may be a sign that your grief has developed into a more serious problem, such as complicated grief or major depression.

Complicated grief

The sadness of losing someone you love never goes away completely, but it shouldnít remain center stage. If the pain of the loss is so constant and severe that it keeps you from resuming your life, you may be suffering from a condition known as complicated grief. Complicated grief is like being stuck in an intense state of mourning. You may have trouble accepting the death long after it has occurred or be so preoccupied with the person who died that it disrupts your daily routine and undermines your other relationships.  Symptoms of complicated grief include:

    Intense longing and yearning for your deceased loved one
    Intrusive thoughts or images of your loved one
    Denial of the death or sense of disbelief
    Imagining that your loved one is alive
    Searching for your deceased loved one in familiar places
    Avoiding things that remind you of your loved one
    Extreme anger or bitterness over your loss
    Feeling that life is empty or meaningless

If your loved oneís death was sudden, violent, or otherwise extremely stressful or disturbing, complicated grief can manifest as psychological trauma or PTSD. If your loss has left you feeling helpless and struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that wonít go away, you may have been traumatized. But with the right guidance, you can make healing changes and move on with your life.

The difference between grief and depression

Distinguishing between grief and clinical depression isnít always easy as they share many symptoms, but there are ways to tell the difference. Remember, grief can be a roller coaster. It involves a wide variety of emotions and a mix of good and bad days. Even when youíre in the middle of the grieving process, you will still have moments of pleasure or happiness. With depression, on the other hand, the feelings of emptiness and despair are constant.  Other symptoms that suggest depression, not just grief, include:

    Intense, pervasive sense of guilt
    Thoughts of suicide or a preoccupation with dying
    Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
    Slow speech and body movements
    Inability to function at home, work, and/or school
    Seeing or hearing things that arenít there

Can antidepressants help grief?

As a general rule, normal grief does not warrant the use of antidepressants. While medication may relieve some of the symptoms of grief, it cannot treat the cause, which is the loss itself. Furthermore, by numbing the pain that must be worked through eventually, antidepressants delay the mourning process. Instead, there are other steps you can take to deal with depression and regain your sense of joy in life.

When to seek professional help for grief

If youíre experiencing symptoms of complicated grief or clinical depression, talk to a mental health professional right away. Left untreated, complicated grief and depression can lead to significant emotional damage, life-threatening health problems, and even suicide. But treatment can help you get better.

Contact a grief counselor or professional therapist if you:

    Feel like life isnít worth living
    Wish you had died with your loved one
    Blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it
    Feel numb and disconnected from others for more than a few weeks
    Are having difficulty trusting others since your loss
    Are unable to perform your normal daily activities

Get more help

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: November 2019.