No matter how different our grieving experiences, coping with significant loss can be a messy process for all of us. It can also be unbearably intense when we least expect it. Left unaddressed, some effects of grief can prove lasting and take a toll on our emotional well-being. So be honest with yourself. And be kind.
Grief not only comes in waves, it sporadically resurfaces. The silver lining: the more you embrace your grief, the softer future waves can roll in. However, this process towards stillness always takes time and is never linear. So be patient with yourself too. Even if you can’t put a finger on your feelings every second, pay attention to what you’re feeling when another wave hits. It’ll give you some understanding of where you’re at.
Grieving is as natural as it is unavoidable, so it’s important to explore healthy ways to face our pain. By doing so, we can begin the healing process from an honest place. So with coping in mind, we’re here with tried and true tips to help you deal with loss.
But first, let’s talk about grief.
What is Grief?
Grief is what we all experience following a significant loss. Rather than a singular event or feeling, grief is a process. Grief, as noted, comes in waves. In turn, the path to healing and how long it takes varies from person to person. No matter how grief differs for each person, it affects all of our emotional, physical, behavioral, cognitive, social, and spiritual health.
Grief is a natural response and it’s a process that occurs with or without our consent. Avoiding grief won’t make it go away. Instead, you will still attempt to cope, but accompanied with avoidance, your coping tactics may not be as healthy.
The sooner we address our grief, the sooner we can start coping in a real way. Trauma and loss affect our day-to-day lives and interrupt our natural routine. You may find yourself feeling stuck, numb, and detached. Or you may feel deeply sad. With grief, there is no wrong way to feel, but acknowledging those feelings is critical for healing.
While grief is most commonly associated with the death of a loved one, loss comes in many forms. The loss of a job or the end of a romantic partnership can trigger a grief response. With moving forward in mind, it’s important to incorporate your grief into your life rather than pretending you’re fine when you’re anything but.
What Grief Looks Like
As you’ve likely learned by now, there are 5 overarching stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. With that said, not everyone will experience all 5. There’s no exact playbook for how grief will go or how it will look for everyone. But it rarely feels like a steady progression. Because grief comes in waves, it’s often full of ups and downs. Grief can be an emotional rollercoaster fueled by a world of emotions. It can also make us completely numb.
Still, keeping an eye out for each stage can be helpful. For instance, people tend to feel a sense of disbelief immediately after someone dies. Some report that for months following the loss, it didn’t feel real. And emotionally speaking, it wasn’t. While some feel nothing at first, others are hit with a deep and acute sorrow almost right away. But all are typical ways to experience grief and no two human experiences are identical.
Also, the state of our relationship with the person we’ve lost has a unique impact on the shape and seasons of our grief. If there were unresolved issues or feelings within the relationship, you may have a difficult time shaking the feeling that you can never make amends. In contrast, you may feel a sense of gratitude for the time you had and grateful for those you still have. You may not be able to make sense of it. Again, all of these responses are common while grieving, but none are guaranteed.
No matter your grief response, it’s important to allow your mind and body a chance to adjust, acclimate, and catch up to the reality of the situation. In other words, you’ll feel the full impact of an irreplaceable loss and you won’t get to decide when. Grief can look very different from one moment to the next. It often comes in tiny fragments sometimes and at others, avalanches. It also tends to hit all at once when we least expect it.
Because grief is amorphous, you may be experiencing it without knowing it. You may also be in denial. So give yourself time to cope without jumping to conclusions. Even if you feel okay, don’t dismiss any signs of distress. And always make sure you’re taking care of yourself.
Practice Self Care and Self Compassion
In a state of grief, taking care of ourselves isn’t always the first thing on our minds. And it also can prove more difficult to do. But when it comes to coping, taking care of ourselves in the most basic ways is essential. So if you want to feel better, you will need to prioritize your well being.
Eat regularly, hydrate, and rest. Consistency is key. You want to maintain as close to your fundamental routine as possible. The process of dealing with grief is both a shock to the system and a draining force. Nine times out of ten, grief makes us feel more exhausted than usual. So taking care of ourselves is that much more necessary.
Also, be gentle with yourself. Don’t worry about the timeline. You’ll get to a better place. But for now, you need to allow all feelings to ebb and flow without trying to eradicate them. All forms of healing take time. And there’s no time like a grief journey to start practicing self-compassion. You need your support more than ever.
Allow yourself to be wherever you’re at. It’s okay to not be okay. And it’s perfectly normal to be messier than usual when you’re suffering from a crippling emotional injury. You cannot dictate how you process your grief or how quickly. So let your feelings unfold naturally and be kind to yourself in the process.
Prepare Yourself For The Impact
The more we understand grief, the better we can navigate it. Understanding the things to expect can alleviate confusion, emotional chaos, misdirected anger or anxiety, and exacerbated pain.
Throughout your grief journey, being informed and aware can help you prepare for the common — and sometimes amorphous — symptoms that will arise or temporarily take over, such as fatigue. In other words, you’ll know it when you see it as an entity, rather than mistaking any aspect of grief for something other than symptoms of it.
With some idea of what to expect and an acknowledgment of how you historically deal with any form of loss, you’ll be more prepared. In turn, you’ll be able to assess what type of support you really need when you need it most. You may also more readily recognize how far along in your process you actually are, even if you can’t know how long it will take.
Seeing any signs of progress can do emotional wonders when you’re in the thick of it and feeling like there’s no end in sight. So study up on grief and call it like you see it when you see it. Take note of your experience and don’t hold back what you’re feeling; identify it.
We all experience grief differently, but we all need to let it out. Keeping things inside won’t make them go away. In fact, internalizing what you’re going through will likely delay the healing process and make it that much more difficult to navigate, or even pinpoint, how you’re feeling.
So find a healthy outlet that works for you and unabashedly express yourself.
You may not immediately know what self expression outlet you need. That’s fairly common. Try different techniques of release to figure out what works. But bear in mind, what works once may not serve you the next time. To some extent, how we grieve is tied to the specific loss. There will be difficult shades of gray that are familiar and others that are situation-specific.
Whether you lean on a friend for support, take up painting, or sing the songs that pull on your heartstrings at karaoke every week, incorporate an emotional outlet into your routine. When dealing with grief, there is no cure-all, and you’ll always be combining various forms of release. So stay open and embrace what you are feeling. Accept yourself where you’re at and express it in ways that feel honest. And whatever you do, don’t try to handle it completely alone.
Stay Connected and Reach Out
Sometimes we just need to be alone, especially when we’re processing something painful. However, it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between healthy solitude and isolation. If you’re grieving, you may feel alone even when you’re not. Or you may want to be. Stay connected to avoid shutting down. No good can come from adding new feelings of isolation on top of the ones you can’t escape.
In the wake of loss, you’re already somewhat removed from your daily life. Isolating even more would prove counterproductive to your healing. We could all use at least a little support from others, especially when dealing with inner turmoil.
Grief is universal and so is the feeling of being isolated during it. Turn to people within your support system without concerns of being a burden to them. According to grief experts, communication is critical for a griever. And it can be done in any form. So feel it out as you go and find what works.
Whether you take a trip together or just unload over FaceTime, seek the company of those you feel safe with and uplifted by. Whether it be a friend or family member, our support systems are some of the only people who can bring comfort when suffering or struggling to find closure. With that said, the desire to fully cut oneself off from the world is a common response, but it’s never a healthy one when grieving. It can lead to us detaching from our feelings and becoming emotionally unwell. In contrast, joy can be medicinal.
Various studies have shown that isolating during the already isolating process of grieving can make it profoundly harder to grieve, sometimes leading to prolonged depression and heightened anxiety. Isolating can also trigger less than healthy coping strategies and void filling, like substance abuse.
Even if you want to be alone, seek meaningful connection when you’re ready. Remember, we all need someone to lean on, so don’t be ashamed.
Seek Outside Support
Dealing with grief is a complex process. Some parts will prove predictable, but other feelings, thoughts, and behaviors can catch us by surprise. No matter what tendencies and timelines you’ve experienced in the past, each time is somewhat (or maybe even drastically) different.
There’s no way to be completely ready for what is to come every time you grieve a loss. That’s why it can help to have a therapist, counselor, or other objective party to help you get through all the predictable and unpredictable aspects of your grieve.
Never be afraid to ask for the kind of help you need. Not everyone is comfortable expressing the full extent of their feelings to people in their personal lives. And not everyone has someone they feel they can trust. Reaching out can be difficult, but we could all use support. And a professional can provide a kind of objectivity and safety that can be emotionally freeing.
When it comes to therapy of any kind, having someone there to listen, provide sound advice or insight, and be a sounding board will only be good for you. And in emotionally difficult times, an informed and unwavering form of support often makes all the difference.
Confront The Loss
Many cultures encourage people to acknowledge and honor each loss. Ceremonies have existed for centuries to help people start the process of letting go while still holding onto what will always be sacred. Outside of traditions built around grief, there are other, more personal, ways we can confront our current grief, find gratitude, or honor a loved one’s legacy.
For starters, our memories will always be with us. Cherishing a memento or honoring a shared tradition is a symbolic form of keeping a memory alive. Sometimes, reflecting will be uplifting. Other times, it can send grievers spiraling. And no matter the type of loss you’re reeling from, it may be a while before you’re ready to look at their picture or hear their favorite song on the radio.
Thankfully, there’s an outlet that will always help you acknowledge what you’re going through.
Start Journaling, Purposefully
Sorting through your grief by releasing it from your system can be incredibly cathartic. And to cope, it’s important to recognize the effects of grief on our minds. In turn, there’s no time like the present to start keeping a journal. Even if you’re not drawn to the practice, writing down your most painful thoughts and most unmanageable feelings can help you find clarity and peace when you need it most. And there’s another reason journaling can help with grief.
If things were left unsaid or unresolved, consider your journal a space to write a letter (or letters) to the person you’ve lost. As with most letters written in a state of emotional distress, the intent is not to send it; it’s really a letter for you.
According to Harvard Health, extensive research suggests that disclosing our deep emotions through writing can help us cope with even the most intense feelings of grief. In your journal, your thoughts, feelings, and reflections can flow freely and safely. By assessing exactly where you’re at, you can also help yourself get to a new, more clear-headed place. And the more you journal, the more natural your feelings will flow.
To prepare for any and all unforeseen pain on the horizon, start your journaling practice today.
Memories can also be healing. After all, “letting go” doesn’t mean they no longer live in our hearts. The people we love become an inseparable part of us. Losing them does not change their impact on our lives, no matter how life might change.
To truly grieve what we’ve lost, we must take time to remember. Whether you listen to their favorite song once in a while or think about them on the anniversary of their death, don’t shy away from ongoing, inevitable remembrance. And no matter how much time has passed, always take a moment to grieve.
Remember, this too shall pass. The intensity of what you feel in the first stages of grief will not last forever. Grief always evolves and dissipates. With that said, it can also come flooding back without warning. Having helpful tools to cope when a wave of grief hits is essential. After all, dealing with grief is not about eradicating pain. It’s the process of embracing where we’re at honestly, showing ourselves some much-needed compassion, and dealing with grief as it comes.