COPING WITH GRIEF AND LOSS
Tip 1: Get support
The single most important factor in healing from loss is having the support of other people. Even if you aren’t comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, it’s important to express them when you’re grieving. Sharing your loss makes the burden of grief easier to carry. Wherever the support comes from, accept it and do not grieve alone. Connecting to others will help you heal.
Finding support after a loss
- 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. Draw loved ones close, rather than avoiding them, and accept the assistance that’s offered. Oftentimes, people want to help but don’t know how, so tell them what you need – whether it’s a shoulder to cry on or help with funeral arrangements.
- 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 you’re 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.
- Talk to a therapist or grief counselor – If your grief feels like too much to bear, call 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.
How to support a grieving person
If someone you care about has suffered a loss, you can help them heal by asking about their feelings, spending time just being with them, and listening when they want to talk.
Tip 2: Take care of yourself
When you’re grieving, it’s 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 can’t 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 you’ve lost a loved one, write a letter saying the things you never got to say; make a scrapbook or photo album celebrating the person’s life; or get involved in a cause or organization that was important to him or her.
- Look after your physical health – The mind and body are connected. When you feel good physically, you’ll also feel better emotionally. Combat stress and fatigue by getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising. Don’t use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief or lift your mood artificially.
- Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either – Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to yell at the heavens, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.
- Plan ahead for grief “triggers” – Anniversaries, holidays, and milestones can reawaken memories and feelings. Be prepared for an emotional wallop, and know that it’s completely normal. If you’re 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.
When grief doesn’t go away
It’s normal to feel sad, numb, or angry following a loss. But as time passes, these emotions should become less intense as you accept the loss and start to move forward. If you aren’t 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.
The sadness of losing someone you love never goes away completely, but it shouldn’t 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 the deceased
- 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 the person in familiar places
- Avoiding things that remind you of your loved one
- Extreme anger or bitterness over the loss
- Feeling that life is empty or meaningless
The difference between grief and depression
Distinguishing between grief and clinical depression isn’t always easy, since they share many symptoms. However, there are ways to tell the difference. Remember, grief is a roller coaster. It involves a wide variety of emotions and a mix of good and bad days. Even when you’re in the middle of the grieving process, you will 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:
- 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 work, home, and/or school.
- Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there.
To learn more about the signs and symptoms of clinical depression, see Understanding Depression.
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.
When to seek professional help for grief
If you recognize any of the above 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 isn’t 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
Helping Others Through Grief, Loss, and Bereavement
Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Help
More Helpguide Articles:
- Healing Emotional and Psychological Trauma: Symptoms, Treatment, and Recovery
- Coping with a Breakup or Divorce: Moving on After a Relationship Ends
- Grieving the Loss of a Pet: Understanding and Coping with the Grief of Losing a Pet
- Improving Emotional Health: Strategies and Tips for Good Mental Health
Related links for coping with grief and loss
General information about grief and loss
The Grieving Process – Provides helpful handouts on the grieving process, including the stages of grief, how to take care of yourself, and the different ways people react to loss. (Hospice of the North Shore)
Life after Loss: Dealing with Grief – Guide to coping with grief and loss, including normal grief reactions to expect. (University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center)
Grief Support – Provides insights into grieving and the grief process. A companion page contains detailed information about children’s grief. (Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement)
Death and Grief – Article for teens on how to cope with grief and loss. Includes tips for dealing with the pain and taking care of yourself during the grieving process. (Nemours Foundation)
Death of a loved one
Grief: Coping With Reminders After a Loss – Tips for coping with the grief that can resurface even years after you’ve lost a loved one. (Mayo Clinic)
Healing Steps – Advice on how to heal after the death of a loved one, including the rituals that can help and things you can do to keep memories alive. (California Home Care & Hospice, Inc.)
Support for grief and loss
GriefNet.org – Online support community for people dealing with grief, death, and major loss, with over fifty monitored support groups for both kids and adults.
Stages of grief
The Kübler-Ross grief cycle – Details each stage as it applies to persons facing death or other negative life change. Note that the cycle as presented includes seven stages, including initial shock. (ChangingMinds.org)
What is Grief? – Lays out general stages of grief with tips for helping someone who is grieving. (University of Illinois Counseling Center)
Complicated grief and depression
Major Depression and Complicated Grief – Lists the warning signs and symptoms that suggest grief has progressed to major depression or complicated grief. (American Cancer Society)
Complicated Grief – Guide to the symptoms, causes, risk factors, and treatment of complicated grief. (Mayo Clinic)
Complicated Grief – Learn the difference between the normal grief reaction and complicated grief. Includes information about symptoms, risk factors, and treatment. (Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide)
Grief after suicide
Grief after Suicide – Survivors of suicide and their friends can help each other and themselves by gaining an understanding of grief after suicide. (Canadian Mental Health Association)
Grief after Suicide – Understanding your emotions, as well as suicide in general, may ease your grieving after suicide. (Buddha Dharma Education Association)