How to Deal with Grief – Proven Strategies to Cope and Overcome

10 minutes read

Grief is a natural phenomenon that people will experience one way or another at some point in their lives. Grief results from sudden changes in health or important life events such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, a miscarriage, a breakup in relationship, death of a pet, prolonged health challenge, to even subtle occurrences like changing jobs, moving away from home, selling your house and then to traumatic events like witnessing a natural disaster such as earthquake, flood, mass shooting, etc. All these things and more cause grief.

Simply put, grief is a natural response to loss, bringing deep emotional suffering that begins when someone or something you love is taken away from you. The pain of loss is overwhelming; no matter the source of your grief, you will experience all kinds of deep, unexpected emotions that can affect your physical health and disrupt your mental health.

Many people deal with grief in different ways but a few symptoms are common among those who are grieving. Coping with the loss of someone is one of the biggest challenges of life and these symptoms are normal reactions that can manifest both emotionally and physically. They include:

  • Depression
  • Shock and disbelief
  • Numbness
  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Guilt
  • Fear and panic attacks
  • Anger
  • Chronic pain
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Insomnia

For a long time, beliefs and traditions have affected the way people grieve. In some cultures, grief is expected to be expressed privately, while in others, people are allowed to grieve loudly. Culture, while being a dictator of how people are expected to grieve, is a huge hindrance to the grieving process because it forces a person to come to terms with their grief, thereby not allowing them to fully heal from the inside. Experts have warned that everyone should be allowed to grieve the way they want; “there is no wrong or right way to grieve.”

Everyone has a unique way of expressing their grief, for instance, some may shout or cry loudly, screaming for hours on end, while others may sit quietly, no tears seen. Some may prefer to work right after the incident rather than talk; others may laugh in disbelief. “Though people don’t often associate them with grief, laughing and smiling are also natural responses to loss and can be protective,” explains Dr. George Bonanno.

Whatever way you choose to express your grief, it is very important to give yourself permission to feel whatever you are feeling. It is a personal feeling, so don’t be ashamed or think that there’s a special way to grieve about someone or something, or a certain type of grief reserved for a specific occasion.

Whatever is the cause of your grief, there are certain ways to deal with the pains of grief so that, with time, you will be able to come to terms with your sadness and find strength to live on. Scientists have been studying the process of grief and are learning more about new ways to cope with it.

In this article, we will walk you through a few proven strategies to help you deal with grief. Before then, let’s explore the types and stages of grief that you would pass through before being able to start the healing process.

Types of Grief

There’s no normal or abnormal way of grieving, but there are certain types of grief people experience.

  • Anticipatory Grief 

It is felt before the loss occurs. If, for example, your loved one is terminally ill and the doctor has warned their death is inevitable, you may begin to feel a sense of loss in anticipation before it fully unfolds. Anticipatory grief brings up confusing emotions like withdrawal or anger. Withdrawal is because you feel the loss already and don’t need to be around to witness it all. Anger, because it feels like you’re giving up and hopeless.

However, studies have found that when you are aware of the impending death or loss of someone or something, it may help you prepare for it and cope after the loss, though you might still feel sad about the changes you have to go through beforehand.

  • Complicated Grief

As the name implies, grieving occurs when you are unable to come to terms with your loss. You expected the pain from your loss to ease up over time but it hasn’t. You are on a rollercoaster, stuck in the process of accepting your loss and moving on.

According to News In Health (NIH) funded research, about 10% of bereaved people experience complicated grief.

These people react to the process in certain ways and may even judge themselves for grieving too little or too much. You may get lost in depression and feelings of hopelessness; in such a situation, it is necessary to go to therapy.

Stages of Grief

As you try to navigate the times after a loss, you may experience different emotions over time, which psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969 referred to as the five stages of grief.

Stage one

Denial: A person in this stage feels confused and still in shock. They tend to avoid the issue and do things that take their minds off it. A person in denial decides that “this cannot be happening”.

Stage two

Anger: This is the stage where a person may feel frustrated and foster deep resentment towards whatever they come into contact with. They tend to act irritated by certain things, be pessimistic, be violent and engage in self-harm. Their primary feeling is to blame someone or something and transfer aggression to it.

Stage three

Bargaining: At this stage of grief, a person may feel shame, guilt, or insecurity. They tend to overthink the past and worry about the future. They may feel responsible and wish to turn back the clock in hopes of acting differently.

Stage four

Depression: If the bargaining phase seems futile, no miracle happens to sidestep the misfortune, they begin to feel hopeless, disappointed and too sad to do anything. This is when they may experience physical symptoms of grief such as changes to their sleep or appetite, a lack of interest in social activities and weight loss or gain.

Stage five

Acceptance: People in the final stage have come to terms with their grief. They decided to accept their loss for what it is and choose to live in the present moment. They begin to feel a sense of self-compassion, and the strength to adapt and move on.

Though these stages of grief break down the healing process, not everyone goes through them and that’s okay. Some people deal with their grief without even going through these stages. Also, people who go through these stages of grief may not experience them in a specific order because there is no typical response to loss.

How to Deal with Grief; Proven Strategies on How to Cope with Grief

For some people, grief is usually short-lived and less painful; however, for others, it can be a long time of pain and tears.

Whichever situation you find yourself in, be assured that there are ways to deal with grief and even if you may not find closure immediately, a few strategies can help you navigate through your grief and make the process of healing less challenging.

  • Acknowledge your pain.
  • Accept that your grief can bring frustrating emotions.
  • Accept that people may feel awkward around you because they don’t know how to offer comfort.
  • Understand that your grieving process is unique to you.
  • Refrain from telling yourself how to feel and don’t let anyone tell you how to feel.
  • Beware of social media; it can be triggering.
  • Know that feelings of grief may return, so plan how to deal with them. 

Apart from these few tips, the most important thing you can do to cope with your grief boils down to seeking support from people and taking care of your emotional health by looking after your physical health.

1. Seek support

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  • Talk to a grief counselor or therapist

Dealing with grief sometimes requires talking to a professional. Grief counselors are trained specialists in psychotherapy who would help you process your feelings of loss. Psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists are crucial in helping you express and navigate the grieving process if you can’t open up to just anybody.

  • Join a support group and do community outreach 

Even if you have family and loved ones around you, grief can make you feel very lonely. However, joining a support group helps you connect with people who have been through the same kind of loss. That way, you feel less alone and are able to reach out to others who have gone through the same kind of loss.

  • Explore spirituality and embrace relationships

If you are religious or traditional, embracing your spirituality may be helpful. Though many people tend to dissociate from religion following a loss, engaging in activities such as praying and meditation has proven helpful in dealing with grief.

2. Take care of yourself

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  • Eat healthy foods and avoid skipping meals.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking enough water.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Take prescribed medication and let your doctor know of any health issues you may face.
  • Stay away from too much alcohol and smoking.
  • Try to exercise regularly.
  • Keep a journal, it will help you express and understand your feelings.

We know that grief after a significant loss can be overwhelming and may send you spiralling out of control. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It is normal to grieve and with the right methods, you can deal with it.

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