When thinking about how strong the human spirit is, the most compelling piece of evidence is our ability to continue to put one foot in front of the other after the experience grief and loss. Coping with the loss of someone or something you love is one of life’s biggest challenges that unfortunately, at some point, we all must face. Often, the pain of loss can feel suffocating. You may experience a variety of difficult emotions, ranging from anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound hollowing sadness. The pain of grief can also disrupt your physical health, making it difficult to sleep, creating a loss of appetite, and making it challenging to concentrate. These are normal reactions to significant loss. While the grieving experience is personal and individualized there are healthy ways to cope with the pain. By using healthy coping skills in time it is possibly to ease your sadness, help you come to terms with your new normal, and move forward from this life changing event in a meaningful way.
Grief is the natural response to loss. It’s the term given to the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you are deeply attached to is removed from your life. The more significant the loss, the more intense your grief will be. Most often associated with grieving is the death of a loved one, however, any loss can cause grief. Grief can be triggered by:
divorce or relationship ending
loss of health
losing a job
loss of financial stability
a miscarriage, retirement
death of a pet
loss of a cherished dream
a loved one's serious illness
loss of a friendship
loss of safety after a trauma
selling the family home
All of these life events and many more can create the experience of grief and loss. Whatever the root cause of your grieving process, it is valid, it is personal to you and you deserve to honor your feelings.
Coping with Grief
While experiencing loss is an inevitable part of life, there are ways to help cope with the pain, help you come to terms with your new normal, and move forward from this life changing event in a meaningful way.
Acknowledge your pain.
Pushing through, ignoring what you feel or being strong for those around you are sure fire ways to prolong and complicate your grieving process. Honor your experience, recognize that how you feel matters and face the process head on with a plan all while knowing you cannot avoid grief. A very grounding way to acknowledge and respect your feelings during this time is to keep a gratitude box and daily take time to fill it with memories and stories that you are grateful to have shared with the source of your loss.
Accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions.
Intense emotional experiences can often trigger other memories in your life that have similar components and you may find yourself shifting through past situations that you thought you resolved. This is a common occurrence and if it happens while you’re grieving take this time to unpack all your feelings.
Understand that your grieving process will be unique to you.
Some people cry daily, some don’t express their feelings as often with tears. The part of the grieving process that matters most is that you anchor your emotional journey with sound coping skills. Create a daily routine that respects the space you are in by making time for reflection, mediation or journaling to process your feelings and memories. Honor the value the person or reason for your loss had in your life in a meaningful way. For example, if you lost a loved one to cancer celebrate the joy they brought to your life by crafting a fundraising event for cancer research themed in a way that your loved one would have enjoyed. Alternatively, creating a quite space in your backyard that houses a cherished bauble where you read, relax and feel connected to your loved one is equally meaningful.
Seek out face-to-face support from people who care about you.
It is tempting to isolate yourself when you are grieving. While it is normal to crave alone time to replenish yourself, spending time with family and friends is pertinent during this time. Working with a professional therapist may prove to be a helpful ally to help navigate the grief process.
Support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically.
The endorphins released during exercise are the brain’s natural antidepressant and the serotonin released during physical activities lifts the mood. In addition to these natural effects, there is value in taking your mind off your grief and focusing on something healthy. Whether you take up yoga, working out at a gym or taking walks around your neighborhood, each variation has value to your physical health.
Recognize the difference between grief and depression.
It is important to normalize that grief is like a wave of emotion with a rising and falling tide and is in direct correlation with loss. Grief is a natural response to life events that over time diminishes in severity. Depression is categorized by ongoing symptoms in multiple areas each with key features such as feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem, recurrent thoughts of suicide, agitation, loss of interest in pleasurable activities and exaggerated fatigue. A licensed therapist can join with you to work through grief or depression by offering you a safe space to process your feelings and teach coping skills to manage your symptoms.
The human spirit is resilient and capable of enduring the unimaginable. When faced with a loss, take time for healing, align your support system, stretch yourself to honor your need for self-care, and do not be afraid to seek the partnership of a therapist to join with you to move through this chapter of life with support.
Glynita Bell, MSSW, LCSW, ABD
Glynita Bell is the Owner and Clinical Director of Heart 2 Heart Wellness Center in New Albany, IN and an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at Spalding University.