Losing someone or something that we love or care about, is one of the biggest challenges that we face as humans. The painful feelings associated with grief and loss can leave us wondering how we are supposed to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and the process is rarely linear. But, there are a few healthy steps that you can take to help yourself cope with and adapt to your loss.
What is grief?
Grief is a natural and normal response to loss that we will all experience at some stage in our lives. It describes the painful emotions that we feel when we lose someone or something that we care deeply about – for example, a friend or relative, a job or career we love, a sudden loss of mobility or a romantic relationship. These feelings can be overwhelming at times and you might initially wonder how they will ever pass.
The range of emotions experienced by someone who is grieving can vary, and it’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to feel. Some people report feelings of shock, sadness, anger and guilt. Others might find themselves going through a period of denial, where they are unable to fully accept what has happened. Your loss is personal to you, so remember that whatever you’re feeling; your emotions are perfectly valid.
For several decades, psychologists have attempted to explain the grieving process by using a five-stage model which describes the stages of grief as: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. The model isn’t perfect – in that it cannot set out exactly how the grieving process will be for everyone. But it may provide you with some comfort, by helping you to make sense of some of your emotions, and to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You can read more about the five stages of grief, here.
How can grieving affect daily life?
The painful emotions associated with grief can take a toll on your mental health. You might find little pleasure in the things that you would normally enjoy – like reading, watching TV or socialising. Some people also say that they experience grief in waves, meaning that they can go through a rollercoaster of emotions daily. This can be mentally taxing, so if you are grieving, you might feel more tired than usual.
Grief can also impact your physical health if you are finding it difficult to sleep, eat and exercise as you normally would. Some people also engage more than usual in destructive habits such as drinking or smoking, to try and cope with the pain they are feeling.
What can I do to help myself cope with grief and loss?
In the same way that there is no right or wrong way to feel when you experience a loss, there is also no “right” way to deal with grief. However, there are a few healthy coping mechanisms you could try that might help.
Acknowledge how you feel
Grief can be devastating, and it’s not uncommon for people to try and suppress or ignore feelings associated with it to try and cope. While this may offer some temporary relief – negative feelings that are never acknowledged or worked through, can bubble up to the surface later on. This can prolong the grieving process, making it harder for you to move forward. Heavy drinking, anxiety and depression are some of the issues that can arise as a result of unresolved grief – so it’s important to try and acknowledge your feelings, as difficult as this might be.
Some people find it easier to write them down on paper. You could start by writing or saying, “Today, I feel [sadness]. My feelings are valid, and I have every right to feel [sad].” It’s generally much easier to stop running from your feelings, once you can identify and validate them. It’s often shame, embarrassment and/or a feeling that we should just get on with things that prevents us from doing this.
Find a healthy outlet for your emotions
Once you’ve acknowledged your feelings, it can be helpful to find a way to express them in a tangible or creative way. This is where a journal can come in handy. Some people find it beneficial to put their feelings down on paper. This could be in the form of a letter to the person close to you who has died, or perhaps a poem. If writing isn’t your thing, then you could try making a scrapbook, a photo album, or even doing some painting, to help harness positive memories of who or what you have lost.
Exercise can also be a great way to release feelings of frustration and anger. It triggers the release of endorphins (happy hormones), and these along with the exertion can help you to feel calmer and more relaxed afterwards.
Be patient and give yourself time
Grief is something that cannot be rushed and the amount of time that it takes someone to move through the process can vary. If you find yourself grieving for more or less time than other people, then this is okay. Time is one of the biggest healers when it comes to grief, so it’s important to be kind to yourself and allow yourself as much time as you need to work through it fully.
Try to carry on with activities that you enjoy
Although difficult, many people find that re-engaging with activities that they enjoy and maintaining a sense of routine, can act as a distraction and help to ease grief. At first, you might not feel like doing anything at all – which is completely normal. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, then you might also feel guilty at the thought of enjoying yourself without them. This too is normal. However, it’s important to remember that life does carry on, and that you do deserve to be happy again.
When you first start trying to enjoy the activities that you used to, or to return to your normal daily routine, you might feel as though you are just going through the motions. This is okay, and it’s important not to rush yourself to feel anything other than what you feel at the time. Just the fact that you are out there giving it a go, can offer you some hope that one day you might enjoy life again.
When you’ve lost someone or something you love, you might find yourself going back over the past and thinking about what you should have said to someone who is no longer here, or what you could have done differently to keep a job you’ve been made redundant from. As you process the pain of your loss, try to forgive yourself for the things that you feel you should have done. This will become easier as you move through the pain that you are feeling and come to terms with your loss.
If you’re finding it hard to focus on the here and now, because you’re still focussing on what could have been, then consider practicing mindfulness. In a nutshell, to stay mindful means to focus solely on the moment you’re in; by concentrating on smells, tastes, sights, textures and noises in your immediate surroundings. If you’re looking for somewhere to start with this, we’ve written an introductory guide to mindfulness with tips on how to get started.
Reach out to others
Time alone to process your feelings can be helpful, but it can also be helpful to reach out to others and talk about how you’re feeling. For example, you might find it beneficial to use talking to others as a way to remember and celebrate the life of a loved one who has passed away. If the person you reach out to knew them too, then you could perhaps swap positive memories with one another.
If you’re struggling to cope on your own, then there is also no shame in this. Reaching out to a friend or family member to ask for support, can help you to take a step forward in the grieving process.
If you’ve lost someone, find healthy ways to stay connected with them
Although an important part of the grieving process is about one day being able to move on with your life, this doesn’t mean that you will forget the person who has died. People who have loved and lost someone often say that the pain becomes less intense over time, but that the memories of the person stay with them forever.
Sometimes, fear of forgetting someone or of memories fading can prolong the grieving process as people fear losing the memories they shared. For this reason, it can be helpful to find healthy ways to stay connected to your loved one. This could involve creating a memory box full of their photos and other sentiments that remind you of them, or writing down meaningful memories while they are fresh in your mind.
Don’t let anyone else tell you how you should be feeling
While it can be a good thing to reach out to friends and family members when you’re dealing with grief, never let anyone else tell you what you should think or how you should feel about your loss. We all grieve differently, and having someone tell you that you should be feeling X when you’re feeling Y, can make you feel as though your emotions aren’t valid. It’s then easy to end up stuck in a battle with yourself over what you’re actually feeling and what you’re being told you should feel. Grieving itself is difficult enough, without having the added burden of feeling like you’re doing it wrong.
Look after yourself
Even if you don’t feel like it, try to make a conscious effort to sleep and wake at reasonable times, eat healthy balanced meals and exercise when you can. Grief can make you feel as though doing these things is pointless. But neglecting your health can intensify grief and make it much harder for you to move through the healing process.
Join a support group
Joining a support group can give you a chance to talk to others who are going through similar experiences to you. Sharing tips and advice, or simply listening to others, can help you to feel less alone and reassure you that your experiences are normal. Bereavement.co.uk are currently running bereavement support groups via video link at 8pm most evenings during the pandemic. If you don’t feel up to joining a video meeting, they also have online support forums, where you can swap messages with other people who are dealing with similar emotions.
Other resources that might help…
- If you’d like to speak to someone non-judgemental and impartial about how you are feeling, you could try contacting Cruse Bereavement Care on 0808 808 1677 or [email protected].
- Sleep can have a significant impact on how we feel both mentally and physically. For tips and advice on how to increase your chances of getting some proper rest, you might find our article Can’t sleep? Try these 8 tips… useful.
- The NHS have a number of mental wellbeing audio guides that are designed to help boost your mood. You can try them, here.
- If you are experiencing feelings of hopelessness and/or desperation, then volunteers at Samaritans and Silver Line are available to offer a listening ear and some kind words 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Contact Samaritans on 116 123 or Silver Line on 0800 470 8090.
What to do if your grief doesn’t get better
There is no set grieving period and some people will grieve for longer than others. However, if you find that you are unable to accept your loss, you are constantly blaming yourself or you’re finding it difficult to carry on with everyday activities for a prolonged period, then you might need access to professional help. Although GPs aren’t seeing people in person at the moment, many are still conducting appointments over the phone. So, it’s worth phoning up your local GP practice and finding out what help could be available to you.
A note on dealing with grief and loss during the pandemic
There are people across the nation trying to cope with feelings of grief and loss at the moment – so please remember that you are not alone. Some people are grieving for friends and family members, while others have reported grieving the loss of social interaction, their job or their home. During the pandemic, when we are practicing social distancing, it’s more important than ever to stay connected to friends and family, and ask for help if you need it. It can be incredibly difficult not being able to hold loved ones at the moment; but this doesn’t mean that they won’t be there to support you in the ways that they can.
Not being able to do some of the things that we would usually do to distract ourselves from emotional pain – like going out to work, or to the gym – can be tough. Many people have also found that lockdown restrictions have impacted funeral arrangements, and made the grieving process much harder. For all of these reasons, it’s vital that you take the steps needed to look after yourself as best you can, while reminding yourself that lockdown is temporary and so is your pain. It will pass, and there will be a better day, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now.
Have you come through loss or grief? Do you have any additional suggestions that might help others in their grieving? Join the conversation on the community forum, or leave a comment below.