How to Deal With Grief
Grief is one of the most difficult emotions we’ll ever have to deal with, and unfortunately it’s also an inevitable part of life. Losing something dear to you – whether it’s a person, a pet, a relationship, or any situation in which you had invested a great deal – will likely happen to you more than once.
Grief is the flip side of one of life’s greatest joys, which is allowing yourself to care about, and even love, someone or something very deeply. But grief can be emotionally overwhelming and physically taxing, and is likely to interfere with your functioning to at least some extent.
Some may be tempted to ignore it and “power through,” but suppressed grief is likely to have unpleasant effects – such as anger, depression, physical pain or illness, and many kinds of self-destructive behaviors.
So if you’re dealing with a profound loss, it’s important to deal with the grief that comes with it. If you’re not sure how to keep, here are some things to keep in mind:
Allow yourself to feel it, in your own way
If you need to cry a lot, cry a lot. If you feel exhausted and incapacitated and need to take time off of your regular activities, then do it.
Emotions like anger are often a common part of grief, and a perfectly legitimate one. So don’t punish yourself for the intensity of your feelings, and don’t tell yourself that those feelings make you weak.
And while it’s important to practice self-care (more on this later), you are also fully entitled to just feel awful and take things very slow.
On the flip side, if you have a hard time feeling anything at all, don’t worry that something is wrong with you – after a loss, many people feel nothing at all due to shock, numbness or delayed grief.
Be patient with yourself
The most intense early stages of grief can last anywhere from days to months depending on the nature of the loss. Especially if a loss was sudden and unexpected, you may be in shock or go on “autopilot” and initially not feel much of anything, only to become overwhelmed later.
And while the most debilitating early stages will likely pass, grief can come and go for years. For very profound losses, it may crop up periodically for the rest of your life. If you don’t feel what you expected, or on the timeline you imagined is proper, there is nothing wrong with you.
Your reactions and experiences are valid, and you can and should be compassionate with yourself – don’t berate yourself for not being “over it,” and if something re-triggers intense grief after a period of relative calm, give yourself the space to feel it.
It may be difficult to be around others when deep in feelings of grief, and you should absolutely take some alone time if you need it. But too much alone time can lead to feelings of intense loneliness and isolation, and increase the risk that your grief will be compounded by depression.
After a loss, it can help to be around people who care about you, even if you’re not talking much. And it can also be healing to share your grief with others who are also experiencing it, especially if you’re dealing with the death of a shared loved one.
It can also be helpful to seek support from people who have experienced a similar loss, but are not intimately connected to you. Support groups, found both in person and online, are a great resource.
It may also feel safer to share difficult feelings, like anger or resentment, with people who are not directly involved in your situation. Realizing that you’re not alone in the complex, and even ugly, mix of reactions that accompany grief can be an important part of accepting your own feelings.
In the simplest sense, it’s important not to become so overwhelmed by grief that you forget to take care of yourself. It’s important to make sure you eat regularly, get outside and move around, and sleep on schedule, as are keeping up basic routines around hygiene and cleanliness.
Neglecting these things can make it more likely that your grief will morph into depression. If you are having trouble coping with these basic tasks in the immediate aftermath of a loss, this is perfectly normal.
Try to set yourself a modest daily schedule, and don’t hesitate to ask for help from your loved ones – or feel like you need to turn down help if it’s offered. If and when you’re ready to take a bit more on, self-care can also mean participating in activities that you enjoy, expressing your feelings creatively through something like writing or art, keeping up your hobbies, and just generally doing things that make you feel good – whether taking a hot bath, eating a good meal, or watching a fun movie.
Life does go on, and if you can stay connected to the things that make you feel like you, you’ll be in a better position to deal with moments of intense grief when they happen.
Create your own memorials
After the death of a person, you will likely participate in some sort of organized memorial like a funeral or service. But it can also be important, and healing, to create your own memorials and traditions, whether drawing from a spiritual practice or simply using your imagination.
This can include holding a personal ceremony of your own design, making an altar or shrine in your home, or doing a ritual to commemorate anniversaries.
Anniversaries are often “grief triggers,” but these triggers exist in many forms and can crop up unexpectedly. This is another reason why having a personal memorial space or ritual may be helpful, as it can be a therapeutic way to deal with recurrences of intense grief.
Dealing with Complicated Grief
If you experienced a loss that you are having trouble moving on from, to the point where it impedes your ability to function for an extended period of time, you may be experiencing what’s known as “complicated grief.”
While there is no fixed timeline for “moving on,” the threshold for complicated grief is generally agreed to be a year – meaning that you have been unable to adjust to the loss, and instead feel debilitated by it, for that long.
Complicated grief can trigger (or be caused by) other mental health issues, and can be more likely if a loss occurred under traumatic circumstances. People experiencing complicated grief may even consider suicide.
This is why talking to a therapist or grief specialist might be a necessary part of your recovery, and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.