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Last Updated on November 28, 2021 by Randy Withers, LCMHC
If there is one thing that unites us all, it is the inevitability of loss – and the grief that comes with it.
While grief is not considered a mental illness, it is often associated with a host of mental disorders, including PTSD, depression, and anxiety. To that end, we’re going to talk about grief – what it is, and healthy ways to cope with it.
What Is Grief?
Grief is a strong feeling of sadness, distress and powerlessness that people experience after suffering a loss.
While typically associated with death, bereavement specialist Terri Daniel says that this isn’t always the case — other types of losses include worldly losses, such as being fired from a job, or estrangement, which is associated with the loss of a romantic relationship or friendship.
It’s even possible to grieve the unknown. This is called anticipatory grief, and often occurs when the future is uncertain.
Grief is an emotional experience, but it can also manifest physically. The stress of grief impacts the whole body and can even compromise our immune systems. Grieving people tend to have lower immune cell function and higher inflammatory responses, so they also tend to get sick more often. Stress may also cause a change in sleeping and eating habits.
Another effect of grief is depression, which is marked by fatigue, loss of appetite, irritability, and insomnia. Depressed people also tend to isolate themselves, which causes their symptoms to worsen over time.
Despite the overwhelming feelings, it’s important to know that you can learn healthy skills to cope with grief. Below are 4 steps you can take to help manage your grief and hasten the process of recovery:
4 Healthy Ways to Cope with Grief
1. Face your feelings
Grief can have a disabling effect, making you feel anxious about having to face it. However, avoiding your feelings doesn’t mean these emotions will go away.
Instead, avoidance only prolongs the grieving process, which can lead to complications such as depression and anxiety. It can also turn into a maladaptive coping mechanism if it starts to restrict your actions.
The first major step to facing your grief is to acknowledge it, and accept everything that it is. Everyone goes through grief differently, and facing your feelings can help you grasp reality.
Try to pinpoint how you’ve been avoiding it, which can include maladaptive behavior like substance abuse, isolation, or constantly staying busy. This puts you in a position where you can start processing your emotions and also managing their side effects.
In some cases, your grief can also cause you to panic. Our ‘3 Simple Ways to Stop a Panic Attack (Without Medication)’ write-up suggests breathing and grounding techniques that will help you stay present and regain control of the moment. Staying grounded and aware of your feelings can help you take control of your grief.
Another thing to be aware of is that the grieving process isn’t linear. Sometimes, you may feel like you’ve gotten better, only for grief to strike out of nowhere. The important thing is that you keep moving and do your best not to give in to the temptation to let grief overwhelm you.
2. Take care of yourself
Grief can make you feel like you just want to curl up in bed and never leave. However, taking care of yourself is much more important when you grieve, as it can quickly drain you of your energy and emotional reserves.
Managing grief properly can be difficult when you have responsibilities like work or school, but NBC News highlights that managing grief and maintaining daily tasks and activities at the same time is doable.
However, be aware that grief can hit you anytime, and when this happens and you start feeling overwhelmed, slow down and re-center breathing.
It’s also important to make time in your day where you allow yourself to be in tune with your feelings, even if it means taking a few hours to process your emotions. You can also do activities like writing in a journal, listening to music, or reading a book, as these help improve your mood and state of mind.
Don’t forget that self-care also includes taking care of your health, so mind your nutrition and exercise as well. Grief is unpredictable, but you can combat it by having a healthy routine. This will help you manage it more effectively.
3. Find a support group
Your friends and family are already a solid source of support, but as SymptomFind mentions, there are other options that can help you cope. One of them is a support group.
A grief support group allows you to connect with more people outside your circle. Plus, it lets you be around people in the same boat as you. Grief support groups provide you with validation and assurance that you aren’t alone in your loss. These groups have facilitators that can help you understand what you’re going through to help you process your emotions better.
Grief support groups provide a safe environment where you can express your story and feelings without fear of being judged. Local churches, hospitals, and community centers will have grief support groups you can join.
There are also virtual support groups that meet through video chat or have online support forums where you can still receive uplifting messages from other people. You can request to be part of a group that has people who experienced the same type of loss as you.
Additionally, you can also ask if there’s an age separation, since different age groups may face different issues, such as when dealing with the loss of a spouse.
4. Seek professional help
Some may experience complicated grief — which is when a person has more difficulty accepting their loss than others. This can be debilitating to the point where a person has trouble keeping to a routine, such as cleaning the house or going to school.
Complicated grief can make you feel like you will never get better, which might tempt you to numb the feelings through substance abuse or burying yourself in work. However, these are only temporary escapes and will cause you to spiral down to addiction, depression, and anxiety.
If you feel like you’re not making any progress or finding it hard to manage your grief, it’s best to consult a therapist. They can teach you good coping skills for grief management so you can get through the healing process healthily.
There are two approaches that can be used to help patients tackle grief: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
CBT is a common method for managing mental health conditions. Here, a therapist will guide you in exploring your thoughts related to grief and loss, and how they affect your mood and behavior. From there, they can help cushion the impact of those thoughts by having you reframe them and retarget your behavior.
Meanwhile, BMC Psychiatry talks about ACT also being effective for various disorders, including anxiety and depression (which may stem from grief). ACT allows a therapist to assess your psychological flexibility and social contexts to help you be more mindful and eventually accepting of the entire situation.
Grief can be overwhelming, but it gets better as long as you face it and work to manage it.
The truth is, grief cannot be avoided through prescription medication or illicit substances, nor can it be pushed aside or ignored. Ultimately, it’s a process, one we all have to go through in our own way.
There is no timeline to grief or one right way to get through it. But you can mitigate the pain and misery associated with it by taking care of yourself and heeding the suggestions made in this article.
Take care of yourself. And if you have any suggestions for your fellow readers, please leave a comment below.