We’ve all lost someone.
Whether it’s a loved one, a friend, a coworker or someone else.
Here are 6 tips for dealing with grief and loss that I’ve found to be extremely helpful in my own life as well as the lives of my clients:
- Pace yourself – Everyone wants it to be over as quickly as possible. Typically, we go on autopilot and deal with the day to day to keep ourselves from feeling. Grief is a marathon, not a sprint. Grief doesn’t have a schedule. Do what you need to do and feel what you need to feel in order to heal. You are doing the very best you can at any given time, so be easy on yourself and let the process unfold.
- Don’t fight the riptide – Grief is like the ocean, it’s stronger than you are. The harder you fight against it and the more you try to run from it, the more it will wear you down. Waves will keep hitting you at unexpected and inopportune times. If you allow the riptide of grief to take you (ie. connect with it and process it) the waves will get smaller and smaller and you’ll gain control over when and how hard they hit.
- Take care of your body – Eat, sleep. drink water, exercise. If you don’t take care of your engine you’ll burn out. Sleep is probably the most important out of all of these. Do what you can to get healthy natural sleep. Try to avoid alcohol (which is a depressant) or addictive prescription sleep aids. The exercise can help jumpstart your sleep cycle and the endorphins have restorative qualities. The food and water help keep your engine fueled and oiled. The better the fuel (ie. healthier), the better your engine runs. Although a little comfort food never killed anybody.
- Get out! Out of your house, out of your head – Fight the urge to stay cooped up in your house and away from social interaction. You alone with your negative and depressed thoughts is a bad combination. It may take a good bit of energy at first and you probably won’t feel like it; but, over time it’ll get easier and easier. Talking with a friend and enlisting their help to get tou up and out can be beneficial.
- Fight the urge to punch people in the face – You’ll hear a lot of trite, clichés thrown around. People mean well and they want to help; but, they often don’t know what to say or do. So they say things like “God has a plan”, “things happen for a reason”, “I’m sorry for your loss”, “it’ll heal with time”. These things may in fact be true; but, in the moment you usually don’t want to hear them. But you just can’t go around assaulting people 😛
- Help someone else – When you’re feeling depressed or angry about how badly things are going, look around for someone else who is struggling and help them. There is always “the starving children in Africa” defense. Somebody else always has things going wrong in their life as well. This doesn’t mean your pain is less important or you should feel guilty for grieving. But, if you take a bit of time to help someone else it gives you a bit of perspective, gets your endorphins going and helps you to feel good about something again.
I mentioned in my most recent post about Dr. Kubler-Ross and her concepts on the 5 Stages of Grief as outlined in her book On Death and Dying. I’m going to provide a more in depth explanation of them as well as the guidelines I typically explain to clients that are working through grief and loss. They are:
- Denial – Typically the first stage in the progression. It helps us to weather the initial shock and impact of the loss. Usually, a person feels numb and empty, listless and adrift. This allows us to go on autopilot and navigate the day to day tasks of life while beginning the process of healing.
Drawback – A person can get stuck in denial, often in the case of an unsolved murder, abduction or wartime death where the body is not recovered. In addition, many people will focus on the autopilot and the daily tasks as a way of avoiding the overwhelmingly painful feelings of grief.
- Anger – This is a natural and often necessary stage. Underneath our anger is the pain and loss we feel. With the anger come natural questions such as “how could this happen” or “why”. The anger points to how much that person meant to you.
Drawback – A person can easily get stuck in this phase where the anger is all-consuming and keeps them from moving through the healing process. Often times, we are taught that anger and the expression of anger are a bad thing and others will try to pacify you or suppress your anger.
- Bargaining – This is the “What if” stage and is a typical phase in the time leading up to a loss, usually in the case of a terminal illness. Before a loss we would offer up almost anything to spare that person. Things like, “I’ll be a better person”, “I’ll give money to the poor”, “I’ll devote my life to God”, etc.
Drawback – While the fear and the loss may motivate us to do some positive things during or after the loss, we can often move into anger if our loved one passes away and our bargain doesn’t work.
- Depression – Is a normal and appropriate reaction to a significant loss. Often we feel weighed down and lethargic, foggy and confused or even achy. The depression sometimes seems like it will never end.
Drawback – Sometimes we can become stuck in depression (which then becomes persistent depressive disorder – formerly dysthymia). All too often our sadness and depression gets invalidated and others try to “fix” our depression.
- Acceptance – Ideally, this is the final stage in which we are able to acknowledge that the loss has in fact happened. The goal is to be able to connect with it in healthy and appropriate ways when we choose to as well as handle any triggers that may cause us to connect with the grief unwillingly.
Drawback – Often people are resistant to the term and concept of acceptance because it can become synonymous with being “Ok” with the loss.
Key Points To Remember
- This concept was not originally intended for all types of loss and grief
- There are other models of grief and loss such as J.W. Worden’s Four Tasks of Mourning
- Grief is not a linear process with a timeline and schedule.
- People grieve in different ways and need to accept the differences
- It’s possible to experience more than one stage at a time just as we can experience multiple feelings at the same time
By no means is this an exhaustive list of tips and coping skills.
I’d love to hear what other ones you may have found to be helpful in your grieving process!
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Disclaimer – the author of this post is not engaged in a therapeutic relationship with the reader and cannot give counseling advice without a confidential appointment. Readers should be sure to consult with a licensed therapist in their area or seek emergency medical attention if they are experiencing difficulty.