Coping with Grief and Loss

What You May Experience

Grief occurs in response to the loss of someone or something; for example a spouse, a home, a dream, a vision of the future, or a job. Grief is a natural response to loss. Each person will respond to loss differently and on their own schedule. Don’t judge or measure your reactions by those of others. Though everyone is different, some common grief reactions include:

  • Numbness
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Fear and anxiety
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Anger
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Strong or unpredictable emotions
  • Guilt or regret
  • Sadness
  • Questioning your faith

These reactions may come and go; you may be having a “good day” and then feel over come by a wave of sadness and tears. This is typical and need not be cause for alarm.

Stages of the Grieving Process:

Within the first few weeks to months, you may find yourself riding on a roller coaster of shifting emotions. Most people go through these stages not in linear steps, but in unpredictable waves — moving through one stage to the next and sometimes shifting back. Some people will also experience certain phases but not others. Here are several common, typical grief reactions:

  • SHOCK/DISBELI EF
    This is the numbing, disorienting sense that the event has not really happened, not really occurred. Your mind may be telling you “there must be some mistake,” or “this can’t be true.” These symptoms typically last from several hours to several days.
  • ANGER
    Your anger may be targeted at a number of sources. You may feel waves of anger at the yourself or the organization over what seems senseless or unjust.
  • GUILT
    You may blame yourself for not doing more. You may feel regret over “unfinished business.”
  • SADNESS
    You may experience a deep sense of loss. There may be moments when you find yourself at a loss for words, weeping, or bursting uncontrollably into tears.
  • FEAR
    There may be anxiety or panic; fears about carrying on, fears about the future.
  • DEPRESSION
    You may go through periods of melancholy, or “blueness,” where you feel inclined to withdraw or isolate yourself. You may lose interest in your usual activities, or feel helpless or hopeless.

In addition to these stages, people who are grieving frequently experience physical symptoms, such as fatigue, sleep disruption, appetite changes, increased tension and numerous aches and pains. Grief can also affect you on a psychological level. Some of these common signs include feeling distracted, forgetful, irritable, disoriented, or confused.

Positive Coping Strategies

The best way to confront loss is to recognize it, understand your feelings and reactions to it and get support from others while you grieve. Here are some things that can be helpful during the grieving process:

  • Information: Get accurate and timely information from credible sources; avoid rumors.
  • Self-expression: Talking, writing, journaling, poetry, drawing, story-telling are all ways of acknowledging your emotions.
  • Physical self-care: After a significant loss it is particularly important to take care of your body. Try to get enough sleep, take some exercise, eat nourishing foods, and avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
  • Social support: It can be tempting to withdraw from others after a loss. Humans are social creatures and knowing that others know and understand will make you feel better, less alone with your pain. Spend time with people who care about you. Contribute to a culture of support by asking other people how they are feeling, what kind of support they want, and letting others know what kind of help your want.

What Can Hinder the Healing Process?

There are some strategies which may not be helpful in the long run. These include:

  • Avoidance or minimization of one’s emotions.
  • Use of alcohol or drugs to self-medicate
  • Avoiding feelings or grief

When to Seek Help

There is no timeline for grieving and for most people, strong reactions will lessen over time. But if you experience any of the following, you are encouraged to seek support from a trained counselor:

  • Thoughts about hurting or killing yourself.
  • An extended period of depression that interferes with your ability to fulfill your normal roles and responsibilities in life.
  • An increase in alcohol or drug use.

Grief isn’t about returning to “normal.” It is a process of adapting to a new reality.

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