Grief is the response we have to trauma or loss. We most often associate grief with death, like the loss of a loved one or the diagnosis of a life-limiting illness like cancer. While those circumstances do cause us to grieve and mourn, so do many others, like the end of a relationship or the loss of a job. You might grieve if you’ve recently experienced divorce, a falling-out with a close friend or family member, or a long-distance move. As individuals, we each process grief in our own way and on our own timeline. And while there’s no easy way to deal with your profound sense of loss, you can (and should) engage in essential self-care practices as you move through it. Here, I’ll help you to maintain a sense of well-being while you’re grieving.
- What Are the Stages of Grief?
- How to Cope with Grief and Loss
- Self-Care for a Sense of Well-Being
What Are the Stages of Grief?
You’ve probably heard people talk about the five stages of grief. The psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed this model to better explain the grieving process. The five stages are:
Denial is just as it sounds: the refusal, even on a subconscious level, to accept reality. You may have thoughts like, “There’s no way this is really happening,” or “This all has to be a really bad dream.” You might be too much in shock to come to terms with what has happened.
Anger is a natural response to a situation you can’t control, like a loved one’s terminal illness or layoffs at the office. Your reaction may be, “This is so unfair! I (he, she) don’t deserve this! Why is this happening?” You may feel the impulse to lash out at your loved ones, your colleagues, or anyone who disturbs you in your misery.
Bargaining is the idea that you can somehow negotiate your way out of reality. You might make bargains with a higher power: “If you just let me get well, I’ll turn my life around.” “If they would just give me my job back, I’d work smarter and harder.” In the case of a loved one who has died or has been diagnosed with a serious illness, you may wish you were able to trade places.
Depression is a feeling of sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness. You may feel like there’s no point in anything anymore. “If I couldn’t even make my marriage work, why should I bother meeting new people?” “If I’m going to die anyway, what’s the use in getting out of bed in the morning?” When your mental well-being has declined in this way, you may lack the motivation to participate in your usual activities of daily living.
Acceptance means coming to terms with your new reality. It doesn’t mean you have to like it or that your pain is gone. If you’ve said goodbye to a loved one or experienced a bad breakup, it’s not as though you’ll ever forget. But at this point, you’re able to say, “Okay, this is what has happened, and this is what the future holds. It is what it is.”
The stages of grief are often not linear; you may move from denial and anger to bargaining and depression and back again. And just when you think you’ve reached the point of acceptance, you may circle back to anger and depression. Again, grief looks different for everyone. There’s no right or wrong way to move through all the emotions that come with the grieving process.
How to Cope with Grief and Loss
As grief is such a personal experience, your best coping mechanisms will be as individual as you are. Unfortunately, there’s no handbook on how to cope with loss or other trauma, it’s something most of us must figure out as we go. As you deal with your feelings, here are some things to remember:
It’s Okay to Cry
Many of us were socialized to believe that crying or showing any emotion is a sign of weakness and vulnerability. I’d encourage you to let go of that idea, as crying can be good for you. Crying can help you to release feelings of stress. And crying in front of someone who cares for you can result in a big hug and words of encouragement.
Seek Social Support
Speaking of hugs and encouragement, please don’t feel like you need to deal with your grief all on your own. We’re all walking this road of life together. When you’re missing a loved one, reach out to family or friends who knew that person and talk about your happiest memories together. Make a date to visit your loved one’s favorite beach or bring flowers to their final resting place. Look for people who are experiencing the same things you are in this season of your life. There are support groups for surviving spouses, parents who have lost a pregnancy or newborn baby, and patients with end-stage diseases. Sharing your struggles with people who truly “get it” can be validating and healing.
Help is Available
If you find yourself in such despair that you’re unable to function in your everyday life, it’s a great time to seek professional support services. Your general practitioner can provide you with references, or you can call the SAMHA National Helpline, available 24 hours a day. Please don’t feel like you need to “suck it up” or handle everything by yourself. It’s okay to ask for expert mental health care when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Self-Care for a Sense of Well-Being
As you work through your emotions, it’s so important that you take good care of yourself. Here are some of the best ways to do just that:
- Be sure you’re getting adequate sleep. It’s easy to slip into problematic sleep patterns during the grieving process, which can make you feel more stressed and depressed.
- Stick to a balanced diet of lean protein, whole grains, and lots of fruit and veggies. Avoid the temptation to self-medicate your feelings with junk food, or you’ll feel sluggish later.
- Make time for low-impact exercise, like a brisk walk or yoga for beginners, to combat depression and anxiety.
- Spend some time doing a meditative activity to help clear your head. You might try mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques or writing in a positive affirmations journal.
Coping with trauma and loss and the sense of grief that follows will never be easy. Know that it’s a bumpy road for all of us. Take the process one day at a time, and be good to yourself. And please remember that you’re never alone.