How to cope with grief?
Learn how to cope with grief and you will feel better soon. One of life’s difficult challenges is the loss of a loved one. At such a time, there’s no point in saying we’re not yet ready; the challenge will not wait. When it happened, it’s time we must begin coping with grief. But how does one learn to do that? If you’re wondering how to cope with grief and want to learn what the experts have to say about handling grief, we encourage you to read on.
After the death of a family member, the path to healing from loss is rarely a straight, easily-navigated road; clearly marked with directional signs. It is never an easy task. Coping with their death and healing after loss can take far longer than we’d expect, and change us more than we could have predicted.
Grief is nothing if not transformative.
So, what does it mean; when you’re asked to cope? The dictionary definition is “to deal effectively with something difficult”; and perhaps the most important thing to notice is the use of the word effectively. Healing from loss requires we cultivate the awareness to recognize any ineffectiveness (negative, defeatist behaviors) in our reaction to loss; and then we must also have the tools to modify those ineffective behaviors and the thoughts guiding them.
What Does Ineffective Grieving Look Like?
If we take the perspective that much of grief involves managing our reaction to loss, you can see that effective grieving (leading to healing after loss) is a matter of learning to better handle our emotional selves whenever we’re faced with distressing, difficult situations (like the death of a friend, family member, or pet).
Ineffective grieving then occurs when our emotions run wild; making rational thought difficult. These emotions (such as anger, sadness, fear, insecurity, guilt, and/or loneliness) can also cause us to can behave very badly, both with ourselves and with others. It can also force us to isolate ourselves, which is certainly counter-productive and ineffective. Ineffective grievers are literally incapacitated by their emotions; they are in constant emotional turmoil.
What about Effective Grieving?
Fortunately, most intuitively know how to grieve effectively, in that they manage (over time) to do 3 things: get through the worst of their grief, function well day-to-day, and find meaning in their life.
Their grief is not a major threat to their sense of self-worth and personal identity; it an adaptive process that runs its course.
Effective grieving, and healing from loss, involves a high degree of self-awareness, the willingness (and the skills) to manage our emotions.
Tips on Managing Your Emotions
Andrea Wachter, in “Emotions 101: How to Reveal and Heal What You Feel”, tells readers that while we humans are graced with 4 primary emotions: sadness, anger, fear, and happiness; for most of us, our natural state of being is to be “present and at peace”.
Basically then, when an emotion surfaces and we recognize it (let’s say we’re feeling anger), we can do one of three things:
- Stuff the feeling down or pretend it doesn’t exist
- Destructively or disrespectfully act out
- Express the emotion appropriately and safely
If you want to cultivate a healthy relationship with your emotions, Ms. Wachter argues there are two things you need to do:
- Learn to let your emotions out effectively and constructively. Find safe people and places and ways where you can share your feelings. In other words, seek a healthy outlet for what you’re feeling. Talk to a good friend, exercise, or write in a journal; whatever activity suits your personality or style.
- Replace a negative thought/emotion with a positive one. Whenever a negative emotion arises and you’re unable to process it right away through conversation or creativity; do what you can to replace it with a good thought: a sweet memory, ideal solution, or uplifting vision for your future.
Other things you can do to manage your emotions include:
- Slow your reaction. When things happen, don’t react right away. Instead, continue to breathe for three to five minutes; allowing your muscles to relax and your heart rate to slow.
- Turn to your higher power. Be willing to ask for spiritual guidance. When you’re overwhelmed with emotion, close your eyes. Imagine a positive outcome, and ask for illumination of the best path forward.
- Do your best to look at the bigger picture. Our lives are full of both good and bad; seeing how all everything fits in your life gives you a panoramic bird’s eye view–liberating you from this momentary experience for a time.
6 Tools (or Strategies) for Healing from Loss
The authors of About Grief: Insights, Setbacks, Grace Notes, Taboos, argue “Grieving people are in pain and on an island – a double whammy that grief, above all other human hurts seems to give.”
That means the first strategy for effective grieving is to avoid isolation. Of course, being alone has its rewards; just don’t become a recluse. Get the support you need from your community: family, friends, pastor, or grief counselor.
The other six effective grieving “tools” include:
- Actively grieving. Cultivate opportunities to remember your loved one, acknowledge your loss and release your emotions.
- Accepting your pain. Allow yourself to feel your emotions fully, and don’t let anyone talk you out of what you’re feeling. You may also want to learn to express your emotions creatively. Whether it’s painting, weaving, photography or songwriting; bring your naturally creative self into your grief work.
- Taking care of your physical well-being. Effective grieving is hard work; so eat healthy foods, get enough exercise, and rest whenever possible.
- Finding assistance with practical day-to-day things. Soliciting help from those around you gives you time to actively grieve.
- Reaching out to help others with loss. Take the time to share what you’ve experienced and learned with those who are new to grief.
- Taking comfort from your faith. There’s nothing quite as comforting as taking refuge in our spiritual beliefs; don’t neglect to put your trust in a higher power.
What to Expect When Healing from loss
Until a loss occurs, no one can really know how the related grief will feel, or how long it will last. Megan Devine, in “The 5 Stages of Grief and Other Lies That Don’t Help Anyone”, offers her readers essentials to remember when healing from loss:
- “Grief has its own lifespan, unique to you.” This isn’t a race, and there is no finish line.
- “You grieve because you love, and love is part of you.” Your grief won’t end because your love isn’t finite; it is eternal.
- “Your grief shifts and changes: sometimes heavy, sometimes light.” The experience of grief is ever-changing: fluid and dynamic.
- “You will flash back and forth through many feelings, often several of them at once.”
- “Sometimes you will be tired of grief.” Because of difficult nature of the work involved in effective grieving, you’ll find yourself turning away, and then turning back.
- “Grief can be absolutely crazy-making.” Fortunately, this doesn’t mean you are crazy; it only means you’re experiencing a crazy situation.
- “Your grief may be painful, but it’s never wrong.” Because grief is unique to each of us, there really is no wrong way to grieve.
The truth is it is not easy to manage grief and everyone can understand. However, life still has to go on and you have to move on. Griefing is a natural process to do so. I hope this post is helpful for you or anyone.
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- Devine, Megan, “The 5 Stages of Grief and Other Lies That Don’t Help”, Huffington Post, 2013
- Wachter, Andrea, “Emotions 101: How to Reveal and Heal What You Feel”, Huffington Post, 2013
- Marasco, Ron and Shuff, Brian, About Grief: Insights, Setbacks, Grace Notes, Taboos, Ivan R. Dee, 2010.