Losing a loved one — parent, child, spouse, partner, or friend — can cause overwhelming feelings of grief. Grief is your body’s emotional response to loss. People often experience a variety of overwhelming emotions from anger, shock, and blame, to intense sadness, numbness, and guilt. This emotional pain and grief can also trigger physical responses such as changes in weight and appetite, sleep disturbances, and other health problems.
Grief is one of the biggest challenges any individual can face. The quality and extent of the support systems you can call upon and your general emotional well-being have a great influence on how you will cope with loss. Death is not the only cause of loss; the end of a relationship can be equally damaging. Losing a loved one is an individual experience; individuals process and heal from the loss in different ways depending on their support systems and emotional well-being. There is no right or wrong way to process the loss, and healing takes time. There is no need to rush the healing process or force yourself along. During this time, remember that your feelings are always valid, so continue to show yourself compassion.
Five Stages of Grief
As you begin to process the loss of a loved one, you will enter the five stages of grief. The first stage is Denial. The emotions during this stage are numbness and confusion.
The second stage is Anger. Remember while your anger is valid, your reactions to it may not be appropriate. During this stage, your goal is to acknowledge and identify the anger and focus on managing the intense emotion. Anger is often a mix of emotions and it stems from your feelings of pain and loss.
The third stage is Bargaining. This stage often includes questioning what you could have done differently. For instance, “What if I got there sooner?” It sometimes involves bargaining with a higher power, such as “if I can have them back I’ll never ask for anything else.”
The fourth stage is Depression. This stage is dominated by overwhelming feelings of sadness. At this stage, the pain of the loss hits the person with full force. They often withdraw and isolate themselves, and begin to feel symptoms of depression. Such symptoms include lack of interest and loss of pleasure in previously enjoyable activities, changes in sleeping patterns, and changes in appetite.
Stage five is Acceptance, which is the hardest stage. It’s not about accepting the loss but learning to live with the loss.
Most people believe the stages of grief are linear; when you complete stage one you’ll move to stage two, three, and so on. However, it rarely is linear. Often people will jump from stage one to stage three, then back to stage two; or they may begin at stage two and jump to stage five. Some people may not even experience the stages of grief. Healing from the loss of a loved one is an individual, personal experience, and will be different for everyone.
How To Cope With Grief
Whatever type of grief you experience, no matter its intensity, there are healthy coping mechanisms to cope with the loss of a loved one.
Seek Support – Often when we lose a loved one we want to isolate ourselves from other people in our life. However, when healing from the loss, it can be beneficial to lean on people around you. Making plans with family and friends to keep you busy and occupied will allow you to distract yourself temporarily from intense emotions.
Engage in Self-Care and/or Hobbies – It’s important to take care of yourself when experiencing the intense emotions associated with the loss of a loved one. Engaging in self-care activities, such as getting your nails done, or hobbies such as outdoor activities, painting, or anything that helps you relax and lifts your mood is a great way to manage the pain.
Celebrate – It can be helpful to celebrate the loved one’s life. Create a memoir book, share happy stories about them, and talk about them with love and joy.
Learn About Your Grief Triggers – Birthdays, anniversaries, and similar previously shared events can often trigger intense feelings of loss. Plan events during these times, such as meeting friends and family, taking a trip, or engaging in hobbies and self-care activities. Keeping yourself busy can help you get through these difficult periods.
Speak With A Professional – If the pain and loss are intense, it may be helpful to speak with a professional. A trained professional will provide you with a safe place to explore your feelings and receive validation. It’s important to talk about the pain; avoiding the emotions only makes them more intense.
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