When we suffer a loss, it’s natural to grieve. The loss of a person who we care about, in particular, can leave us feeling deeply sad and with a feeling of emptiness. It’s important to understand the grieving process so that we can feel and experience our sorrow fully as a way to move toward healing. There is no set timetable or specific steps for how to deal with grief that are right for every person, but knowing the common feelings and behaviors that many people experience can help us see that our reactions are normal – or to recognize when there is a problem that needs professional help.
Common Ways that We Feel Grief
Everyone feels grief in some way, although we don’t all react to a loss in the same fashion. Some common feelings that people experience as part of the grieving process include the following:
- Sorrow and sadness
- A feeling of emptiness
- Anger and frustration, at ourselves, the deceased, God, and others
- Apathy and numbness
- A feeling of unreality or disbelief
- Helplessness and fear
- Anxiety and nervousness
- The desire to be alone
Along with these emotional reactions, many people have a physical response to grief. You may be exhausted and unable to motivate yourself to do much of anything. Some people sleep more than usual, while others face insomnia. Food is often a coping mechanism, whether that means eating a lot of high fat, high sugar “comfort” foods or the inability to eat anything at all – deciding what to eat or not eat is a way that many people exert control over their lives, especially when they feel like they cannot control anything else.
All of these reactions, emotional and physical, are common ways of coping with grief and nothing to be concerned about. When the grieving process starts to take over your life, however, you do need to seek professional help. It’s normal to cry and feel very sad after a loved one dies, for example, but if you can’t get out of bed for days on end and feel like there’s no point in going on with your life, you need help. Other signs that you aren’t coping with grief in a healthy way include drinking or taking drugs to block out your emotions, serious overeating, lashing out at others, and thinking about hurting yourself or other people.
If you have anxiety or depression or are having suicidal thoughts, it’s important to seek out help immediately. Professional counselors, psychiatrists, and others can help you. Of course, there is nothing wrong with asking for help, even if you aren’t hurting yourself or others. Often, reaching out and just talking to someone can help with the grieving process.
The Five Stages of Grief
Many people are familiar with the Five Stages of Grief (or, more accurately, dying) as suggested by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, “On Death and Dying.”
These stages are a common part of the grieving process for many people, and it can be helpful to see them as a path to follow. If we find ourselves feeling angry about a person’s death, for example, seeing that it’s a “normal” part of how to grieve can mean that we allow ourselves to feel this emotion and, in so doing, move past it. Part of coping with grief effectively is allowing ourselves to feel what we feel and not suppressing our emotions because we think that they aren’t appropriate.
It’s important to remember that not everyone experiences these stages, and not everyone who does experience them does so in the same order. You might skip a stage altogether, or revisit a stage after you think you’ve handled it already. While there are common ways of coping with grief, each person goes through their own process and you shouldn’t judge yourself – or others – based on some “right” method for how to grieve. As long as you’re not hurting yourself or others, and you’re getting the help and support that you need, your grieving process should take whatever shape it needs to.
How to Deal with Grief
There is no set of guidelines for how to grieve, but coping with grief in a healthy way typically includes many of the following:
- Let yourself feel your emotions, even if you think they aren’t appropriate. Take some time for yourself, and acknowledge if you feel guilt, regret, anger, relief, or any of the other feelings that you might think are not appropriate. While you might not want to express these reactions in front of others, let yourself feel them so that you can move past them.
- Practice healthy habits. Try to eat mostly healthy foods, limit your alcohol intake, and get plenty of sleep. Take a walk outside to relax your mind and body.
- Take some time out for yourself. You may want to pray, write down your feelings in a journal, read a favorite book that brings you comfort, or simply sit quietly with your thoughts. You need some time to put yourself first.
- Return to a normal routine, once you feel like you are able to do so. Isolating yourself can make it harder to deal with your feelings and make it more difficult to accept that life goes on. Having the distraction of work, family, and “normal” life can help put your loss into perspective.
- Seek out a counselor, support group, minister, or even a good friend and talk about your loss. Many people find that simply talking about how they are feeling helps with the grieving process and healing from their loss.
Remember that there is no set timetable for when you’re supposed to be “over it.” Grief takes as long as it takes. As long as you’re dealing with your loss in a healthy way and it’s not preventing you from dealing with everyday life, then don’t be too hard on yourself. You may experience sudden moments of grief months or even years later, especially when an anniversary or other event reminds you of your loss. Recognize your feelings, be kind to yourself, and give yourself some time to get back to your routine.
What Types of Loss Is It OK to Grieve?
We often think of grief as a specific reaction to death, usually the death of a loved one. In reality, we can grieve all types of loss, including the death of a pet, the loss of a job, or the ending of a relationship. The depth of feeling may not always be as deep as it would be for the death of someone we love, but it’s still a significant loss that we should allow ourselves to mourn.
Because these losses aren’t always recognized as being worthy of such sorrow, we may struggle to figure out how to deal with grief that accompanies them. This type of reaction is called “disenfranchised grief,” and it can be especially hard to cope with. It’s completely natural to feel grief for all types of loss, and to express that sorrow in ways that will help you heal. If you have people in your life who don’t acknowledge your mourning or think that you should, “just get over it,” seek out a counselor or support group where you can find a more sympathetic ear.