Coping with Grief
Grief is a normal part of the human experience. Unfortunately, every person will experience grief at some point in their life. With the chaos and uncertainty that exists in the world right now, many of us are faced with different kinds of losses. You may be grieving because you’ve lost your job, or haven’t been able to meet your friends or family in person, or had to postpone an important life event (for instance, a wedding). Almost all of us are facing the loss of normalcy. Those of us who have lost our loved ones may be having an especially hard time right now - as we may not even have the opportunity to follow normal grieving rituals and customs at this time.
Grief is the emotional, physical, and psychological expression of loss, and it can cause intense physical and emotional suffering. Societal and cultural norms often influence ‘how’ and ‘how long’ you should grieve. However, grief is a personal experience, and though you may have many well-wishers who share your pain, no one might be experiencing grief exactly as you do. You might be feeling anger and confusion, while someone else may be feeling sadness and shock. You may also differ in the time it takes you to overcome your grief - and that is completely okay. There is no right or wrong way to grieve; everyone grieves in their own way.
Even in the study of psychology, there are various models of grief that explain how people may experience loss. Let’s look at one of the more popular models that many people may relate to as they grieve.
The Stages of Grief Model
This model was proposed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. She explains that even though everyone may mourn their loss in a different way, people go through certain common stages. These stages are namely - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Let’s further explore what each of these stages means.
Stage #1 - Denial
Denial is the first stage of grief. In this stage, people may find it difficult to come to terms with reality and may try to reject the loss. They may feel like the world no longer holds meaning. Denial is a defence mechanism that is used to protect oneself from the shock of the loss. This is, most commonly, a temporary response and allows the person to pace their grief.
Stage #2 - Anger
As the reality of the loss sets in, one may feel intense anger or rage. Emotions of grief may manifest as anger. This anger may be directed towards inanimate objects, strangers, or family members; one might try to find someone or something to blame for their loss. At this stage, people may also feel guilty for feeling angry; this may cause further anger which this time is directed towards themselves. However, it is important to sit with this emotion. When we pay attention to anger, we will find that it dissipates.
Stage #3 - Bargaining
While processing grief, one may also find themselves bargaining for the loss to be recovered in some way. Bargaining is essentially a way of hoping that the situation was different. During this stage, one may end up blaming themselves for the things that happened or may ruminate and wish that things had gone differently. Bargaining is often a way to regain some sense of control and is an attempt to protect oneself from the inevitable pain of the situation.
Stage #4 - Depression
Grief often involves intense sadness or depression. This is the most socially acceptable form of grieving. In this stage, one may withdraw from life, feel hopeless and numb and may have difficulty doing things. Even getting out of bed can seem difficult. The grieving individual may not want to be around other people during this time.
Stage #5 - Acceptance
Acceptance is the stage of grief where an individual finally comes to terms with the new reality around them and accepts that this reality is permanent. This is the stage where the person starts to feel more emotionally stable and is able to put back the pieces of their life and move forward.
These stages of grief do not necessarily unfold in a set or defined order. One may spend more time in one stage than the other, and sometimes even move back and forth between stages. More than being considered as distinct stages, they can be considered as common experiences that people may go through when they are dealing with loss. Not everyone may go through these stages, though. Some people may try to find meaning in their life after the loss. Others may move between coping with the loss and then coping with the effects of the loss.
No matter how you are grieving, it can be beneficial to use healthy ways to cope with grief - or at the very least modulate the intensity of the pain.
How to Cope with Grief
Avoid things that ‘numb’ the pain
Coping through alcohol, overeating, binge-watching television, or oversleeping may seem to provide temporary relief from the pain you are feeling; however, in reality, these behaviours prevent you from processing important emotions and are likely to make you feel worse once the numbness wears off. Instead, sharing your feelings of loss and the memories you have allows you to release emotions and work through grief.
Surround yourself with people who care
Your support system can be a valuable resource for you to rely on in the face of loss and grief. Identify people you can lean on and reach out to them to talk about your feelings. If you feel that no one in your immediate circle will understand your situation, you can join an online grief support group or any other such group with individuals who are going through a similar experience.
Accept your feelings
You may experience a lot of different emotions as you come to terms with your loss. They are all normal and valid emotions. Don’t run away from emotions that seem overwhelming. Try to be accepting of your feelings and allow yourself to experience them.
Maintain a routine
Coping with your loss can be difficult and you may feel despair and a lack of control. Setting a new routine for yourself or maintaining your existing one can help you regain a sense of control and normalcy. Engage in simple tasks like housework, schoolwork, or hobbies, run errands, and meet other people. Also, prioritise your health and well-being. Eat healthy food, give your body adequate rest, meditate, and try to exercise. This will help you become more resilient and can facilitate emotional healing.
Remember the positive memories
While you may be feeling low and may experience many negative emotions regarding the loss you are dealing with, it can be helpful to shift your focus to the positive memories that you had before the loss. You can schedule time in your routine where you reflect on your memories. You can do this while making yourself a warm beverage and this can even become a ritual that helps you cope with your loss.
Show yourself compassion
It may take you some time to come to terms with your present situation and not dwell on your past. That’s okay - you can take all the time you need; don’t rush the process. Dealing with grief is not a linear journey and some days may be better than others.
Seek professional help
If you’re feeling too overwhelmed by your emotions, consider seeking professional help to work through the grief. Professionals are trained to help you develop strategies to effectively process the various emotions you may be experiencing. Remember, asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of self-awareness and strength.
Every person is different in terms of how, when and what they do to process their grief. Remind yourself of this when you feel self-critical for not grieving in the ‘right’ or socially appropriate way. We hope these strategies help you feel better. Remember, all the emotions you are feeling are valid. Find ways to build a sense of stability and hope in your life, and don’t hesitate to reach out for support from loved ones or even a professional.
Axelrod, J. (2018, October 8). The 5 Stages of Grief & Loss. Retrieved from Psych Central website: https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/
Coping with grief. (2017). Retrieved from https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2017/10/coping-grief
Coping with loss: Bereavement and grief. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/coping-loss-bereavement-and-grief
Dealing with grief and loss. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/dealing-with-grief-and-loss/
Five Stages of Grief by Elisabeth Kubler Ross & David Kessler. Retrieved from Grief.com website: https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/
Grief: Coping with the loss of a loved one. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/grief
Haslam, N. (2018, October 27). The “five stages” of grief don’t tell the whole story of dealing with loss. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from Quartz website: https://qz.com/1439141/the-five-steps-of-grief-dont-tell-the-whole-story-of-dealing-with-loss/
Ryback, R. (2017). The ways we grieve. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-truisms-wellness/201702/the-ways-we-grieve
If you or your loved one are struggling to cope with grief, please feel free to reach out to an InnerHour therapist.
This is very well put up. Mental health is such an important topic that should be discussed more, especially in a country like India, where its still considered a myth. Just to add on to what has already been said, it is absolutely necessary to address any childhood trauma and where there’s not outright trauma, there needs to be more emphasis on actually developing children as individuals. This includes emphasizing emotional health, and teaching kids how to understand their own feelings. Developing a regular habit of introspecting, journaling and reflecting as to whether that action was rational or not is very important. People need to learn how to understand what they are feeling, process and accept it, and then decide a productive course of action.