How to Cope with Grief - Advice for Getting Through Loss

·6 min read
Photo credit: mrs - Getty Images
Photo credit: mrs - Getty Images

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Grief is the catch-all term for so many feelings and experiences. Whether you're mourning the death of a loved one or dealing with the end of an experience you never wanted to end, the feelings and stages of grief and healing are pretty similar. There's no right or wrong way to grieve and there's no time-limit to get over something.

If you're going through a breakup, you might think your grief needs to be dialed in because at least there wasn't an actual death. If you're dealing with a death, you might wonder how you'll ever feel happy about anything or anyone ever again. But, as someone who's been through both experiences, I can say that the only thing that truly does help is time, and the only thing that will hurt you is if you bury whatever you're feeling in the moment to deal with it later.

I have experienced healing in many different ways. When my father died in 2013, I numbed my feelings to the point where I couldn't comprehend why friends were coming to me for support when their loved ones died. To them, I seemed like the only other person who had gone through it. But in my head, I hadn't experienced anything. I buried everything that happened so far down that I couldn't see myself as someone who had experienced loss, as someone who could help. But when I was grieving the end of my almost four-year relationship at the start of 2021, I had been in therapy for five years and decided that I was going to tackle everything I was feeling head-on, in an effort to do my healing upfront so it wouldn't come up later (or in later relationships). It was the best decision I could have made in order to heal quickly, but I'm not here to tell you there's a right and wrong way to grieve. The only "right" way is to handle it however feels right (or bearable!) for you in the moment.

If you're looking for a few helpful ways to manage your grief, or at least get a starting point, Oprah Daily spoke with a few therapists and counselors to get some tips on how to heal.

Accept Grief as Part of the Human Experience

"We hold a belief in our culture that healing a difficult emotion involves getting away from it, distracting ourselves until hopefully, it's goes away," says Nancy Colier, psychotherapist and author of The Emotionally Exhausted Woman: Why You Feel Depleted and How to Get What You Need.

"But this rarely works, and particularly doesn’t work when it comes to a feeling as powerful as grief." Colier echos my earlier sentiments: "With grief, what’s most important is that you allow yourself to grieve in whatever way you need to grieve; there’s no right way to grieve."

Colier says it's important to accept grief as a human feeling that everyone will experience at least once. She says that too often, people refuse to accept grief because it might indicate that "we’re not living a good life," when in fact, the opposite is true. "Grief usually has its own plan, and we must learn to accept grief on grief’s terms—not our terms," says Colier.

Spend Time With People You Feel Safe With

Angeleena Francis, LMHC, licensed mental health counselor, therapist, and executive director of AMFM Healthcare, says you can even develop a plan of support to utilize when grief feels overwhelming. "A plan of support includes outlining two aspects, people and/or support groups, and activities that can alleviate feelings of grief," says Francis. "Having a plan in advance, created while not feeling overwhelmed will help individuals follow through in those moments, rather than trying to identify a strategy in midst of a crisis."

Finding people to feel safe with can be a close friend, a family member or even a support group for people who are grieving. "We need to remember that we’re not alone in the experience of grief," says Colier. She adds that you can contact your physician, a local hospital, or even online to find a support group near you (or virtually).

Be Mindful of Feeling Guilt Around Feeling Joy

It's okay to immerse yourself in activities that previously brought you joy, whether that's crafting, playing sports, or even just getting out for a walk around the neighborhood. "If you’re able to continue engaging in activities that you previously enjoyed, then that’s good. But regardless of what activities you engage in, what’s most important is that you be kind to yourself along the way," says Colier.

What does she mean by that? Well, in short, it's that you should expect to have multiple feelings at the same time, and even feeling joyful one minute can result in feeling sad during the next. "What’s most important is to let yourself be however you are, without judgment," says Colier. "Grief is perhaps the hardest human emotion to walk through; when we’re in its process, we have to be patient with ourselves and on our own side with extra ferocity. Grief is a time when we have to practice the fiercest self-compassion."

Being kind to yourself doesn't have to look like a big production, either. It can be as simple as settling down at the end of a busy day with your favorite tea, or allowing yourself to re-watch your favorite TV show for hours without self-judgment. As feelings of sadness come up, acknowledge them without berating yourself for having them. Even saying a simple affirmation like, "it's okay to feel sad, I loved X very much and that's a beautiful thing. It's okay to not be okay right now."

Be Mindful of Your Attachment to Grief

So many different emotions will come up as you grieve, so it's important to check in with yourself throughout the process. Remember that once you start feeling better (and you will, eventually), to not harbor guilt with those positive feelings. "To let go of the grief would be to say we are over what happened, that it’s somehow okay now, when we feel like it will never be okay," says Colier. "We can get caught holding onto our grief, keeping our pain alive, in the foreground, so as to not experience the true loss, to not let the person or situation go."

When you start feeling a little bit better, Colier says it's important to trust that grief has already changed you, so you can begin to let present feelings of it go. It's always going to be with you, even when you're not thinking about it. "You don’t need to keep reminding yourself of your grief, bringing it into your present moment when it may have momentarily faded," she adds.

If you think it might help, you can participate in a "letting go" ceremony so you can honor what you're grieving while simultaneously moving on. "A ritual, such as writing a letter, spreading ashes, holding a ceremony can create an environment to allow unresolved grief to be released by honoring the experience of loss," says Francis.

"Emotional scar tissue will form around the wound and what feels unbearable now will become what is," adds Colier, which is to say, it will get easier over time. "You can gently remind yourself that this time and this feeling, with its intensity and acuteness, will not last forever."

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