At one or more points in our life, we all experience some type of loss. It could be the loss of a relationship due to a breakup or divorce, of a job or business, of a pet, of a loved one, of health or the sense of safety after a traumatic event. Whatever the tragedy, the natural response is to grieve in some form.
Depending on the significant of the loss, the grief may be more or less intense. The degree of grief also varies by the individual based on how each person handles situations. Despite the differences, there are some overall tips that can help you manage the grieving process after a loss.
- Understand there are stages to grief. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed a five-stage system for the process of grief in which people tend to go through various stages of emotions after loss. The first stage is denial in which a person does not want to believe that the event happened followed by the second stage, which is anger. The third step is a negotiation process with one's self in which a person offers something in return for the loss to have never happened. The fourth step is depression, which is often debilitating followed by the last stage, which is acceptance that the loss happened. From there, a person can typically move on from the loss. There is no hard and fast timeline to each stage of grief, and there are situations where a person falls back to the previous stage before moving ahead through the grieving process. Being aware of the stages does provide something for your coping mechanism to process along the way.
- Recognize the symptoms of grief. There are mostly emotional symptoms involved with grief. Since many of the feelings involved are so devastating, there are physical manifestations that can emerge as well. This roller coaster of feelings can involve everything from deep sadness and a sense of going crazy to shock, guilt, and fear. A person may even start doubting their religious faith. In terms of physical symptoms associated with grieving, be aware that you could feel nauseous and fatigued, suffer from insomnia, experience aches and pains, and/or gain or lose weight. Knowing these symptoms can better prepare you to fight them when they appear. This includes being able to consciously tell yourself that the grief is manifesting itself in various ways and you need to diagnose and treat those symptoms.
- Let yourself grieve. So often, people get stuck on the first few stages of grief and are paralyzed because they don't let themselves give into the emotions involved. It's necessary to let yourself take this roller coaster ride and react to the wave of emotions rather than to try to suppress them. No matter how hard to bury those feelings associated with the grief, they will not stay that way nor will you be able to truly move forward. By letting yourself give into the grief, you can start the healing process.
- Lean on friends and family. Your family and friends expect you to be upset and, while they may not know what to do, they do want to be there for you even if it's just to listen and offer some affection. Don't feel too proud or embarrassed to lean on them in this time of need. If you can articulate what you need from them, then it's even better. This network of support provides a caring and safe place to seek refuge during all stages of grief. Friends and family tolerate all types of emotions in those they love, so they will let you go through those stages and remain loyal.
- Join a support group online, offline, or both. Whether it is through social media groups and platforms or it's in person, support groups offer a way to talk and listen to others who know exactly what you are going through. While your close-knit circle of friends and family members love you, they may not have experienced the same type of loss. However, when meeting with those who have as part of a bereavement support group at a counseling or community center, this shared sorrow can also go a long way to helping the healing process.
- Turn to your faith. If you have a particular religious affiliation or have in the past, this is the time to return to that stronghold in your life and gain solace from spiritual activities. This could involve speaking to a member of your religious organization, meditating on any writings associated with your belief, and praying. Some faith-based organizations also have meetings or talks focused on dealing with loss that you can tap into for comfort and guidance throughout the various stages of grief.
- Seek out a therapist. Like the support groups, a therapist has experienced loss through having heard the stories and feelings of many patients just like you. They are trained to provide grief counseling in which they walk through the stages of grief with you, helping with advice and tactics for dealing with intense emotions and any barriers to mental and emotional healing that appear along the way.
- Express your feelings. While it can be difficult to talk about your emotions even in less troubling times, this is an important part of the process that you must do. You don't necessarily have to just express your feelings verbally. Instead, you can consider keeping a journal, write letters to the person or even thing you lost, create a scrapbook and compile the happy memories that you enjoyed before the loss or take up a cause that was important to the person you may have lost. These are tangible ways to deal with the range of intangibles the loss has thrown at you.
- Take care of your physical and emotional wellbeing. You are no good to others or yourself if you stop taking care of your physical health. And, by taking care of your physical wellbeing, you will find that the exercise, movement, and balanced diet will help you combat the grief and work towards a healthier emotional and mental wellbeing. This is not the time to turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain. It will only lift your mood temporarily while doing long-term physical and mental damage to yourself and your other relationships. Plus, it puts you at risk for addiction.
- Focus on the positive aspects of your life. This loss could feel like the worst thing ever in your life and no one can tell you any different. However, what you do need is to consider all the good things that are still with you in life that are worth working through the grief. You cannot feel guilty about getting back to living and enjoying life. It may even help to make a list of all the positive things in your life that are "gains." Set against that loss, these "gains" begin to outweigh the sadness and provide a catapult to help you move forward again.
- Get immediate help if you have become addicted to drugs or alcohol and/or suffering from depression. The greatest concern is if you feel as though you cannot continue. This emotional paralysis could be a sign of depression that needs more assistance from professionals in your local community. Combined with a reliance on drugs and alcohol that may have now taken hold of you in the form of addiction, this depression will only get worse if you do not seek immediate help. More groups are focused on making an impactful difference in terms of the type of community outreach programs that are available to help more people understand mental health and addiction are happening among those who have suffered loss and that those in this position should know that non-judgmental help is available.
- Plan for life event "triggers." While you may have been able to navigate through all the stages of grief, know that there may be "triggers" in the near future that may bring all those emotions rushing back once more. Typically, there are life milestones that remind you of a loss like holidays, birthdays, anniversaries or some other special event. Here is where families and friends can again lend support so call on them. Most likely, they will be thinking about those moments too and will be wondering how you feel. Have a plan where you can turn these "triggers" into positive moments, such as a celebration or time to meditate on the happiness you enjoyed together before the loss.
Places like American Addiction Centers (AAC) and people like HoldSpace founders, Chris and Bobby Bailey, are looking to tackle mental health and addiction issues among youth through Project HoldSpace. While adults struggle with loss, younger people have an even more difficult time as they are already trying to comprehend the range of emotions they are experiencing as teenagers let alone processing any grief.
Behavioral expert Joan Burger-Holt said "I have been involved with many community outreach educational efforts for many years focusing on mental health & addiction awareness. They are good and positive but not "impactful". The Bailey Brothers made an impact in my community. My community is talking to each other, to me, to AAC and to Chris and Bobby. For the first time I have witnessed real and true disclosure to share and to help. There are no political gains, it's not self serving, it's real and it's raw."
Holt later said "Repetition is key for the concept to soak in. Their message needs to continue to move forward and then circle back around again. The circle symbol of Hold Space. I think community agencies can assist with the repetition of their message in full circle".
People who have been in the same position and have personally experienced the feelings of loss and the desperation of addiction have designed this project based on their own experiences and road to recovery. The Bailey Brothers and AAC understand that providing the support, love, and caring environment necessary can guide young people through difficult situations in their lives while addressing any mental health or addictions that have previously held them back.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.