9 Ways Therapists Personally Deal With Grief

From a death to a job loss to an ended relationship, here's how experts handle loss.

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While there’s no right way to grieve, there are a number of strategies that can help you get through loss.

When you think of grief, the first thing that comes to mind is likely mourning the death of a loved one. But grief can surface around any major life transition, like ending a relationship, dealing with an illness, or even losing a job.

As Melissa Fisher Goldman, a licensed clinical social worker and member of the Association of Death Education and Counseling puts it, “we don’t get over grief; we get through it.”

For a little help getting through it, HuffPost chatted with Goldman and other therapists for practical advice on how they personally deal with grief. Here’s how they handle it:

Allow yourself to cry

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This method may be obvious, but it’s important to point out. Danielle Forshee, a licensed clinical social worker in New Jersey, said that during times of grief, she makes an effort not to suppress her tears. There’s actually some science that supports the benefits of a good, cathartic sob. Researchers have found that so-called emotional tears ― different from the kinds that keep our eyes lubricated or flush out irritants ― contain hormones associated with stress, Forshee said. So when you cry, you are quite literally releasing stress.

“From a psychological perspective,” Forshee added, “we believe that we achieve emotional release through crying in order to return to a state of psychological homeostasis. ... We need that cry to be able to come back to level ground emotionally.”

Don’t judge your grief

Goldman said that there’s no formula for how anyone experiences loss. “I had to remind myself that grief has no quantification. It looks different for everybody, including ourselves. Each time we deal with grief, it can feel different,” she said.

So instead of judging herself when she was experiencing grief, she simply accepted and felt her feelings, and for good reason. “When I judge [my grief] or when people judge it in general, we hold on to it longer,” she added. “We tend to want to push it away, which makes it come back bigger. So I honor whatever feeling I’m feeling.”

Two people who experience the same loss might approach it with totally different reactions, Goldman said, and worrying that you’re performing your grief incorrectly is only going to make it harder for you to work through it.

Ask for help

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Another seemingly obvious but truly vital strategy to cope with grief is asking for help. Jaime Gleicher, a psychotherapist based in New York, said this is one of her go-to practices.

“When we think of asking for help, we think of solutions, like there’s something that’s going to fix this,” Gleicher said. “We know innately as human beings that we’ve had a loss and no one can really bring that back for us. So we tend to not ask for help because it can be invalidating.”

But even though they can’t fix it, loved ones are usually more than willing to lend a hand. Even if it’s something as simple as asking for help picking up groceries, Gleicher recommends reaching out.

Use social media to let people know what’s going on

You may or may not be ready for visitors, but Gleicher added that a quick post simply announcing that you’re going through a hard time has its benefits. “Our emotions are all over the place when we are grieving something. And that can make us more agitated, more angry and not fully present with others,” she said. “If we don’t warn people that we’re going through something, that could cause conflict. The last thing you need when you’re going through something is for people to misinterpret what’s going on with you.”

Seeing the responses and comments from loved ones online can be a great source of support too. But if you’re worried about oversharing, a quick, more private text to loved ones can accomplish this just as well.

Try visualization rituals

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As a therapist, Goldman noted, it’s important that she not take on other people’s grief and trauma herself, so she practices visualization exercises.

Since she’s based in Orange County, California, she has patients who have been affected by the Las Vegas shooting that took place in November 2017. On a recent trip to Las Vegas, she made sure to stop at the memorial. “I took an item and I spent some time releasing that trauma and energy into the item and leaving it there with intention,” she said. “I can’t control when my grief comes back, but I was going to leave as much of it there as I could so that I could be useful to my clients, my family and friends.”

If she’s having trouble letting something go, she’ll also try writing it down on a piece of paper and burning it.

Memorialize your loved ones

Forshee says she surrounds herself with a support system of friends and family when she’s experiencing grief. “I share in really good, positive stories about that person, or look through photos to memorialize that individual, and that helps with the grieving process,” she said. “It brings out a light rather than feeling the darkness.”

Distract yourself when you can

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Forshee also likes to use her support system as a healthy distraction. “Having plans with people to get out and do things is also really important in helping manage the grief,” she said. “You need a break emotionally, mentally, physically. Do some things with your supports that have nothing to do with the loss. There has to be some sense of normalcy.”

Forget those five stages of grief

OK, don’t totally forget them, but don’t take them literally. According to Gleicher, the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) is really more about acknowledging there will be many different emotions that come up during grieving. You shouldn’t expect to feel each one of these in that specific order, or even at all.

Our memories and nostalgia can trigger any of those stages unexpectedly. For example, although Gleicher lost her father 10 years ago and feels fine most of the time, when someone made his favorite dessert unexpectedly this Christmas, she found herself feeling sad again. Grief isn’t a linear process.

Do something special just for yourself

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Goldman makes a point to schedule self-care every week. She likes to practice meditations while she’s driving home from work, and also plans time to talk with friends and family as a way to counterbalance all of the listening she does with patients at work.

There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, but these exercises are great way to start working through it.

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