Coping With Grief and Loss: How To Honor Your Emotions and Find Healing
Grief. It’s something we’d all like to avoid if possible. But the truth is, we all experience grief at one time or another. The challenge lies not in eliminating grief but in learning how to cope with it healthily. We can do this by recognizing our emotions and giving them the attention they deserve.
By honoring our emotions, we can work toward finding true and lasting healing. But to get to that place of healing, we must first understand what grief entails.
Understanding Grief and Loss
Grief is a complex emotion that affects everyone differently. There’s no right or wrong way to experience grief. It depends on your personality, coping style, life experiences, and the significance of the loss. And no matter who you are, it takes time. Grief isn’t a diagnosable mental health problem. Unfortunately, it’s just part of life. You can’t eliminate it, but the good news is that you can learn to manage it.
Loss can be the result of the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or a major life change. The type of loss can affect how we feel and approach grief. You’ll likely experience a combination of emotional and physical symptoms due to grief. Emotional symptoms include shock, disbelief, sadness, guilt, fear, and anger. Physically, you may experience fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight changes, aches and pains, or insomnia. In most cases, these symptoms will improve as time passes, but everyone’s timeline is different.
The grief process is full of ups and downs. You’ll likely experience difficult periods between easier ones, but those difficult periods should become less intense and shorter as time moves on.
Types and Stages of Grief
Grief comes in all shapes and sizes, and the type you experience depends on both you and your circumstances. It’s also possible that you have or will experience multiple types.
Anticipatory grief happens before a significant loss occurs. So, if a loved one suffers from a terminal illness or has a life-threatening injury, you may experience anticipatory grief. This type of grief allows you to start the mourning process early, which can either prolong the grieving process or better prepare you for loss.
Disenfranchised grief is when your loss is devalued or can’t openly be mourned. It can occur after the loss of a pet, a non-traditional relationship, or a stigmatized death, such as suicide or addiction.
Complicated grief occurs when grief persists and keeps you from resuming your daily life. Often a result of unresolved pain and loss, this type of grief may require professional intervention or therapy.
Abbreviated grief occurs when you move through the grieving process quickly. It may follow anticipatory grief. If you experience this type, that doesn’t mean you didn’t care about the loss. As we’ve said, everyone processes grief differently.
Delayed grief is when you don’t grieve immediately after a loss. The delay could be a result of shock or other distractions. The expression could resurface later, sometimes after being triggered by other life events that cause intense emotional distress.
If you tend to hide your emotions, you may experience inhibited grief and not even realize you’re doing so. This variation calls for extra caution because inhibited grief can lead to physical symptoms.
Cumulative grief occurs when you work through multiple losses at once. For example, losing a child could result in you grieving the child and the impact that loss had on your marriage. The accumulation of grief from multiple losses can be overwhelming and complicate the grieving process.
Collective grief happens when a group grieves a shared experience, such as a natural disaster, a tragic event, or the loss of a public figure. While it can be difficult to process on an individual basis, it can unify groups as they come together to support each other in their grief.
Absent grief is not visible to others. They may assume that you aren’t experiencing grief at all. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re not grieving — it simply means you’re working through complex feelings internally.
Traumatic grief occurs when you experience prolonged difficulties following a loss. It’s often a response to a sudden or violent loss that causes complex emotions and symptoms, including flashbacks and nightmares. This type of grief can be challenging to process and may require specialized therapeutic interventions.
Identifying your type of grief may help you better understand how to cope with it. Having awareness is a huge step toward healing. It’s important to remember that grief isn’t just broken into types — it’s broken into stages, too.
The Five Stages of Grief
The stages of grief are a concept first introduced by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. These stages were initially seen as the grieving process in the face of a terminal illness, but they apply to all forms of grief.
The stages of grief are as follows:
Denial: You may struggle to accept the reality of the loss and think, “This can’t be happening to me.” Denial is a protective mechanism that allows you to process loss at your own pace.
Anger: As the reality of the loss sinks in, you may become angry and resentful. You could direct your anger at yourself, someone you lost, or even a higher power. Anger is a natural response to loss.
Bargaining: To cope, you may try to make deals to reverse or mitigate the loss. You may think, “If only I had done this differently,” or make promises with a higher power in exchange for the return of what you lost.
Depression: This stage involves a profound sense of sadness and despair. Despite your best efforts to cope, you may feel empty, hopeless, and isolated due to loss.
Acceptance: In the final stage of grief, you’ll come to terms with the reality of the loss. You’ll find a way to live with it and integrate that loss into your daily life. Acceptance allows you to start moving forward and rebuild your life.
It’s important to note that you don’t have to go through every stage of grief to heal. You also won’t necessarily experience them sequentially and could move back and forth between stages.
Honoring Your Emotions
Grief isn’t something to hide from. Dealing with grief isn’t easy, but facing your grief and actively working through it is crucial. Acknowledge your feelings and find ways to express them in tangible or creative ways. Give your feelings an outlet. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of maintaining your hobbies or interests. While loss can flip your world upside down, participating in the activities you used to do prior to the loss helps ground you to who you were before the grief set in.
As you go through the grieving process, don’t let others — or yourself — tell you how you should feel or act. Your journey through grief is unique, so give yourself the freedom to embark on that journey in a healthy way that works for you. And while grief deeply affects your emotions, be mindful of how it affects you physically. Take care of your mind and heart, but don’t forget to care for your body as well.
Finally, plan ahead for grief triggers. These triggers are sudden reminders of what you’ve lost and can cause strong emotions to resurface. They can be anything from songs and smells to places and special occasions. You don’t need to avoid triggers altogether, but you should give yourself the time and space to approach them in a way that will help you heal instead of hurt.
Moving on from your grief means accepting the loss — not forgetting it. Our grief shapes who we are, and we can honor it while finding healing and moving forward. Grief is an emotion that should be handled with care, whether you’ve experienced it personally or have walked alongside someone grieving. The emotions we feel are valid and should never be disregarded. If you are struggling to cope with loss or grief, it may be time to reach out to a mental health expert.
No one should walk through the grieving process alone, so we have a team of experts ready to help. At iTrust, we want to help you find the healing you need to move forward. Contact us today to start your healing journey.