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Understanding and Coping with Grief

Grief is the way we respond to a significant loss. While we often think of it as mourning the death of a loved one, many kinds of loss can cause grief,...
Understanding and Coping with Grief
Written By: Ashley Kane on July 10, 2020

Grief is the way we respond to a significant loss. While we often think of it as mourning the death of a loved one, many kinds of loss can cause grief, including:

  • the death of a pet
  • the loss of a job
  • the end of a relationship
  • a move to a new location
  • a diagnosis of serious or chronic disease
  • a disaster or traumatic event

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused profound and unexpected losses — from illness and death to losses of income; separation from loved ones; disconnection from social, educational, and religious communities; and drastic changes in routines and lifestyles. With these changes, there is a disruption in our sense of safety and stability. All of these are losses that can cause us to grieve.

Signs you’re experiencing grief

Each of us copes with loss in different ways. Signs that you’re grieving may include feelings of:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Disbelief or denial
  • Emptiness or numbness
  • Guilt
  • Sadness

You may experience changes in your appetite or have trouble concentrating or sleeping. There also several physical feelings of grief including:

  • Hyperventilation
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling
  • Weakness
Everyone grieves differently

If you are grieving, you may not experience all of these symptoms. In fact, it is perfectly normal to cycle through a range of feelings (including happiness). Loss, and your response to it, is deeply personal.

The length of your grieving period is also personal. Some people move through grief in a few weeks while others may take years.  Regardless of how long you experience grief, try to remember that you won’t always feel this way. The American Psychological Association reports that most of us heal if we have the time, support, and healthy habits.

Tips for coping

Even though you can’t rush the grieving process, there are things you can do to ease the pain and focus on your physical and mental health.

  • Name it. Acknowledge that what you’re feeling is grief. Whether you are sad, angry, or feeling all of your feelings, try to remind yourself that your experience is a natural part of the grieving process.
  • Keep a journal. Writing down your feelings of grief can help you feel better emotionally and physically. Journaling may also be a good way to identify ways to heal.
  • Express what you’re feeling. For some people, creative outlets such as art and music are therapeutic. Others may find that talking with friends and family can be therapeutic.
  • Be kind to your body. The stress of grieving can impact your physical health. A healthy diet, physical activity, lots of sleep may help you feel better.
  • Stay connected. Reach out to loved ones and try to find activities you can share, even virtually.
  • Help others who are also grieving. If you’ve lost a loved one, sharing stories and memories with grieving friends or family can help all of you.
  • Focus on the present. This can be especially useful if you’re worried about the future or feel like you lack control.
Therapy can help

If you’re feeling stuck, overwhelmed by your emotions, or unable to take part in your daily activities, it may be time to try therapy. It’s also important to seek help if you find yourself turning to drugs or alcohol to cope, or if you have thoughts of harming yourself or others. These could be signs that your grief has turned into depression.

Your therapist will tailor treatment to your individual needs. They can help you express and process your feelings of grief and adjust to your life after loss. If you’re looking for support, consider trying telehealth — it’s a convenient way to speak to a licensed therapist from the comfort and privacy of home.

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