it sucks. Let’s just be honest, grief sucks. A lot. While it’s a very normal process following a loss that helps the body and mind return to homeostasis, it can often be painful and take time and care to work through. Furthermore, grief often coincides with difficult life transitions making it even more difficult and overwhelming. While it is a natural and understandable thing, attention and awareness to your mental and physical health are of the utmost importance during this time.
Did you know that so many things can fall into the category of grief? While we often associate it with death losses, in actuality, the concept of grief extends far beyond that.
Before you can begin processing and coping with your grief, it is important to recognize that your feelings are normal and valid. Regardless of what you’re feeling, whether that is sadness, emptiness, a sense of numbness, etc., these feelings are nothing to run from. Thus, to begin the process of grieving, self- awareness and some checking in with yourself is a necessary place to start.
Mindfulness can help you begin to process your emotions in a healthy way. While you may hear mindfulness and think of meditation, there are many types of mindfulness activities/skills. In general, it entails sitting with your feelings and accepting yourself and your emotions, really allowing yourself to feel without judgment. Mindfulness can also include things like journaling or other ways of expressing your feelings (e.g., art, music). Some people find discussing their grief with another person in the same or similar position to be insightful or comforting in the grieving process. If the grief is due to the loss of a loved one, speaking about your feelings with those that knew that person may be meaningful and supportive.
While taking care of yourself may include some need to be reflective or quiet, it is important to resist isolating yourself during this time. Instead, try to balance your mindful time alone with time you choose to spend with others. Positive distractions can be necessary and important parts of the grief process…. Knitting anyone? Pottery class?
Recognizing and planning ahead for certain triggers of your grief may also be beneficial. For those that have lost a loved one, planning ahead for how you will get through anniversaries, birthdays, etc. in a healthy way can be helpful to reduce the pain.
In the case of the loss of a loved one, rather than pushing their memories away in fear of feeling the pain from their passing, work to remember positive experiences you’ve had with that person and consider doing something special in their honor.
Aiming to take care of yourself mentally and physically can sometimes feel like an uphill battle when processing and coping with grief especially, but self-care is both part of coping, and a necessary thing to do for yourself in the healing process. This includes things like going for walks, getting good rest, eating balanced meals, and making time for both rest and play in your world.
In the clinical world, we use the terms complicated and uncomplicated grief. This is a nod to the fact that there is no normal or expected way to grieve. Grief is a natural, human process, and it’s not to be criticized or pathologized (unhealthy or not normal).
Since each person is different, symptoms of grief can vary from person to person. However, some common symptoms include decreased energy, sleep or eating pattern changes, crying, isolating oneself socially, and feelings of emptiness, anger, guilt, sadness, etc. Although there are moments of happiness and laughter, unpleasant emotions are common.
Through mindfulness to process the grief and coping strategies like the ones listed above, uncomplicated grief will usually reduce in the weeks or months following the loss or traumatic event. Although there is no strict timetable, uncomplicated grief will gradually fade over time.
In complicated/prolonged grief, symptoms do not decrease, instead persisting or getting worse. Over time, these symptoms will impede on the daily life of the individual, causing increasing harm and disruption. This level of grief can lead to the development of mental illnesses, most often depression. Some common symptoms of complicated grief include self-destructive behaviors, being hyper focused on the loss or reminders of the loss, experiencing intense avoidance of any reminders of the loss, and feelings of sadness, pain, emptiness, low self-esteem, hopelessness, etc.
It may be important to know some of the differences between uncomplicated grief and this prolonged type of grief. Some questions you could consider are:
If these questions seem true for you or someone you love, it may be time to seek a professional or a support group for whatever you are grieving about. By joining a support group specific to your loss, the tendency towards isolation that comes with grief can be averted. Plus, by speaking of your experiences with those that understand what you’re experiencing can make you feel less alone in your struggles.
The remaking of the life part is the part I see most people struggle with. And that’s OK. Listen, once you’ve gone through the initial loss phases, and even some coping…. when you are ready, it is also okay to think about the new life ahead. I often hear people express in one way or another, “is it disrespectful to move forward?” My answer is always no, it’s not disrespectful. Take your time, do it in your own way, but when you’re ready, it’s okay to move forward.
To me, I differentiate the ideas of moving on from moving forward. “Moving on” is dismissive, avoidant and representative of unprocessed feelings. “Moving forward” is about understanding the impact of this thing, how it has changed you, and finding meaningful steps forward knowing that this thing is coming with you.
Grief is not something to get over, it’s something to work through. And I wish you self-compassion, empathy, and space as you do.
– Dr. M.