Coping with Grief

People often think of grief as something that only applies when someone dies. In fact, grief is an emotion triggered by loss - loss of any kind - community, employment, relationships, a part of one's own identity, or a loved one. These major life events can trigger a series of emotions including numbness, sadness, worry, anger, resignation, or hopelessness. Sometimes, loss can lead to prolonged states of emotional dysfunction like depression or anger-management difficulties.

Far too often, people try to suppress their grief or fail to recognize how something major (like when a person changes jobs or an athlete who cannot participate in their sport) may affect them. When this happens, it is far more likely that those people will end up with long-term emotional or behavioral difficulties related to that experience. In fact, it is essential to recognize how certain behaviors, emotions, or thoughts might be related to an experience of loss. Only then, a person take the time to appropriately grieve and begin to heal. 

If you believe that you may be struggling with emotions related to a major loss, take the time to sit quietly in a private space and write down (or record in some way) the thoughts and feelings that come up for you throughout the day. Be sure to note what happens immediately before the thoughts or feelings and what ends up happening as a result of them. Once you have a firm understanding of the triggers for unpleasant thoughts or feelings, see if you can identify any specific events that may have led to those. For example, if you recently lost a loved one, do you believe that you will never be happy again? Could that be related to a belief that you cannot be happy without that specific person in your life? Be explicit about how your thoughts and feelings may be related to loss. Simply articulating where your emotions and thoughts stem from may help you move forward from them. 

Once you know what is holding you back, give yourself adequate time to have whatever emotions it is that you are experiencing. You do not have to appear perfect or like everything is okay. Everything is not okay, and pretending will only make you feel invalidated and give others permission to treat you as if nothing happened. This is not to say that you can behave badly - you do still need to treat others with dignity and respect and be sure that major responsibilities are in some way met (even if this means asking others for help doing so) - but you can be honest. 

Now that you are being honest with yourself and others, pursue acts of self-care. These include pleasurable activities (e.g., going to yoga, getting a massage, spending time in nature) and activities of passion (e.g., volunteering, working for a cause).

Continue to balance emotional space, pleasure, passion, and responsibility as you move forward through the inevitable journey related to grief and loss. And finally, if you feel like you cannot do it on your own, please seek out social support or professional assistance.