Losing a loved one is heart-wrenching. Grief can feel like your world has turned upside down, and the emotional pain is so intense it can even become physical. However, we can take comfort in the knowledge that we aren’t alone — everyone faces death and grief at some point in life.
Grief is common, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to handle, and each person copes with death and loss differently. In this self-help guide, we’ll give you the low-down on the stages of grief, activities to help with grief and how you’ll know if you need therapy to get through it.
The stages of grief
Defined by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969, the five stages of grief are widely used to explain and treat emotional distress after a severe loss. While grief most often describes the feelings a person experiences after the death of a loved one, grief can also occur following a divorce, relationship break-up, job loss or other significant life changes.
The five stages of grief are as follows:
In this phase, the shock of loss is overwhelming, and it leads a person to question everything. Denial can keep difficult emotions at bay for a time.
Anger helps us to step back into reality and orient our emotions towards something tangible. Frustration and hatred should be expressed through a healthy outlet so they don’t boil over.
This phase is characterized by questioning, wondering and a desire to undo the past. It may also be accompanied by guilt.
This stage is associated with feelings of sadness and emptiness. It generally occurs as people return to normal tasks and feel the harsh reality of the absence of their loved one.
While the person will always miss their lost loved one, this stage means that they’ve accepted the hard fact that death is permanent and life will have to shift.
The stages of grief aren’t linear. Different people might experience the stages in different orders, or go through some stages and not others during the grieving process.
Coping skills for grief
No matter which stage of grief you find yourself in, there are ways to handle the emotional distress you’ve been feeling in a healthy way. Here are the top activities to help with grief.
Partake in rituals
Wakes, funerals, burials, a celebration of life— whatever practices you and your family partake in are likely part of a long cultural heritage. Partaking in these rituals is one of the best ways to process a loss as a community and take the first steps towards healing. Additionally, you might establish ongoing rituals to memorialize your lost loved one on their birthday or the anniversary of their passing. This might look like lighting a candle and saying a prayer, eating at their favorite restaurant or having their favorite food or drink, visiting with mutual friends or relatives and so on.
Take some time off
There’s no reason to rush back into your everyday life after the loss of a loved one. Returning to your regular schedule is part of the acceptance phase, but trying to avoid your emotions by jumping ahead won’t work in the long run. Take time off of work, school and your busy schedule to feel your feelings.
Balance your social and alone time
Plenty of activities to help with grief involve spending time alone. However, it’s important to balance the time spent by yourself with the time you’re surrounded by supportive friends and family. Both are necessary, and a poor balance can leave you feeling isolated or exhausted.
One of the best coping skills for grief and other difficult emotions is spending time outside. The natural sunlight can boost your mood and nature can help orient your reflection time towards positivity and hopefulness.
Take care of your body
It can be easy to unintentionally neglect our bodies after a sad event. There’s a strong connection between physical activity and mood, though, so don’t put movement on the back burner. Healthy eating and quality sleep are also important habits to keep up with which will help you feel better overall.
How to manage grief
Like the stages of grief, managing grief is not a one-size-fits-all journey. Your relationship to the loved one who passed away, the circumstances surrounding their death, your emotional state at the time of their passing will all impact how you process your grief.
While there are plenty of coping skills for grief, the best way to deal with death and grief is to embrace your feelings instead of avoiding them, dismissing them or letting them build up. When you bottle up your emotions, you’re forced to internalize or externalize the pressure, and greater issues will result.
If you’re unsure how to embrace your feelings to handle your grief, you’re not alone. The loss of a loved one is never easy, even if you’ve dealt with death before. Grief therapy can help you process and accept a loss on your own timeline in a healthy way.
If you’re ready to find healing without leaving the memory of your loved one behind, reach out to Tapestry. Counseling and treatment programs can meet you where you’re at and help you find the peace you’ve been longing for. Call today to start making intrinsic change in your life.