Grief is a strong emotion caused by a deep sense of loss (this is often, not always, a result of the death of a loved one). Facing such heavy emotions may lead you to wonder what exactly is the best way to process grief. However, there is no one best or perfect way. It is very personal, and some days will be harder than others. Everything that makes you a unique person, from your past experiences to your personality, will impact your grieving process. It is completely okay (and expected) that your grief experiences may differ than those around you. Still, you can do some things to help yourself process grief in a healthy manner.
Acknowledge and Accept Your Feelings
Understanding how you feel will help you process those emotions at your own pace. You do not have to show a tough face or refuse to shed a tear in order to be strong. Strong also means facing your grief. Be kind to yourself! Grief may be entirely new to you, or stir up difficult emotions that challenge your typical feelings and routines. Denying that those feelings are real may make it much harder to address them. You cannot heal a wound without recognizing its existence.
Of course, accepting your feelings can be difficult if you do not know what to expect. Learning the emotional symptoms of grief can help you accept and find the words to talk about those feelings. Emotional symptoms of grief can include: numbness, confusion, shock, denial, sadness, anger, guilt, and fear. A common misunderstanding, however, is that there is a certain timeline for each stage or symptom. Be patient with yourself- there is no right or wrong timeline for processing grief! You may experience some of these emotions at the same time, more than once, or not at all. You’re experiences with each stage will vary, especially as you experience different memories or triggers. This is normal! Remember, you will not feel grief this heavily forever.
Finding a way to express yourself during this time is helpful. Many find comfort in journaling and art.
Another key element in accepting your grief is forgiveness. You may be experiencing anger or resentment towards or a lost loved one. Some people also experience guilt. Unresolved resentment may make it difficult to make peace with yourself. It is okay to be angry with a lost loved one. Allow yourself to explore the causes of these unfinished feelings. Your reactions are valid. Forgive yourself for feeling this way.
Connect with the People Around You
People need people! Know that you are not alone. Talking to people you trust, whether that be friends or family, about your feelings and experiences can help you process your emotions and begin to heal. If grief comes from the loss of a loved one, talking to others that cared for that person may also be beneficial.
Beyond talking, strive to create positive moments when possible! With time, good experiences can and will outweigh moments of grief. Building relationships can be a great way to create these good experiences! If you struggle to find community in your own circle, look to support groups, faith communities, or hobby-based groups. Some of these groups are very strong online, providing an option for community building even during a pandemic.
Maintain a Healthy Routine
Mental health and physical health are connected! When coping with grief, many people neglect to take care of their physical health. Additionally, studies show that two-thirds of people in grief experience physical symptoms, including exhaustion, change in appetite, nausea, and insomnia. Taking care of yourself is key when dealing with grief, as grief is so emotionally and physically draining. Make sure that you get enough sleep. Feed your body healthy foods. Another way to stay healthy is to make sure you get up and move! Studies even show that exercise can release endorphins (a natural way to make you feel good). Focusing on a routine is a way to make sure you are maintaining your health, even when your grief feels like it takes all of your energy. Consider adding habits to your routine that you enjoy, like joining a sports league, focusing on a faith, or learning a new skill.
Another important step is to look to the future! Plan things that you are excited about. Having something to look forward to can help you to move forward.
Sometimes, grief feels so heavy that people may turn to unhealthy things that they think will help them cope. People facing grief are especially at risk for abuse of drugs or alcohol, or other unsafe outlets. When grief feels heavy, search for coping mechanisms or routines that will add positivity to your life, as opposed to choices that may lead to more loss.
While you are strong enough to work through your grief, sometimes it is better to have help! This may be the most impactful step you can take towards processing grief. There are many helpful sources available to reach out to when struggling with grief. Support groups can provide groups of peers that are also struggling with grief. Counselors can also provide a support system. Talking to a professional therapist can help you process your emotions in a safe space. There is no shame in seeking help, especially when dealing with emotions as raw as grief. It is also important to recognize that there is a difference between grief and depression. Always seek help if you feel you may be experiencing depression.
Grief may feel too heavy, but remember that you can handle this! Knowing what to expect and healthy coping mechanisms will help you process this grief. With support and your own timeline, you will cope and find peace.