What is Grief and What You Can Do To Manage It?
Grief can be a horrible thing to go through and may require grief counselling to process. Experiencing grief means we have lost something that is dear to us, whether this be a person, a pet, our home, our job or our sense of self, the impact on us can be devastating. The difficult thing about grief is also that it is non-linear. It does progress like you would expect, with it being bad, then improving and steadily reducing. Instead, it’s like a roller coaster, increasing and decreasing, rearing its ugly head when we least expect it. Not only is it a devastating emotion, but it is also exhausting and impacts on every area of our lives, from our sense of self, to our social relationships, our self-care, our routines and general sense of wellbeing and purpose.
What is grief?
The definition of grief is “intense sorrow” and it is grouped with words such as misery, heartache, anguish, pain, suffering and woe. As a society, we avoid talking about grief, probably because it is so painful and confronting. Everyone copes with grief in different ways, what is important though, is not necessarily how we experience grief, but how we express it. As it is in the expression of grief that the true healing begins.
How do we express grief?
There are many different ways of expressing grief and it is important to identify which way works best for you. There is the type of person who expresses their grief by talking about it to others, by sharing their experience and wanting to hear the experience of others. This helps them to validate what they are feeling, obtain perspective and to gain help in solving their problems. There is also the type of person who is an independent griever. This is the type of person who prefers to deal grief alone – they may focus on work, solving problems or getting tasks completed, or they might just want some alone time.
It is important to note that there is no right and wrong way to experience your grief, just as there is no right and wrong way of expressing your grief. Just because someone is an independent griever and doesn’t want to talk about their grief, doesn’t mean they are doing it the wrong way – it’s just different. Just as it’s ok for someone to want to talk about what they have been through. There are however, healthy and unhealthy ways of coping with grief which we will talk about now.
Healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with grief
Generally speaking, healthy ways of dealing with grief are usually entered around expression, whether this be by talking, drawing, writing, taking time out or thinking and problem solving. Unhealthy ways can be seen to be completing activities or avoiding situations which stop the expression of grief or when the outcome is harmful to us or others. Some examples of unhealthy ways of dealing with grief could betaking substances, gambling, avoiding situations and people, long term reduction of contact with the outside world, working too hard or much, staying in bed all day for a prolonged period of time, risk-taking behaviours and partying too hard,
Healthy ways of dealing with grief may be talking to others, journaling, taking time out for yourself to engage in self care activities, sitting down and evaluating or problem solving (whether this is by yourself or with others), letting yourself grieve and express emotion (this could be private as well as public, but it doesn’t have to be both) or obtaining professional assistance.
How to cope with grief
Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to make grief “go away” as such as the emotion is as a result of a loss of something or someone important in your life. However, there are many things we can do to be able to help ourselves to cope while we are going through
Look after yourself
Put a strong focus on self-care. Make sure you are giving yourself the best opportunity to sleep, eat well and regularly exercise. Maintaining some level of social contact is also important, even if it wasn’t as much as before. If you need time, take time, if you want to be social, do so. While dealing with grief, it is extra important we are looking after ourselves and regularly engaging in activities to increase our resilience and restore some of the energy the grief consumes.
Do things you enjoy – even if it’s hard
The last thing you want to do when you are feeling bad is go out, but that’s exactly sometimes what you need to do. Try to find a balance between looking after yourself and relaxing and getting out and doing things you enjoy. These things will help you to experience some positive emotions (even if they do sometimes also trigger the grief) and it is important to make sure you are regularly getting out and experiencing life.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Sometimes you may be worried your grief is becoming too overwhelming, it may be impacting negatively on your day to day life or you may not have access to others to help you express your grief (ie. those that don’t have close friend or families to support them). If this is the case, don’t be afraid to ask for help. This could be asking a friend or family member (where available), having a chat with your GP or seeking a referral to a Psychologist. If we haven’t learned how to cope, it is normal to find it very difficult to manage prolonged severe emotions such as grief and seeking help could be the thing that helps you to cope better.
Give yourself a break
It is really easy to put pressure on yourself when you are grieving, but at the end of the day, it is important to recognise that the right time to move on is when YOU are ready to move on. For some people that is 6 weeks, for others 6 years, and for others longer. The time it takes for people to cope with grief doesn’t indicate reflect the effectiveness of their management strategies, how you feel within yourself does. Give yourself a break and take the pressure off to heal. Let yourself experience the pain of grief as you are very justified in it. Then, look at what you can do to look after yourself and the small tips above to help yourself cope.
The Psych Professionals have clinicians who are qualified to assist our clients to cope with their various grief and loss issues, including loss of a loved one, natural disasters, loss of physical ability or loss due to illness and many more. Feel free to give us a call if you would like further information on how we can help you or your loved on cope with grief.