Coping with Grief and Loss

Grief and loss are the integral parts of our lives and it is really important to know how to manage feelings of loss with adequate techniques.

Grief affects us at all different levels, physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual, according to Dr. Murali Krishna, who specializes in topics such as Mind over Matter.  It generally affects our feelings and makes us angry, guilty, fearful, desperate, shocked, numb, anxious and sad. At physical level, we experience sleep problems, tightness in our major muscle groups, fatigue, and difficulty breathing. When struck with grief, the person tends to withdraw from social situations and becomes lonely. The person also tends to isolate and loses interest in recreational activities. Moreover, the person could also experience difficulty in concentration and inability to perform tasks which require focused attention. At spiritual level, the person may experience dramatic changes in the belief system. The person begins to lose faith in the Higher Power and has intense anger about the loss. Losing a loved one could also result in increase in absenteeism, tardiness, and abuse of alcohol and drugs. Grief can also lead to suicidal thoughts in a person due to feelings of hopelessness. It also makes the person see the future as hopeless and believe that death is the only solution to problems that seem overwhelming due to the  loss of a loved one.

According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, there are five stages of reactions to loss:

1. Shock and denial when the person feels a certain detachment from events and also has emotional numbness.

2.Anger when the person feels, “Why me?” Pain of the loss emerges as anger or rage reactions, and there is mobilization of effort to stop the loss, and the person makes efforts to regain “control” of the situation.

3.Bargaining when the person begins to make mental and/or emotional efforts to reconcile the situation and believes that behavioral or emotional changes will alter nature of loss.

4. Depression when the person feels hopeless, lacks energy and also feels helpless.

5.Acceptance when the person begins to come to terms with the universality of loss experience, feelings may range from neutral to relief and can be accompanied by a new clarity of vision/purpose. Also, the person begins to take comfort in promise of the future and begins to move on.

There are individual differences in how we react to loss of a loved one. How you respond to grief  depends on your life experiences, support system, how well balanced your life style has been and most of all, the depth of your spiritual beliefs. It is found that a sudden or accidental death can extend your grief because there is no mental preparation to deal with the loss. Recovery from the loss of a child could be longer than the loss of an elderly one or the loss of a person who is sick with terminal illness because you can rationalize that the person’s suffering has ended.

Regardless of the nature of loss, following are some techniques which are instrumental in coping with grief and loss.

1.     Get in touch with your feelings

It is important to feel all your feelings in order to move through the phases of grief. The intensity of grief becomes stronger when you shut off your emotions or deny your feelings.It is hard to indentify feelings when the body is tense and mind is racing. Therefore, it is important to relax your body, using any progressive musle relaxation technique for 5-10 minutes and then try to identify what you are feeling. Sometimes it is helpful to give a concrete image to your feelings. Try to imagine the size, shape. color and location of your feelings. Once you have identified your feelings, it will become easier to express them. You might notice that the feelings of sadness reside in your heart, or your gut (stomach/diaphragm)


2.     Develop Healthy Outlet for Feelings.  

We all need to have a healthy outlet for our feelings of loss. It is important to use the resource of network of your family and friends who are supportive and be able to share your feelings. Some people are private and do not vent their feelings. This becomes a barrier in their recovery from grief and loss.

By sharing your feelings, you reduce the intensity of your grief. If there is no one to share, it is useful to keep a journal and or write a letter to the loved one.  There are many support groups in the area where you live and it is highly recommended to attend these support groups to be able to share your feelings of loss if you do not have adequate support system in place.

3.  Accept the Help Being Offered by Network of Support System

When you are grieving, there could be many people offering help. It is alright to make use of these offers and spend time in productive manner. This will allow you to do things for yourself and be able to rest and relax. Emotional setback tends to deplete your energy level and it is important to indulge in self care activities so that you can ease the pain caused by your loss.

4.  Take Care of Your Health.

When people experience loss, it is likely they become neglectful of their health.  It is important to take care of your health and not to put aside your basic health care needs. Repression, denial, and suppression of feelings, could result in major health problems and the grief would take longer to heal. Cardiac problems, ulcers, asthma and many other illnesses could result due to chronic feelings of depression and stress. There is a strong connection between mind and body and your negative thought process could lead to physical ailments. It is improtant to consult your physician if you begin to have even mild symptoms of any of these ailments.


5. Engage in self Nurturing Activities and Keep Busy.

When you are depressed, it is likely that you will not have the desire to take care of yourself and you lose interest in activities that you enjoyed before.  However, this leads to more intense feelings of emptiness and loneliness. Even though it is hard, try to occupy your mind in healthy and productive activities and engage in self nurturing activities. The more time you spend in the thoughts of the loss, the more intense feelings of sadness will become. By shifting attention, you will be able to reduce the intensity of your pain. Meditation, exercise, going for a nature walk, change of scenery, vacation can also heal the pain, to some extent.

6. Develop Inner Spirituality.

When people are struck with grief, they tend to struggle with issues related to life, death and reincarnation. It is important to read literature, talk to your spiritual counselor like  clergyman or priest and discuss these issues with close friends or people in your church. Having faith in a Higher Power also strengthens your ability to cope with the loss. It has been found that people who are not spiritual tend to struggle with grief and loss more than the people who have strong faith to bind them at the time of crisis. Healing begins when you begin to transfer your worries and concerns to the Higher Power and begin to realize that it is important to move on with your life versus being stuck in the grief process.

7. Pay Attention to your Symptoms

Sometimes people become depressed after the loss of a loved one. Watch out for these symptoms and consult your primary care physician and seek professional help. Due to depression, the person becomes extremely desperate, a feeling that life is impossible and this sense of desperation often leads to suicidal tendencies.  Guilt can also be  the root cause of depression. The person begins to blame him or her for the loss and feels responsible for the loss.  People who have suffered loss or trauma develop what is known as survivor guilt. They begin to hate or punish them. These feelings can also lead to suicidal tendencies. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps us develop a new insight into our beliefs and perceptions and also dispute irrational beliefs that the person develops after the loss. The therapist could help the person make aware of his or her cognitive distortions and challenge these beliefs that are causing emotional turmoil, sadness, guilt and anger.
When the person is depressed, he or she is more likely to form irrational set of beliefs that impede the healing process. It is important to make a distinction between things that are in our control and things that are in not our control.

Once the person begins to understand that the death is not in our control, he or she begins to spend the energy on things that are under his or her control, which is how to cope with the loss. Therapy helps facilitate this shift in the perception of the event.

In this way we see that there are certain steps that a person can take to cope with  grief and loss. There are two choices–, one is to remain stuck in the grief and be depressed for the rest of the life and the second is to go through the process of mourning, adapt to the loss, redefine the meaning of life,  and reconstruct our lives. Grief can become a barrier to our progress but it can also serve as a stepping stone to help us grow, enlarge our perspective and re energize our lives. Our choice will determine our future levels of happiness and grief resolution.





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