Here are some tips that will help you cope with a loss in your life.
Grief is a natural response to loss. It is the emotional suffering that occurs when you lose something or someone dear. You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. Grief can disrupt your sleep, appetite, and energy, making it harder to cope with your loss.
In my own life, I recently lost my mom at age 91. Her health had been gradually declining, and she told me in advance that she was ready to pass. Nobody thought this would occur anytime soon and then came the phone call that she was gone. As much as I am grateful that she died peacefully, her loss has been hard to bear.
I am grateful that after 16 months of being isolated in her retirement home due to covid, and being fully vaccinated, she was able to travel and stay with my sisters and me, visiting most of her grandchildren and her great-grandson. My wife and I spent a week with her just two days before she passed, making her loss more of a shock.
For me, the worst part about losing my mom is realizing that I can’t just pick up the phone and talk to her anymore.
Many types of loss can result in grief:
- The death of a loved one
- A miscarriage
- The death of a pet
- Divorce or breakup
- Loss of a job
- Loss of health
- Grave illness of a loved one
- Emotional trauma
- Selling the family home
- Even minor losses in life can cause a sense of grief
The Stages of Grief
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.”
- Denial: “This can’t be happening.”
- Anger: “Who is to blame?”
- Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
- Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
- Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.”
The concept is that we move through each of these phases one at a time, yet everyone copes with grief differently. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and not everyone goes through all these stages.
You might also think of the grieving process as a roller coaster, with ups and downs. Worse in the beginning and the difficult lows should become less intense and shorter as time goes on. And there are triggers, like holidays and birthdays, that deepen the times of grief.
There are many tips that can help one deal with grief.
- Accept that it hurts and that your reaction is natural and that you’ll heal in time. Acceptance promotes healing.
- Instead of withdrawing into a shell, turn to friends and family for support. Share hugs, tears, and feelings openly.
- If you follow a religious tradition, use it for support. Prayer and spiritual guidance can strengthen you.
- Take especially good care of your physical health while grieving. Eat well, take your supplements, get some exercise, and get enough sleep. This is the wrong time to let yourself go.
- Avoid excess use of alcohol and drugs that can leave you feeling more depressed.
- If your symptoms are severe, join a support group or seek counseling. To find a bereavement support group in your area, contact local hospitals, hospices, funeral homes, and counseling centers.
- Plan for holidays and special dates and seek support from family and friends in advance. Consider a change in tradition for these annual events.
Be aware of the difference between grief and depression.
They may initially feel the same, but there are important differences between grief and depression, and keep in mind that grief can progress into prolonged depression over time.
With bereavement after a loss:
- There are typically good days and bad days with a mixture of tears and fun, while with depression the feeling of loss seems constant.
- Although your performance might be decreased, over time you are typically able to get through your essential to-do list, while with depression, you may be unable to accomplish anything for an extended period.
- Often the highs and lows start to decrease over a couple months, while with depression over time the symptoms may be getting worse.
- With both grief and depression, you may notice insomnia, change in appetite, fatigue, decreased libido, and brain fog.
Signs of depression may include:
- Intense sense of guilt
- Thoughts of suicide or a preoccupation with dying
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Difficulty trusting others since your loss
- Being unable to perform your normal daily activities
If you are experiencing signs of depression during your bereavement, seek help from a mental health professional. Depression is very challenging to manage on your own.
There is no specific time frame as to how long to grieve, it is different for everyone. Yet, most people gradually adapt to their loss over two to six months and sometimes up to one year. Sometimes a major loss can be an opportunity for personal growth.
Hopefully, if you or a loved one is dealing with grief, these tips will help to reduce the initial pain and speed a long-term recovery.
In honor of my mom, I wish you the best of health!
Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, CNS
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