Understanding Grief And Ways To Cope

Updated January 13, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Are you struggling with grief or feeling overwhelmed?

Grief can be a natural response to loss. It may be caused by the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or any other major life change. No matter what has happened, it can be helpful to understand that grief is often expected, and there may be ways for you to cope with it.

What Is Grief?

The American Psychological Association defines grief as the "anguish experienced after significant loss." Grief can come in many forms, including sadness, anger, guilt, and even relief. However, experiencing a range of emotions when dealing with difficult events can be essential to the healing process.

Grief is categorized into two main types: acute and persistent. The acute phase of grief lasts six to twelve months after a loss and may gradually fade away. Some, however, experience persistent grief, a form of grief that persists beyond a year.

Understanding grief as a process your body uses to cope with the changes surrounding it can help manage the emotions that come with it. Your body is attempting to make sense of what has happened, which may be necessary for your healing journey.

Grief is an emotion that can affect everyone differently, with no two experiences typically being the same. For example, you may feel overwhelmed, numb, or exhausted. You may also experience physical reactions such as changes in appetite or difficulty sleeping. It can be beneficial to remember that it's okay to feel whatever emotions come up during this time, and they do not need to be suppressed but acknowledged.

Kübler-Ross Stage Theory of Grief

In the 1960s, Swiss-American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross proposed her stage theory of grief. Through interviews with people who had experienced significant loss or terminal illness, she identified five stages of grief:

  1. Denial And Isolation: Acknowledging the reality of what has happened can be challenging. You may want to avoid or deny this pain and thus isolate yourself from people who understand your situation.

  2. Anger: As the idea of loss begins to sink in, you may become angry at those around you or the world in general for causing this pain. Anger may also be directed at yourself, so practicing self-compassion during these times can be helpful.

  3. Bargaining: As a form of coping, you may attempt to bargain with the world or a higher power to regain control. The bargaining stage could manifest as pleading for time or making promises of better behavior if something is returned.

  4. Depression: During this phase, feelings of sadness and regret may arise as you struggle with loneliness or emptiness. Depression can also lead to physical symptoms such as a lack of appetite or fatigue.

  5. Acceptance: The last stage is a time for healing and accepting what has happened. While it does not necessarily mean you are entirely free from grief, it can be the beginning of a new chapter in which you may find peace within yourself.

The Kubler-Ross Model has been used to provide a framework for understanding how people cope with grief. However, despite popular belief, these stages are not intended to be interpreted as linear. The order in which they occur and how long they last can vary depending on the individual. You may experience some or all of these stages multiple times, but the order and duration are not set in stone.

Each person can uniquely cope with grief, and there is no right or wrong approach. But through understanding the stages of grief, it can be beneficial to recognize what you may be feeling and know what could lie ahead.

How Grief Impacts Your Body

When you experience loss, it can change everything about you, both mentally and physically. Your brain may perceive grief as emotional trauma. This trauma can trigger your fight or flight response, a mechanism to help you survive difficult situations. When this response is activated, your body increases blood pressure and releases hormones such as cortisol to help you.

If grief is left unresolved and untreated, it can lead to chronic stress. Stress can manifest itself in physical and emotional issues, including:

  • Inflammation

  • Depression

  • Insomnia

  • Intense anger or bitterness

  • Anxiety

  • Change in appetite

  • Headaches or other physical pain

It can be tough to cope with these changes, especially if it seems like there is no way out of the sadness. However, it's important to understand you should not ignore that grief and its effects on your body. Taking steps towards healing and self-care can help you manage the challenging emotions associated with loss.

What Can You Do To Cope With Grief

Grief can be a difficult and complex emotion to manage, but there are steps you can take to help yourself navigate the process. Keep in mind that the healing process is different for many people, and there is no "right" way to grieve.

Here are some ways to cope with grief:

  • Reach out to a support system. Talking about your feelings and experiences may help you process the emotions that come with loss. Remember that it's okay to cry or express yourself in whatever feels most natural.

  • Move your body. Exercise releases endorphins, hormones that can make us feel better and reduce stress. Taking a walk or doing some yoga can be therapeutic and help to focus your thoughts.

  • Allow yourself time to heal. Remember that healing isn't linear, and it's okay if progress is slow. Giving yourself the space and time to feel your emotions can be a powerful part of the process.

  • Take care of yourself. Getting enough rest, eating nutritious meals, and engaging in self-care activities like taking a bath or reading a book can help you cope with grief. Through self-care, you can nourish your mind and body.

Dealing with grief isn't always easy, but it can be manageable with time and a few coping strategies. Our experiences are unique, so take the time to do what works for you and give yourself permission to heal.

Using Grief To Your Advantage

Grieving can be a way of connecting with people who are no longer here — it can help us remember the good times we had together while appreciating the life they lived. It can also be an opportunity to learn and grow, as it can sometimes help us understand how our emotions work and how we can better care for ourselves in times of hardship.

Healthy grieving can also lead to self-discovery and personal growth. It can be a way of reflecting on our relationships and how we want to live our own lives in the future. It's important to remember that grief is not something to be "fixed" but rather something we can work through over time.

Harnessing grief's potential to transform your life may be difficult, but it can be possible with patience and an understanding of your own needs. With a little effort and some self-reflection, you can use the experience to look within, learn more about yourself, and make positive changes in your life.

If you find it challenging to cope with your emotions, consider seeking the help of a professional. A trained therapist can provide guidance and support to make the grieving process easier to manage. Online therapy has many benefits that can help you cope with your loss in a safe space.

From the comfort of your home, an online therapist can work with you to find healthy ways to manage your grief and heal from within. Taking this step is an act of self-care that can provide you with the relief and understanding you may need to start healing more profoundly.

A 2021 study assessed online therapy's effectiveness compared to in-person treatment. Results concluded online mental health services are a safe and efficient approach to managing symptoms of grief and bereavement. Further, online intervention offers several advantages over other forms of treatment, including greater resources for mental health care. 

For those who need more space in their healing, online therapy offers a unique opportunity to manage grief. With the help of an online therapist, you can take the time to explore and process your emotions from the comfort and safety of any location.

Takeaway

Grief can be a vast and complex range of emotions, but it's not something you need to fix or rush through. There is no right or wrong way to work through grief, and taking your time is okay.

Understanding how grief presents itself and how to cope with it can help you find peace and healing. If you're feeling overwhelmed by grief, don't be afraid to reach out for help. The journey of healing is not one you have to take alone.

With the right support, learning how to cope with loss and find peace within yourself is possible. Online therapy can be a valuable tool to help you in this journey. As an act of self-care, consider reaching out to a mental health provider who can provide you with the guidance and support you need to make positive changes in your life.

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