Tips To Cope With The Grief Of Losing Someone You Love

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated June 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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The death of a loved one can be a traumatic and painful experience for many people. After losing someone close to you, whether due to a terminal illness or another cause, there may be a period of mourning with intense grief symptoms that can affect multiple areas of your life. 

Almost everyone will experience grief after losing a loved one or family member, and that’s okay. It can profoundly impact your mental health, often leading to intense emotions and a sense of deep sorrow. During this period of grief and loss, friends and family may play a crucial role in providing support and comfort, helping you navigate through the challenging experience of grief.

As time passes, the acute pain of loss transitions into a more manageable state, but it may still feel like a bad dream. If you're experiencing complicated grief or just starting your grieving journey, there are a few coping mechanisms you might use to cope after a loss.

Are you struggling with grief after the loss of a loved one?

What is grief after losing someone you love?

"The reality is that you [may] grieve forever. You [might] not "get over" the loss of a loved one but learn to live with it." --Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

According to a recent study published in the National Library of Medicine, grief is the emotional and affective process of reacting to the death of a loved one. The death of a parent or a family member introduces a unique kind of pain, especially for a young person, making the grief feel more significant. Grief responses may include numbness, disbelief, separation anxiety, mourning, depression symptoms, and acceptance and recovery. These emotional responses can be overwhelming and difficult to manage at times.

Mourning is often defined as the public display of grief, while grief centers on one's internal experiences with loss. Religious practices, cultural context, and beliefs often influence mourning practices, and grief and mourning often overlap and influence each other. Bereavement is a broader definition that describes the objective reality of one's situation after the death of someone one loves.

Understanding the five stages of the grieving process

The grieving process is often a roller coaster of emotions, where moments of feeling overwhelmed can suddenly shift to feeling numb or experiencing profound sadness due to the major loss. Often, the order, timing, and duration of the different phases or stages of grief are individual to the person experiencing them.

Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler Ross introduced the five stages of grief in On Death and Dying in 1969 as a framework for the typical reactions and behaviors seen in people as they progress through the grieving process. The five stages she included were:

  • Denial

  • Anger

  • Bargaining

  • Depression

  • Acceptance

Rather than a linear timeline for the grieving process, the five stages are a guideline for how many people learn to live with a devastating loss and move forward with their lives. There is no time limit on grief or set order in which the stages are experienced. People go through them as they come, and some bounce back and forth between them or don't experience them at all. Viewing these stages as tools that help you map the terrain of your grief rather than the landscape you traverse might be beneficial. 

Elizabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler state, "The stages have evolved since their introduction and have been misunderstood over the past three decades. They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives." 

Why does losing a loved one cause profound sadness?

Emotionally, grief hurts because it is often deeply personal. You lost someone you love, and the effects of that loss can be intense and far-reaching. Loss often turns the world upside down and changes multiple aspects of life. In an instant, every area of your routine can be different, and it may take time to adapt. 

Grief can be confusing, and you might feel it irreversibly changes you. Losing someone may be painful due to feeling lonely or thinking that others can't understand what you're going through. Many people consider the intensity of grief after losing a loved one the cost of love and an indicator of the void left in their lives. 

Physically, the intense pain you feel after a death in the family or the loss of a loved one may be caused by a flood of stress hormones that your brain releases during the grieving process. You may experience temporary physical reactions, including decreased immunity, body aches and pains, digestive difficulties, heart problems, and drastic changes to your sleep and eating patterns.

What are the symptoms of grief? 

  • Intense emotional pain

  • Fixation on the loss

  • Feeling guilty or shameful

  • Difficulty focusing on anything but the death of your loved one

  • Obsessive focus on or excessive avoidance of reminders of your loved one

  • Extreme and persistent longing to see or speak to the deceased

  • Trouble accepting the reality of the death

  • Feelings of numbness, detachment, or dissociation

  • Physical symptoms such as fatigue, changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, or unexplained aches and pains

  • Bitterness about the loss of your loved one

  • Overwhelming feelings that life no longer holds meaning or purpose

  • Difficulty trusting others

  • Difficulty finding enjoyment in life or remembering positive experiences with your loved one

  • Symptoms interfering with your ability to function in multiple areas of your life

  • Social isolation

  • Depression, intense sadness, misplaced guilt, or self-blame

  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

Tips for managing the pain of loss

It’s crucial to take care of your emotional and physical well-being during times of grief. According to experts, working with a licensed mental health professional is one of the most effective ways to deal with the pain of loss and process your related emotions. A therapist can provide professional support and guidance, which may help prevent serious, long-lasting effects on your mental health. 

While there are practical, helpful ways to manage the effects and symptoms of your grief at home, there is no right or wrong way to express or experience grief. Below are a few grief coping strategies that may help you manage and process your emotions

Examine and accept your feelings

Before you can process the emotions you feel after the death of a loved one, you may benefit from labeling what you're feeling. You may want to spend time reflecting and fully engaging in the healing process. That might mean giving yourself the space to examine and work through your feelings and trying to accept them as part of your "new normal" in a reality without your loved one. 

Practice relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques like deep breathing and muscle relaxation may calm your parasympathetic nervous system, helping your body and mind relax after your brain releases the stress hormone cortisol during grief. In addition, these types of techniques are associated with a reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression, which are common symptoms of grief.  

Challenge unwanted thoughts with thought-stopping

Some people find the strategy of thought-stopping helpful. Thought-stopping is a method in which you suppress or push away unwanted thoughts. This cognitive-behavioral technique may allow you to disrupt adverse thought patterns and redirect them to subjects that relieve distress. You might imagine a soothing scene or listen to a guided meditation when pushing away unwanted thoughts. 

Note that thought-stopping might not benefit those who often suppress their emotions and use it to avoid grief. Studies show that feeling your emotions benefits your mental and physical health, so continue to check in with yourself healthily. 

Talk about your loss

One of the potential aspects of processing grief and loss is talking about your feelings. Reach out to your therapist, trusted family members, or close friends to discuss how grief affects you. If you feel uncomfortable speaking to someone about your emotions, consider journaling or channeling your feelings through art and music. In addition, you might consider joining a support group where you can listen to others' experiences. Joining support groups can be a way to find others who understand and have similar feelings.

Focus on positive memories 

After your loss, it may be challenging to think of positive memories when you remember your loved one. However, with time, you might notice that the pain fades, and it could be easier to remember them without thinking of their loss. If you notice that all memories of your loved ones are painful or scary, you might be experiencing complex or traumatic grief. In these cases, reaching out to a therapist can be beneficial.

Honor your loved one’s memory

Find ways to honor your loved one's memory that resonate with both your heart and spiritual beliefs. You might choose to participate in activities in their honor to make a beneficial impact in the world. For example, if the person you lost loved to volunteer time with animals at the animal shelter, you might volunteer or donate in their name. You may set a goal to save a thousand lives through blood donation or dedicate a set number of hours to volunteering at the nursing home where they passed. 

Are you struggling with grief after the loss of a loved one?

Prolonged or complicated grief

Prolonged grief is a profound and persistent form of grief that can emerge after a significant loss, such as a sibling’s or parent’s death. It is characterized by an intense longing for the person who died, difficulty concentrating, and persistent feelings of sadness or feeling responsible for their passing. This type of grief goes beyond the natural response of feeling sad or angry after a loss, indicating a more complex grief experience. 

Family members may notice that their loved one struggles with complicated grief, which can include symptoms like feeling continuously angry, finding it hard to feel joy, or feeling like life lacks meaning without the person who died. It may be helpful for those experiencing prolonged grief to find support, whether through therapy, support groups, or talking with friends, as grief changes over time. 

Counseling options for grief

You may feel grief as an expected reaction to losing a loved one. Still, you may want to reach out for support from a mental health professional if your grief symptoms are intense or you experience trouble functioning at least a year after the passing of your loved one. In addition, talking to someone or attending a therapy group might be beneficial immediately after the loss to offer a sense of solidarity and support as you experience your emotions. 

You might try online therapy if you struggle to leave home or set appointments after your loss. With online therapy platforms like BetterHelp, mental health treatment can fit into your schedule, and you may be able to choose between phone, video, or chat sessions, allowing you to pick what you feel comfortable with on a given day. In addition, online therapy can be affordable, allowing you to receive care when you may have lost financial resources after a loss.  

According to the American Psychological Association, online therapy is a viable alternative to treatment in the traditional office setting, often with lower costs and shorter wait times. Many people with no experience visiting a therapist or who feel more comfortable communicating online report increased effectiveness with online mental health treatments.


Grief is considered a common reaction when losing someone you love. However, some people require additional support to manage the impact of grief on their lives and move forward. The above tips may offer insight into ways you can manage grief after losing a loved one and how therapy can help you find healthy ways to cope with your symptoms.

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