How To Handle Intense Sadness Or Sorrow After A Death

Updated October 3, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When a loved one or family member dies, feelings of sadness and sorrow can seem overwhelming. You recognize that having those feelings is natural but may feel as though you can only handle so much of it. You know you want to stop crying. You know you want your heart to heal, but healing isn't an easy task. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to understand and live with the emotional pain of loss. If you find yourself needing more support on how to cope with death, seek help from an online therapist to work through your feelings of grief and to overcome sadness you are experiencing. There is likely treatment available to help you.

Therapy Can Be Healing And Can Provide Relief From Sadness

Why It's So Hard To Cope When A Loved One Dies

Losing a loved one or family members is hard for many reasons. Of course, you miss them, since they were once a part of your reality, or your day-to-day routine. Now that they are gone, you have to adjust to a life without them. There may be things you can’t imagine doing without them, or places you can’t imagine going without them.

If they were your spouse, you may have to live alone now that they are gone. You may have to take care of business that you haven't done in a while, or ever before, in some cases. To make matters even more complicated, not only that you are facing similar and many other practical life changes, but you’re also finding yourself dealing with feelings of sadness and sorrow. These emotions may require treatment to process in an effective manner.

What Are Common Signs of Grief?

If you're feeling grief and sorrow after death, it can show up in other ways. You may have complicated feelings of sadness, loneliness, anger, anxiety, or guilt. Your thoughts may be confusing, and you may have trouble concentrating. You may obsess about what you've lost. These may be concerning and make treatment necessary, in certain circumstances.

It is not uncommon to start feeling physical symptoms of your grief. You may feel dizzy, have a fast heartbeat, feel tired, hyperventilate, be short of breath, feel tightness or heaviness in your chest or throat, or have headaches or stomach aches. Weight loss or weight gain can also occur.

Your behavior might change, as well. You may cry much more often than usual, lose interest in doing things you once found enjoyable. You may be restless or throw yourself into your work. You may have trouble sleeping.

Will This Sadness and Sorrow Last?

There's no specific timetable for feeling more like yourself after experiencing the emotions related to grief. Some people feel better within several months, while others take up to several years to move on. However long it takes you is okay. Rushing yourself is counterproductive and is unlikely to be helpful. If you can be patient with the grieving process, you'll get through it much more easily.

How to Deal With The Pain Of Loss

Even though you know where the pain is coming from, you still need to deal with it in a way that allows you to keep moving on with life. You may still have family obligations to consider and tasks that have to get done daily. The following are some ways to ease your burden of loss.

Accept Your Feelings

By letting yourself experience the feelings that accompany the loss, you can accept them as they come. Otherwise, the feelings you bury or deny may come up later or change you in unconscious ways. So, don't judge your feelings as good or bad. Know that they have a purpose, and they will diminish over time.

Use Relaxation Techniques

By learning relaxation techniques, you can feel calmer and able to deal with your current situation better. Sometimes, when we experience difficult situations, our parasympathetic nervous system tries to relax us after the release of the stress hormone cortisol. However, grief or severe distress can greatly affect your PSNS, making it difficult to relax. That's where these relaxation techniques come in:

One relaxation technique is systematic muscle relaxation. This is a good technique for when you're feeling angry or stressed. Lie on your back and tense the muscles of your toes. Hold them tense for several seconds, and then release them completely. Next, tighten the muscles of your feet, hold, and release. Continue upward until you reach your head, tightening, holding, and releasing. This may have a positive effect on your mood.

Another technique is deep breathing. You can do this in several ways. Breathe in deeply, hold, breathe out, hold, and breathe in again. You can imagine the bad feelings going out as you exhale, and positive feelings coming in as you inhale. Additionally, you can breathe into a count of four, hold for a count of four, breathe in for a count of four, and hold for a count of four. You can breathe from the chest, the diaphragm, or the belly. Experiment with different ways to find what works best for you.

Try Thought Stopping

Thought stopping is a technique you can use to fight obsessive thoughts or negative feelings. When your thoughts begin to circle, imagine a stop sign. If the image of a stop sign doesn't work, you can think the word "stop," or even say it out loud. You may have to practice thought-stopping for a while before it successfully ends the obsessive thoughts. When you get the hang of it, it can be very effective.

Talk About the Loss

It's important to talk about the loss and how it makes you feel sad. You may reach out to trusted individuals such as family members, friends, or loved ones. You might also think about talking to a bereavement counselor or other mental health professional, especially if you are concerned that you are at risk when it comes to experiencing clinical depression or another mental illness. If talking isn't your thing, find other ways to express your feelings. You can do it through art, journaling, or music, for instance. Try to find an activity that will improve mood.

Remember the Good Times

The death and the loss that came with it may be at the forefront of your brain right now. When you have a moment, try to set those thoughts aside and think of your loved one during better times instead. Spend time reflecting on the positive memories you shared together. If you live your life in the present moment, sharing your experiences can benefit you and those around you.

Honor Their Memory

It may help you to do something special to honor your lost loved one instead of just feeling sad. You can talk to your family and decide what you want to do. Donate to a charity in their name. Start a community project to honor their memory. Have a portrait painted of them from an old photo you have or paint it yourself. Name a child after them. Allow yourself to make a place for their memory in your life and the lives of the rest of your family.

Set Up a Temporary Dialogue for Closure

When something happens that you don't know how to deal with on your own, you may think about having a "conversation" with your lost loved one. You can write out the conversation in a journal, think it out, or even say it out loud in private.

If this person has been a major part of your life, you probably talked about your feelings with them and used them as a sounding board for problem-solving. By using your imagination, you can fulfill some of those needs on your own. This should be a temporary process for closure, not a drawn-out coping mechanism that may be self-destructive down the road. In other words, it may be helpful at first, but isn’t a good idea to utilize many months after a loss has occurred.

Find The Silver Lining

While it may be difficult to think about loss in a way that is not negative, finding something positive that's happened following the loss is likely to make acceptance easier. If your loved one was ill, in pain, or was going through an aggressive treatment for a medical condition, you may find comfort in knowing that they are no longer experiencing it.

Take Care of Yourself

Now more than ever, it's important to take care of your physical and emotional needs. Some people may turn to using substances like alcohol in order to numb the pain of the loss. However, substance use only exacerbates depressive symptoms, and delays the healing process.

It is important to aim to eat healthy foods, get an adequate amount of sleep, and get moderate exercise.

One nutrient that you should include in your diet is Vitamin D, which has been investigated as improving symptoms of depression for some. Keep in mind that finding a sunny place to spend a few minutes outdoors a day may also help you get this vitamin. Also, do your best to pay attention to your grooming habits, so you can look and feel better, which may help you keep your focus.

Changing your eating habits may have a significant impact on your mental wellbeing. For example, this study shows that those experiencing symptoms of depression may benefit from an increase in intake of Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3's are found in fatty fish, like tuna, salmon, and trout. By changing your eating patterns to incorporate more healthy foods, you may have a positive impact on your mental health as well. 

A study conducted in 2020 highlights that exercising may help you overcome grief and depression. This may be because exercise releases endorphins, which can improve how you are feeling and lessen pain you are experiencing.

Maintain Your Support System

Set aside time to be with friends and family regularly. Isolating yourself often intensifies sad feelings of grief and sorrow and is a common reaction when you are experiencing depression, although it doesn’t have to be. Besides that, you may need help overcoming the practical challenges that come with being on your own. Having a stable support network is crucial, and it isn't out of your control. Even if you are unsure, there’s a good chance that your loved ones would like to support you when you are doing your best to overcome depression, substance abuse, or lessen symptoms related to another mental illness while you are experiencing grief.

To expand your support network, you might also look into local resources offered in your community, such as grief and bereavement support groups. A support group offers the opportunity to connect with others also walking through the process of healing after loss.

Therapy Can Be Healing And Can Provide Relief From Sadness

Allow Yourself to Feel Happy

Sometimes, when people are grieving, they feel guilty whenever they laugh or smile. They feel like they deny the importance of the loss. Yet, enjoying life is natural and beneficial to you. Anyone who truly loved you wouldn't want you to be sad forever, especially if the individual that you lost was a member of your family. If happy feelings come, accept them, and let them lift your mood. Be mindful of the treatment you are giving yourself and make sure you are being fair.

Dealing with Complicated Grief

If you are concerned that your sadness and sorrow are more intense than they should be, you might be experiencing complicated grief. Complicated grief is a term that refers to grief reactions that are more intense and prolonged than typical grief. The signs of complicated grief include:

  • Intrusive fantasies about the lost relationship
  • Severe emotions about the lost loved one
  • Strong wishes that the loved one was alive
  • Feelings of being too alone or feelings of emptiness
  • Staying away from family, people, and places that remind you of the lost relationship
  • Sleep problems related to the loss
  • Complete loss of interest at work, in social life, in taking care of yourself and others, and/or in recreational activities to the point that your world becomes very small

There may also be a link between complicated grief and substance abuse, which is why you should seek treatment for either mental illness as soon as you notice the symptoms.

It's very hard for someone to judge for themselves whether their grief is typical or severe. If you are concerned that you aren't bouncing back as you should, or if family members have tried to talk to you about your behavior, it's best to talk to a licensed counselor or psychiatrist to get their opinion. If you have health insurance, you should look into doctors or psychiatrists that can assist with treatment for your grief or substance abuse that are in your network. For many cases of grief and depression, there are many options when it comes to treatment.

Watch for Signs of Depression

Grief and depression can be very similar, but there are differences. If you have any of the following symptoms while grieving, it's a good idea to ask a doctor or counselor, since you may be experiencing depression, which can benefit from treatment.

  • Your feelings of sadness and sorrow keep you from functioning in your daily life.
  • Fatigue, insomnia, and indecisiveness last more than a few months.
  • You can never express enjoyment or happiness.
  • The future looks bleak.
  • You see yourself in a negative light.
  • You feel loneliest or saddest when you're with others.
  • You isolate yourself from your support system.
  • You start using alcohol or drugs, or experience substance abuse.
  • You have had several significant losses recently, including family members or friends.
  • You blame yourself for the death or past wrongs.
  • You feel hopeless.
  • You express thoughts of suicide.
  • You are unable to focus.

If you notice a member or your family or yourself experiencing suicidal thoughts or having suicidal ideations, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 immediately.

If you're concerned that you may be depressed, are becoming depressed, or have clinical depression, it's very important that you talk to a counselor right away. You can rely on them to identify any complicated grief or depression that might have come up for you. Then, they can work with you to create a treatment plan for dealing with your grief, sadness, and sorrow. A therapist can help you learn relaxation techniques and identify thoughts to stop that may be able to alleviate your depressed mood and process the emotion you are feeling. They can also help you choose different thoughts and behaviors that are more constructive and conducive to your wellbeing. Through it all, they are there to listen, empathize, and encourage you to make healthier choices. These choices may be able to alleviate symptoms you are experiencing, keep you from feeling sad, and provide you with the support you need to overcome substance abuse or any other condition you may require treatment for.

If you're someone who struggles with Seasonal Affective Disorder, grief, or the death of a loved one or a beloved pet may intensify these challenging times. However, the American Psychological Association recommends light therapy for treatment of SAD, and evidence shows it also may be effective in treating other types of depressive disorders. Light therapy may be helpful because there is less sunlight in the winter months, or in changing seasons, which is when SAD most likely occurs. A lack of sunlight can also mess with your body’s internal clock, which can lead to other symptoms occurring. Natural sunlight or special lamps can improve this condition, along with medication. You can always opt for treatment for SAD when you want to. Check to see if your health insurance covers it.

Below we'll discuss common reasons someone might seek help and treatment for a mental illness or life challenge, as well as the pros and cons of using therapy through a loss, when you’re feeling sad, after a breakup, or just to get life advice. Often when we are navigating a difficulty in our life, we have a physical reaction in our body-- such as tears, endorphins, lack of energy, loss of appetite, or irritability. In fact, our low emotional state often impacts our overall sense of well-being. If you have a sense that you might need help and support, there are medically reviewed articles you can find online that answer questions about online therapy, as well as depressive symptoms to take note of, risks associated with not seeking treatment, benefits of utilizing mental health services, and ideas related to virtual counseling.

You can privately talk to a licensed counselor for help with grief issues, which can occur whether or not you have health insurance. If you are unsure about going to a face-to-face counseling session, you may want to look into online therapy. Through the counseling process, you can learn how to adapt to your loss, helpful ways to interact with family, and how to successfully grow and develop within this new reality. Furthermore, if you experience substance abuse, treatment plans may be helpful to consider as well. For those struggling with complicated grief, studies have shown that cognitive behavioral therapy and supportive counseling can help improve therapeutic effects of treatment when used in conjunction.

Online therapy can be a good starting point to start addressing your intense feelings, sadness, and emotions after a death. If you are not comfortable meeting with a therapist in person, know that online therapists are often available through modes such as live messaging and phone calls. These options can give you the space and flexibility you require to put your thoughts into words, especially if you are having a tough time addressing your mood. When you work with a therapist, you will be able to spend time processing recent events while getting the support that you need.

Some health insurance providers even offer coverage for therapy, depending on your provider, the doctor, and your plan. Additionally, you may feel more comfortable attending counseling sessions from your own home. Online therapy can be done when and where you are most available and comfortable. There is no need to drive through traffic or wait in a lobby. You could take advantage of online therapy and seek treatment, even in a local park, if you wanted to.

Conclusion

There are no shortcuts when it comes to how to get rid of sadness or grief. Anytime you experience the loss of family members or others close to you, this could leave you feeling stress, mood changes, and additional symptoms. These might also lead to you experiencing clinical depression, substance abuse, or need mental health treatment and support. Be sure to talk to your family about what you are going through, if you feel comfortable doing so. Additionally, you should consider working with a doctor, who may be able to offer you a specialized treatment plan.

If you are considering online therapy, click here to get more information about BetterHelp and to see how it has helped individuals going through difficult times, and what treatment options are available for individuals that experience depression.

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