Grief is a universal condition, yet when we’re grieving, we feel alone. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help you heal. So, what are the best ways to cope with grief? Here are some to consider.
What is grief?
In the late 1960s, Swiss-American psychotherapist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross famously surmised that there were five stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While it is overwhelmingly common to experience all or some of these stages, how we experience grief is as individual as love or any other emotion.
Mental health professionals acknowledge that Kübler-Ross’s findings were more a guide than something to be taken literally. Some even add two more steps: Reconstruction and working through, and the upward turn. Both of which indicate that healing has begun.
My friend, for example, experienced anger first. She was angry at her spouse for not taking better care of his health. She was also angry at the pandemic. For a moment, she was even angry at the doctors who tried to help her husband. Ultimately, she cycled through all the stages of grief, but not in order. Sometimes the stages overlapped, and sometimes she’d revisit earlier stages.
If you are grieving, you may feel alone or hopeless. You might also feel as though you’ll never feel whole again. While there’s nothing we can say to fill the hole in your heart, there are steps you can take to help you cope with all of the stages of grief.
1. Put one foot in front of the other
Sometimes grief is so overwhelming that you almost forget how to breathe. Getting out of bed and dressed, and showered can seem herculean. Putting one foot in front of the other might sound like a platitude. Still, when setting and achieving goals seems impossible, tiny incremental accomplishments help give you a sense of order and purpose.
2. Join a support group
One of the best ways to deal with grief is to talk things out. However, well-intentioned people may not have the right words to express their sympathy and can come off as insensitive. A support group gives you a social connection and lets you express yourself among people who are also experiencing loss.
3. Find a creative outlet
One of the common side effects of grief is a loss of creativity. Still, creativity can help you refocus your brain and gain a new perspective. No one suggests you have to write a novel or paint a masterpiece, but writing in a journal can help you navigate your feelings. If creating something seems unimaginable, play some music. You can find several grief playlists online, or you can play what appeals to you.
4. Expect cycles
You may not feel the same tomorrow as you feel today. That’s normal. You might feel energized one day and barely able to function the next. That’s also normal. Now is not the time to question your emotions or even your grief journey, but know that you will not feel this way forever.
5. Exercise, but only if you can
A lot of people suggest that exercise helps the grieving process. While it is true that exercise helps battle depression, grief is not depression. Instead, listen to your body. If exercise is part of your everyday life, try it, but don’t push yourself too hard. Grief can cause physical exhaustion as well as mental. Start by taking a walk in the fresh air or perhaps doing gentle yoga.
6. Revisit memories
Depending on where you are in your grief cycle, memories can bring pain or comfort. Ultimately, though, memories of shared experiences can bring you closer to your loved one. Memorialization comes in many forms. Of course, you can gather friends, but you can also look through photos, visit a favorite destination, put their remains in an urn, or find a keepsake.
7. Forgive yourself
It didn’t make Kübler-Ross’s list, but guilt, rational or not, is a typical response to grief. For example, you may feel guilty for not having done enough to help your loved one or for the fact that you survived. After feeling consumed by grief for so long, you might feel guilty when you catch yourself thinking about something else. Talk to a professional or a support group to help manage your guilt.
8. Get ready for change
Most experts suggest that you wait at least a year before making significant changes. Once you’re over the initial stages, though, it can be healthy to sell your home or even go back to school.
9. Consult a death doula
Death doulas, or death midwives, are relatively new to Western culture, but the discipline is a growing part of the end-of-life industry. The ideal time to hire a death doula is before your loved one dies. Just as a midwife helps guide a baby into the world, a death midwife helps guide people as they leave life.
But just as doulas are for the mother as well as the baby, death doulas offer end of life support to both the dying and the people they leave behind.
10. Seek professional help
If your grief is so overwhelming that even after time has passed, it’s affecting your ability to manage your life, it might be time to seek professional help. There’s even a name for the condition, complicated grief. Talk to your doctor or consult a grief therapist. While there is little research on medications for grief, antidepressants may help if your grief is accompanied by clinical depression.