Loss and grief are inevitable parts of life and can affect us in many different ways. Having a comprehensive toolkit for coping with periods of grief is essential. Some of the strategies that may be useful in this process include reaching out to others, developing ways to honor the person you’ve lost, shifting your perception away from the confusing present and into a more hopeful future, creative expression, meditation, use of certain herbal remedies and healthy foods, avoidance of substances that may put an even greater toll on your mind and body, increased self-care, exercise and even travel!
What are Loss and Grief?
Loss and grief, especially during times of global tragedy are experienced by people all over the world. When it seems as if all the elements are against us, kicking us when we’re down, we feel hopeless and helpless. When tragedy strikes, we may also feel the pain of isolation and loneliness. Symptoms such as sadness, depression, social isolation, disturbed eating and behavioral habits, insomnia, lack of concentration, poor performance at home and work, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, and so many more seem to plague us for what may seem like forever. While friends, family, and employers are likely to cut you some slack during times of trauma and hopefully afford you with the right to recover in your way, it is essential that you not avoid your symptoms, but instead engage in active coping. How you choose to cope is important and can have long-term impacts on your future health and happiness.
We all deal with loss and grief in our own ways. Some people turn to self-reflection, others pour their energy into work or distraction. Some people engage in less healthy strategies such as trying to numb the pain with alcohol, drugs, sex, self-harm or even unleashing emotional tirades on those around them. While it is natural to want to numb the pain, those unhealthy strategies eventually do more harm than good.
Healthy Ways to Cope With Loss and Grief
Let’s take a closer look at some of the best ways to manage the aftermath of tragedy and trauma.
Reaching Out to Others
When you have lost someone you care about or suffered some other personal tragedy, it’s self-protective to withdraw into yourself, hiding from the world the pain you’re experiencing. And, while it may feel easier to isolate that to share with others what you’re trying to manage, reaching out to others will allow for different perspectives and provide greater support. By seeking out others who have experienced similar circumstances or who may better understand your experience, you will enjoy compassion and empathy during this difficult time.
Honoring the Person You’ve Lost
While most of us would rather avoid the reality of loss, developing ways to honor our loved ones who have passed can be incredibly therapeutic. Finding ways to pay homage and respect may be expressed in ceremony or ritual, by dedicating a bench in a park, or even by writing a letter to your loved one. These activities not only evidence your connection to the person but can also be important steps in your efforts to let go and move forward.
Shifting Perception from the Painful Present Towards a More Hopeful Future
When you lose a loved one or a friend, it can feel like life has crashed to a halt. One of the best ways to move past a tragic loss is to look forward to the future. By finding something to look forward to (e.g., a vacation, a wedding, a new house), you can allow your mind to step out of the current pain and into a more hopeful future. Plans, no matter how small, can remind you that the future is coming one way or another and that your loved one would want you to live life to the fullest.
Ther are many stages of grief ranging from denial, anger, bargaining, despondence, and eventual acceptance. While you may experience the stages in your own unique order (and you may revisit them several times!), the feelings that bubble up during these stages don’t have to negatively impact your personal and professional relationships if you engage in creative ways to express your emotions. Let your creative side out through drawing, painting, writing, journaling, or even dancing and let those feelings out in a healthier more productive ways.
When you experience tragedy, you may find yourself looking inward, but not always in the healthiest ways. Meditation may enable you to loosen the grip of grief and find relief from the pain. While meditation can be challenging when your mind is bogged down by grief and loss, it’s likely when it’s needed the most. When you first begin using meditation, start simple: just count to four as you breathe in, then hold your breath for a count of four, then breathe out for a count of four, then hold for a count of four. Focus only on your breath as you repeat, and notice how much more relaxed you are after only a few minutes!
Use of Herbal Remedies & Healthy Foods
While you may not want to take anti-depressant medication to diminish your symptoms during grief, many different herbal remedies can provide you with some relief. Some of the best herbal options are chamomile tea, valerian root, passionflower, and lavender. These remedies come in a variety of forms, ranging from essential oil aromatherapies to teas to tablets to tinctures. They can calm your nerves, uplift your mood, and even improve your sleep.
Additionally, you must make things easy on your body when you’re trying to manage loss and grief. By consuming foods that are easy to digest, may provide some natural energy, and don’t place too much demand on your body, it will be easier to recover. Foods such as leafy green vegetables provide quick energy and are great for your digestion. Substances such as dark chocolate (in small quantities!) can improve serotonin production. And drinking water, juice, and teas rather than caffeinated beverages, your anxiety will diminish as well.
Avoidance of Toxic or Unhealthy Substances
While numbing the pain of grief may be immediately satisfying, it can also create more problems. Rather than negatively impacting your health, your relationships, and your career with alcohol or drugs, lean into the grief and process it so that you can make it through to the other side. By embracing your grief (and avoiding ending up in a rehab!), you will honor your loss, respect your feelings, and own the healing you deserve.
During a period of grieving, you may be so immersed in pain that you stop taking care of yourself. You may find yourself eating less or relying on unhealthy, “easy” foods, sleeping less, losing focus at work, avoiding phone calls, and essentially dropping off the face of the Earth. You must take care of yourself while you’re grieving, particularly in terms of your diet and sleep patterns. Setting fire to your life only deepens your grief and misery. Honor the person you’ve lost by respecting your grief- and yourself.
Going for a jog may sound like the last thing you want to do when wracked by grief, but exercise can provide a natural space for quiet contemplation. Exercise can be meditative, distracting, and soothing to an overtaxed mind. Additionally, most exercise generates endorphins that can soothe both physical and emotional pain.
Some people compare travel following a major loss to “running away”, but that is far from the truth. A change of scenery, after experiencing a tragic loss, can kick-start your life back in the right direction. While many of us immerse ourselves in guilt, self-blame, and efforts to control during grief, travel can provide an opportunity to let go and experience something new. While you may be tempted to travel down memory lane to places that you and your loved one visited in the past, elect for travel to new areas so that you can build new memories rather than revisit the pain that may be generated by old memories.
Word of Caution: Grief and loss manifest in many different ways, and if you are feeling severe depression or anxiety following a personal or professional loss, seek consultation with a healthcare or spiritual professional. These coping strategies will complement your work with your counselor and will enhance your journey to recovery.