Grief can affect us at any time in our life, often without warning. With the festive season on the horizon, feelings of loss are often intensified as the holidays serve as a reminder of happier times. For National Grief Awareness Week (2 - 8 December 2023), our members share their best strategies for coping with grief.
“Loss comes in many forms,” says psychotherapist and counsellor Baljit Kamal. “People deal with grief over setbacks in life, such as the end of a friendship, romantic relationship, a home, employment, as well as the diagnosis of an illness. But for many of us, the most profound and intense grief we will ever experience is the death of a loved one.”
Emotional roller coaster
Baljit also explains that the intense emotions experienced in grief can change from minute to minute.
“For many people, it can feel like an emotional roller coaster where you might find yourself laughing at a fond memory and crying the next. You may also find that you struggle with day-to-day activities or attending social events,” says Baljit. “Another important factor to take into consideration is the source of death – as this will have a huge impact on what your grief journey will look like. For instance, if it was related to a sudden or unexpected event.”
Tips to cope with grief and loss
Here our members offer their top nine ways to cope with grief and loss:
1. Accept there is “no right or wrong way” to grieve
“There’s no right or wrong way to grieve a loss, every individual processes grief and loss differently,” says psychotherapist Bhavna Raithatha. “Some may feel crushed, others may feel neutral, yet others may feel a sense of relief especially if they had a difficult relationship with the deceased such as an abuser.
“Other people may feel numb for a period of time - and this is natural as it is the mind’s way of protecting us and allowing us to deal with the practicalities of organising a funeral etc. It is normal for grief work to begin months or years after a death or loss. There is no prescribed way to feel or react to a loss, everyone deals with death differently.”
2. Take your time
“Remember that grief is a process. Losing someone is difficult regardless of our relationship to them. How they died will affect how we feel and respond,” continues Bhavna. “It is normal to want to ‘do’ something to take back a sense of control. But it’s important to use this time to nurture yourself. It is absolutely ok if, on some days, all you can do is get out of bed and make a cup of tea.”
“Grief does not always unfold in an orderly, predictable stage, nor is there any time frame,” adds Baljit. “You cannot force a sprained hand to heal faster than it needs to, and the same applies to emotional healing. Practice self-compassion as you navigate your way through your grief journey.”
3. Basic self-care
“Dealing with grief can have a significant impact on your emotional and physical health,” says Baljit. “Be as consistent as possible in maintaining fundamental health routines – such as eating, drinking, and resting. You may also find it helps to walk in nature, spend time with pets or animals, or explore something creative.”
4. Practice mindfulness
“It helps to be mindful about how you feel,” says Bhavna. “For example, if you are feeling more frustrated, angry, tearful, lost, numb, and overwhelmed, recognise this and don’t make any major decisions – such as buying a house or getting into a new relationship. Wait for a little while until your feelings have settled down.”
“Every thought that you have has a physical component, and every physical signal will give you a thought,” adds Baljit. “Grief feels like fear, making us anxious. It sends your system into high alert. So, anything that you can do to balance and regulate your nervous system will help you in your healing process.”
5. Stay connected
“It’s imperative to stay connected when you’re coping with grief, as isolation can make the grieving process much harder to process,” continues Baljit. “It can be comforting to share stories and memories with someone you trust and who is a good support system.”
“Staying connected can be incredibly hard for the bereaved”, adds Bhavna. “Many people find reaching out for support overwhelming because they are exhausted from the shock of grief. If you’re not ready for company just yet, try journalling about your feelings or write to the loved one you’ve lost. This can be very helpful in releasing thoughts and feelings you may not be able to share with anyone else yet.”
6. Acknowledge and remember
“Most cultures have ceremonies and gatherings where family and communities meet to acknowledge the loss and share memories and support each other,” says Baljit. “Some families make an altar or develop symbolic ways to acknowledge the loss. Others may keep mementos such as photographs, memory boxes, and jewellery. Whatever you decide to do, it is important that this holds relevance and meaning for you.”
7. Accept change
“Bereavement almost always brings lots of changes to your life,” says Baljit. “One significant change is the shift within the family structure. Remember to be patient as you navigate through these changes and adaptations.”
8. Be informed
“Grief education will help you understand what to expect in your grief journey,” continues Baljit. “Being informed can help you prepare for the physical and cognitive symptoms such as poor concentration and fatigue. The more you understand the processes of grieving, the less daunting this can be.”
9. Seek professional support
“Many people struggle with complex emotional tasks such as talking to children about death or care-giving, while juggling endless tasks,” continues Baljit. “This can be a very dark and lonely place, so some people find that joining a local bereavement support group offers a great source of support. Others find solace in seeking the support of a professional therapist to talk through their feelings.”
To find a BACP registered grief counsellor near you or online visit our Therapists Directory.
How do you cope with the death of a loved one? How can you deal with the overwhelming feelings of loss and grief? BACP member Sara Mathews explains how counselling can help.
What does a bereavement counsellor do?
Watch our member Paula Fowle explain how bereavement counsellors support people who are struggling with grief
7 ways to help others cope with grief and loss
National Grief Awareness Week runs from 2 to 8 December 2023