Grief and loss are something we all have to deal with in our lives. Grief can stem from many things, including the end of a relationship, but bereavement specifically relates to the death of someone you cared about. Bereavement and the associated grief it brings can be one of the most difficult things you’ll ever have to deal with, and even though loss is inevitable, it can still feel very challenging to cope with bereavement.
When you experience bereavement, you’ll likely feel a wide spectrum of emotions, including sadness, anger, and even guilt. These can all be part of the processing of grief, but they may leave you feeling confused or overwhelmed. You might feel lost or unable to move on, or you might try to bury your feelings and throw yourself into activities like work or a hobby to distract yourself from grief.
There is no right or wrong way to deal with bereavement. Everyone does it differently and what works for one person might not be effective for another. That being said, if you feel like you’re consumed by grief, or if you haven’t yet acknowledged your grief properly, you might find that you run into further challenges at a later time. Bereavement and loss can take a heavy toll on your physical and emotional wellbeing, so it’s important to try and navigate your feelings in a healthy way.
In this blog, our bereavement therapists share some expertise on how to cope with bereavement, and the most effective ways of processing grief.
When learning how to cope with bereavement, it can be useful to understand the five stages of grief outlined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. They are:
It was noted that most people go through at least two of these stages, with some experiencing specific stages several times over the course of many years. Grief is not linear, but it’s highly likely you’ll go through a few of the stages outlined by Kubler-Ross, even if not in the order she initially noted.
The key stage is acceptance. Learning to accept that a loved one has passed can be the most challenging part of the process, and it may take many years to get to that point. During that time, you might fluctuate between being angry or depressed, or you might try and block it out, and deny that the loss has happened altogether. If you find yourself stuck in any of the four stages before acceptance, it can lead to challenges with your mental and physical health. Learning more about bereavement and effective coping strategies can help you to begin breaking out of these cycles and move towards acceptance.
The first tip on learning how to cope with bereavement is to accept that grief and bereavement are entirely unique experiences for every person. Although most of us will go through the five stages outlined above, the way you navigate them will be personal to you. This is because you have your own personality traits, and the way you deal with emotion, will differ from the next person.
In addition, the relationship you had with your loved one will also be unique, so the way in which the loss impacts your life will be different from everyone else. You might feel a pressure to behave like those around you when it comes to grief. For example, you might think you need to get back to ‘normal’ in a matter of days or weeks, because that’s what everyone else appears to be doing, or you might feel like you need to cry and be more emotional in your grief if other people are processing their feelings that way.
Never pressure yourself into grieving the way you think you should, because there is no right way to do it. If you need a little more time to process, so be it – take all the time you need. If you feel okay enough to return to your everyday life after a week or two, that’s okay too.
A lot of people think that bereavement means eventually moving on completely from a loss, but this isn’t the case. There is a grief model called the dual-process theory. It was proposed by Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut, and focuses on allowing yourself to feel sad and emotional about your loss, but also making sure you distract yourself sometimes.
For example, it’s okay to have days where you feel overwhelmed with sadness and you just want to think about the person you’ve lost and your memories with them; but if you sit in this state for too long, you may find that you struggle to get out of it. With this in mind, it’s important to periodically try and distract yourself from the grief. You might choose to do this by having a declutter of your house, going out for the day, or joining a club and learning a new skill.
With the dual-process grief theory, you’re able to move between different stages of grief. You’re allowing yourself to feel your emotions and express them, but you’re also allowing yourself to be distracted from the grief. This is extremely important. It can be a difficult balance to strike, but one that, when achieved, can help you process your bereavement in a positive way. Living with grief full-time isn’t beneficial for anyone, but distracting yourself in perpetuity only serves to avoid the emotions that will inevitably appear at some point. Dual-process theory allows you to do both in healthy moderation.
One of the most important things to note when experiencing bereavement is that grief doesn’t automatically equate to depression. Not everyone who goes through loss becomes depressed, and not everyone who is depressed has gone through loss. There are lots of reasons why a person might become depressed, and grief can certainly lead to depression, but the two aren’t intrinsically linked. Understanding the differences between grief and depression is key to knowing whether you could benefit from medical help.
The reason many people get grief and depression mixed up is because they often share similar mental and physical symptoms. They might include:
The core difference between depression and grief is that depression tends to be more long-term and doesn’t come in waves. With grief, you’re likely to experience the above symptoms in waves. One day you might be okay, but the next you might not be. Over time, grief symptoms tend to lessen on their own. Grief might seem all-consuming in the beginning, but it usually doesn’t stay that way. Depression is more constant, and doesn’t seem to go away. It often requires medical intervention in the form of medication and/or therapy. There is no medication that can be prescribed to help ease the symptoms of grief.
Bereavement support or therapy is useful to anyone who wants to learn to cope with bereavement, as it can help you navigate the grieving process in a more healthy and constructive way; but generally speaking, within six months, most people find they are able to resume their daily lives after loss. This is not the case with untreated depression. People with depression will find that they don’t have periods of reprieve, and that the problem persists consistently until treatment is undertaken.
Grief is related to a specific loss, in this case bereavement, but depression doesn’t necessarily have a specific cause. Grief is onset by the death of a loved one, whereas depression can start at any time and is a general experience of feelings such as worthlessness and despair. Grief can give way to depression, but it’s important to remember that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Bereavement can often make people feel isolated and alone, especially if the person who has passed away was extremely close. Talking to people about your loss can help to prevent feelings of loneliness. If you have a close support network that you can confide in, it can help you process your emotions and come to terms with your grief.
When it comes to coping with bereavement, bottling things up is never a good idea, but some people either don’t have a trusted support network they can turn to, or they simply don’t feel comfortable talking to others about their emotions and feelings. Sometimes, it can take a while to feel ready to talk. If you don’t have anyone to talk to, or if you would rather talk to someone who isn’t in your social circle, arranging to see a bereavement therapist can be a good next step when coping with grief.
A therapist will be there to listen to you every step of the way. You can confide in your therapist and focus entirely on your loss, rather than your personal connection to your loved one. This can be helpful if you’re having mixed or distressing emotions about your loss, such as anger, relief, or guilt.
You might even find it easier to talk to people in a support group about your loss. Joining a support group can be helpful if you don’t have an existing support network, or if you are feeling lonely as a result of your loss. At a support group, you can spend time with people who are in similar situations and share tips on practical issues stemming from grief, such as not getting enough sleep.
Bereavement is one of the hardest things you will have to deal with in your life, and it can turn your world upside down. You might feel hopeless and unsure of your purpose in life following the death of a close loved one. Grief can, at its worst, feel all-consuming, and this can cause people to seek respite elsewhere. Some people may smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs in an effort to try and temporarily numb feelings of grief and loss. Conversely, some people feel numb following a loss, and might turn to substances and harmful behaviours to try and feel something.
Where possible, it’s important that you try to avoid these behaviours. This can be hard if you have problems with substance abuse or feel overwhelmed with emotion, or that you have no reprieve, but engaging in these activities can contribute further to damaging your mental health and make you feel worse over time.
As mentioned, everyone who has experienced bereavement can benefit from bereavement counselling. Also known as grief counselling, the aim of seeing a bereavement therapist is to help you cope with bereavement by navigating the often complex process of grieving, ensuring you confront your emotions and learn coping mechanisms for when it gets hard.
Bereavement counselling isn’t about ‘getting over’ a loss. You’ll never forget a person who has passed away, and you may feel their absence in many ways for years to come. For example, if you’ve lost a parent and go on to have children of your own, you might find yourself thinking about them a lot more and wondering what it would be like if they were still here. This is completely normal and to be expected, but it’s how you deal with those feelings that is key.
When you see a grief counsellor, you’ll learn to live with loss. You’ll learn coping techniques for bereavement that allow you to incorporate loss into your life, and how to adjust to life without your loved one. If you haven’t confronted your grief yet, grief counselling can help you do that and ensure you’re not floored by emotion when those feelings inevitably come.
There is no rush to grieve. Everyone goes at their own pace, and your therapist will help you to go through the process at a speed that feels right for you. They won’t push you to ‘move on’ – they will simply guide you towards living a life that isn’t ruled by grief. For some people, this can be relatively quick, but for others, it takes time. As mentioned previously, grief is unique to everyone and a bereavement therapist will understand this.
If you feel like you’re struggling with bereavement, professional bereavement counselling could help. Even if you feel ‘okay’ after a loss, you might still find therapy useful.
At Psymplicity, we are sensitive to grief and loss. Our team of bereavement therapists has helped thousands of people cycle through the grief process and get to a place where they can live their daily life and live with their loss in a healthy way.
If you’ve experienced bereavement, be it recently or some time ago, contact us to learn more about our grief counselling service and how it could help you.
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