6 self-care tips for working through grief

Grief is a great equalizer in life. No matter who you are, you will experience it. Though we may know it’s coming, there’s no way to be truly prepared for it.

Dr. Gil Singletary, JD, Ph.D. MBA, MSSW has worked with grieving patients as a therapist for more than 15 years. However, when he lost his mother to COVID-19 in May of 2020, he had to navigate grief without the closure one may obtain from a chance to say goodbye in person or at a traditional funeral.

“Consequently, I may never realize closure and need to come to the realization that all I can hope for now is peace,” Dr. Singletary says.

There’s no guidebook on handling grief, and whether we’re in a pandemic or not, everyone experiences it differently. If you’re navigating grief, hear from these experts as they share strategies that can help you work through these difficult times.

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Recognizing emotions and coping mechanisms

As you’re working through grief, take the time to evaluate and assess how you’re feeling with these tips.

Address grief symptoms

First, there’s no one “right” way to feel grief. You may feel sad, angry, or fluctuate between the two. Because everyone may feel differently about a loss, there are several symptoms of grief, and recognizing them can help you take the next steps that are right for you.

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Allison Lobel says that common symptoms include anxiety, despair, feelings of guilt or betrayal, appetite changes, agitation, depression, and difficulty concentrating.

Normalize your feelings

Traditionally, mental health professionals say the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Dr. Singletary believes we should add another one: normalizing the pain. What does this mean?

“By normalizing the pain, I mean understanding that the pain one might feel is not a function of loss but an indicator of the love that was/is present,” Dr. Singletary explains. “Moreover, it’s an understanding that pain is essential to life, while suffering, on the other hand, is a state of being.”

The pain you’re feeling is part of the process, which Dr. Singletary says will be a “lifelong journey that will get better as time passes.” Don’t shame yourself for your feelings, whatever they are.

Recognize unhealthy coping mechanisms

As you work through grief, you may start developing coping mechanisms that ultimately do more harm than good, such as drinking too much or binge eating. Dr. Lobel says these coping mechanisms — and the reasons behind them — are understandable. It’s not easy to deal with pain in a healthy way. It’s much easier to distract yourself with temporary feelings of euphoria from drugs, alcohol, or other risky behaviors.

However, Dr. Lobel says you’ll benefit from finding healthier ways to cope. Binge eating or drinking don’t make you feel great physically or mentally. You deserve to feel better, and a mental health provider like a grief counselor can help.

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Take action to work through grief

Your feelings are valid, and help is available. Try taking these few steps to come to terms with your loss and feel more emotionally safe and healthy.

Express your emotions

It’s difficult to give attention to grief sometimes but keeping things bottled up can hurt even more. Dr. Lobel says that not talking about your grief can actually make you feel more stressed, anxious, and sad. You should have a safe space to express your feelings, whatever they may be, and manage them.

She also emphasized that you should be able to express yourself in a judgment-free environment. There are a variety of resources available, and different people benefit from different methods. Some do well by using multiple coping mechanisms and forms of mental health help, including CBT, music therapy, group therapy, exercise, and journaling.

Overcome guilt

Perhaps you weren’t on good terms with a person you loved who died and wish you had more time to mend the relationship. Maybe you wish you spent longer on the phone with a parent the day before they passed. These feelings of guilt are painful to live with and may send you into a thought cycle of “would have,” “should have,” and “could have” statements.

These feelings aren’t just difficult to feel. They are hard to overcome. However, it’s not impossible.

Dr. Lobel says talk therapy can help you cope with reality and understand that there is no such thing as a perfect relationship, allowing you to move past this “could-have-should-have” mindset.

Set realistic goals to move forward

Though it may not be easy to see at times, there is a path forward. In fact, Dr. Lobel says that moving forward is often the most challenging part for people experiencing grief. That does not mean you forget the person you lost, though. Grief counseling can help you mourn your losses and move forward in a way that honors your loved one.

There’s no definitive solution for how to handle grief. Everyone mourns in different ways, at different times, and shares their grief with different people. Some may feel angry or guilty, while others experience depression and social isolation. If you need help processing your grief or are developing unhealthy coping strategies like binge eating or drinking, try reaching out to a therapist. A family member or your primary care physician may be able to provide a referral. You deserve to feel better and begin to honor the loss without forever living in grief.

BlissMark provides information regarding health, wellness, and beauty. The information within this article is not intended to be medical advice. Before starting any diet or exercise routine, consult your physician. If you don’t have a primary care physician, the United States Health & Human Services department has a free online tool that can help you locate a clinic in your area. We are not medical professionals, have not verified or vetted any programs, and in no way intend our content to be anything more than informative and inspiring.

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