The death of a loved one or the loss of something dear to us can cause tremendous sadness and grief. Grief is not a one-size-fits-all experience, and it can take many forms. Sudden loss, expected loss, and anticipatory grief are all common experiences that people face when dealing with bereavement. It is important to understand that your healing process will look different from someone else's and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. The five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance - are a common pathway through the grieving process, and recognising each stage could help you understand how you may feel during this difficult time in your life.
Experiencing grief and loss is a difficult process. It can be overwhelming and hard to navigate, especially if you are struggling with emotions like sadness, anger, or guilt. Understanding your feelings is an important part of the healing process and coming to terms with your loss.
Let’s explore different types of grief, the five stages we typically go through during hard times, how to cope with these emotions in healthy ways, as well as tips for self-care. Lastly, we will look at how to reach out for support when needed.
The 5 Stages of Grief
Grief can be sudden or expected. Someone may feel sudden grief when mourning a person who died, or the death of a pet. Conversely, someone might experience expected grief if they have been caring for a loved one who has been terminally ill for an extended period of time before passing away. In both cases, it’s important to remember that there is no “right” way to grieve and everyone will experience it differently. There is a commonly recognised pathway through grief, referred to as the five stages of grief, although you may not experience every stage.
Grief can have a heavy toll on both physical and mental well-being. Its symptoms are vast in range and grief may feel like numbness, chest tightness, dizziness or exhaustion. They may manifest differently for each person, but all of them represent the heart's effort to process and cope with the intense emotions it is feeling. It is common to feel numb like there is nothing left in life that could bring joy or provide hope. While numbness provides a kind of protection from emotional pain that may also feel unbearable at times, finding comfort when feeling numb can be challenging, too. You don't need to go through this alone - it can be incredibly helpful to seek out professional support and resources to help you through these difficult times.
Grieving is a complex process that often involves five distinct stages.
What are the 5 stages of grief?
Denial - An almost automatic reaction to a traumatic loss or change in the early stages of grief and it provides us with time and space to process the intensity of our emotions. Denying the reality of a difficult situation grants us a much-needed reprieve from the pain and allows us to form strategies for how to proceed with our lives.
Anger - A normal and expected stage of grief is to feel angry. While it can be an uncomfortable emotion to confront, it is helpful to acknowledge that following a loss, at this point in the grieving process, anger is a valid feeling.
Bargaining - Often a natural part of the grief journey, as people become desperate to turn back the clock. On one hand, we are desperate for things to return to the way they were before, while simultaneously having difficulty accepting our current reality. We may want answers, but in times of loss, those answers can be hard to find.
Depression - It is normal to feel overwhelmed by despair during this stage and it is important to remember that everyone experiences sadness differently. While everyone has their own set of triggers and symptoms, depression can involve a lengthy absence of hope, withdrawal from activities, rumination over certain feelings or memories, and changes in sleeping or eating patterns as the reality of your loss sets in.
Acceptance - The fifth and final stage as you start to accept the loss of someone you love. For many, this stage can be difficult to achieve as it means coming to terms with or making peace with a great loss. It's important to remember that when you start to feel acceptance, it doesn't mean forgetting or becoming comfortable with what has been lost; instead, it means acknowledging the situation and finding ways to move forward in the face of the pain of loss.
As outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, following the loss of someone, you may go through all five stages in this order or skip some altogether; some may fluctuate between the different stages over time or stay stuck in one stage for an extended period of time. It’s important to remember that these emotions are normal and part of the healing process so try not to judge yourself too harshly if these feelings linger on longer than expected.
How To Cope With Common Feelings During Grief and Loss
It can be hard to find the motivation to care for yourself through the grieving process, but taking small steps towards self-care can help you in coping with grief. Practising mindfulness exercises such as deep breathing or meditation can help reduce stress levels and allow some peace of mind during this trying period in your life. Exercise is also an important part of self-care. Physical activity releases endorphins which can help combat the negative thoughts or feelings that you are experiencing. It is important to eat healthy meals when possible, nourishing your body will provide energy for healthier coping mechanisms as well as support your overall physical health.
It can be difficult to process intense emotions such as sadness or anger, and various feelings may come and go as you move from one stage to another. There's no right or wrong way to process what has happened, but here are seven self-care tips that may help during this time:
Expressing your feelings through writing
Writing can be a helpful way to cope with emotions during this tough time, providing an outlet for you to explore your thoughts and feelings in a safe space. Using pen and paper allows us the freedom to express ourselves without fear of judgment or interruption. It's like having a personal confidant who understands our grief completely. Even if you don't know where to start, writing without any intention of 'right' or 'wrong' is enough to start releasing some of the pressure that comes with immense sorrow.
Engaging in physical activities such as walking or yoga
One way to manage difficult emotions during this time is to engage in physical activities such as walking or yoga. Not only do these activities provide a distraction from stressful thoughts, but they also release endorphins that can help alleviate feelings of sadness or anger. Light exercise can be an effective tool for releasing pent-up energy associated with heavy emotions, which can help reduce stress levels and build resilience.
Talking with friends or family members about your experiences
It's okay to lean on those closest to you when you are going through the grieving process. Loss and sadness can feel like a crushing, lonely experience but talking to loved ones about your experiences can provide comfort and support. When sharing with friends or family members, it is important to keep in mind that other people may grieve differently than you do - remember that their journey is unique and valid as well. Practising compassion towards those who are supporting you - and yourself - while going through this painful time can be beneficial to both the listener and the speaker. It is also good to be mindful of how much a loved one can take as they try to support your healing process. If necessary, consider speaking with a professional counsellor or therapist.
Attending support groups or counselling sessions
Grieving can be a daunting process, leaving you feeling an array of intense emotions. But it is possible to manage these feelings and cope with loss. Attending support or counselling sessions with a professional counsellor can provide invaluable assistance along your journey towards healing, by equipping you with tools to help you navigate the ups and downs of grief. Through professional guidance and support, you can nurture yourself as best as possible despite all the obstacles life throws your way.
Practising mindfulness meditation
This can be a powerful way to cope with the emotions associated with the symptoms of grief. It helps you to observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment, letting you honour yourself and your experiences as they come. By concentrating on the present rather than worrying about the past or insecurities of the future, you can begin to recognise which emotions require further attention while still holding space for each emotion that is present within you. As difficult as it can be, mindfulness meditation can help make it easier to face these challenging experiences.
Taking breaks from social media
When grieving or coping with loss, it can be helpful to take breaks from social media. It's normal to feel like staying connected can be comforting, but the emotionally charged content on social media platforms can actually increase negative emotions and intensify feelings of distress. While everyone's social media use looks different and other factors play into how we process our emotions, taking intentional time away from these digital spaces may prove beneficial for your mental health and emotional well-being. This break allows you to focus more attention on yourself, take care of your needs, and process your loss in a healthy way.
Creating art projects such as painting or drawing
Creating art projects such as painting or drawing can be a great way to cope. Art is a powerful tool that can help to make sense of complex feelings like grief. Through creative expression, you can honour the memory of what has been lost while processing your sadness in a safe and constructive way. If you’re new to art projects, it’s OK to start small - try drawing simple shapes with coloured pencils or splashing some paint on paper - the process should feel freeing rather than stressful. Expressing yourself through art can become an important part of the healing journey and help find room for hope even within sorrow.
Getting Support During the Grieving Process
Whichever techniques you try, allowing yourself space and time to heal is essential during this difficult process. Grief is a natural reaction and reaching out for professional help is encouraged if needed. At Talens Health Support Services, we provide counselling and therapy sessions tailored specifically for those grappling with bereavement. Our experienced counsellors will listen patiently and provide guidance, perspective, empathy and understanding throughout each session. We will work together to find ways in which you can use healthy coping strategies while still honouring your own personal journey towards healing. Your first session is always free, so you can connect with a professional and find out if counselling might be beneficial for you.
A trained counsellor or therapist may offer techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which helps identify patterns of thinking that may lead to unhelpful behaviours or emotions. Help and guidance from a trained counsellor could be beneficial for those who want additional support during their grieving process.
About Talens Health Support Services
Talens Health Support Services seeks to make accessing quality counselling and mental health support convenient, accessible, and comfortable for all. Our team of BACP registered counsellors and psychotherapists strive to ensure that your experience with us is one of comfort, understanding and caring. We understand that getting the help you need can often feel overwhelming and intimidating, so we work to provide a safe space for you to trust in our counsellors and express any worries or concerns in a confidential setting. We are here for you - to listen, understand, empathise and support your journey in the most compassionate way possible.