Feelings of grief and loss can arise through a wide variety of different life experiences, and these feelings can be difficult to process and manage. Generally, our society is uncomfortable with the idea of grief, and it can be challenging to know where to go for information or support when navigating these emotions. No matter the cause of your feelings of grief, know that it is a normal response to traumatic or difficult life events, and finding healthy ways to cope is possible.
Grieving is a process that changes over time - for some people, it gets easier as time goes on.
Some scholars have attempted to describe grieving using a set of stages. The most popular theory, developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, suggests that we experience grief in 5 stages:
Some people may find these stages helpful in understanding the grieving process, but there is no single “formula” for grieving. Your grieving process may have some things in common with the described stages, or possibly none at all.
When we think of grief, the first thing that may come to mind is grief that comes from the death of a loved one. While this is a very real type of grief, feelings of grief can emerge from any event that causes loss and results in significant life changes. For example, we may experience grief related to any of the following:
It is entirely valid to grieve any of the losses mentioned, or other kinds of losses that may not be listed. It is also possible to be affected by collective grief following a major traumatic event impacting an entire community through the death of a significant figure or through multiple deaths, such as war, violence, or a natural disaster. No matter the source or specifics, it is important to recognize what grief looks like, and when we may need additional skills or supports to care for our mental health.
Different people may experience grief in different ways. There is no right or wrong way to grieve - some possible reactions to grief and loss include:
If the stages of grief do not resonate with you, another helpful metaphor we can use to think about grief is the “grief iceberg.” The surface of the iceberg - the part that everyone else sees - is the “outer world” of our grief. However, beneath the surface, there is an even larger, deeper part of the iceberg – the things that only we can see, feel, and experience.
The outer world of our grief is what we choose to share with others. The extent of what we’re comfortable sharing can differ depending on who we’re with (i.e. we might be more comfortable discussing our loss with close friends and family rather than colleagues or neighbours). Because grief can be so personal, there may be parts that we don’t share (the “inner world” of our grief) - and that is totally okay!
In our society, not everyone has the skills to navigate the grief of others in healthy and respectful ways. People may have ideas about how grief should look (e.g. sobbing, constant anguish), how long it should last (months or years), or what’s appropriate to say to someone who’s grieving (like “It could have been worse,” “It’s for the best”). Some of these ideas and messages can be hurtful to people who are grieving, even if they’re well-intended. Remember that there is no wrong way to grieve, and you get to choose who you share your feelings with, and when.
Because managing grief and loss can be so painful, it’s important to have a toolkit of strategies to help us cope with grief in healthy ways.
Some of these strategies are things we can do on our own - for example, practicing mindfulness or meditation can be a helpful way to manage strong emotions. Practicing activities that we know bring us joy and a sense of peace, like listening to music, moving our body or watching a favourite TV show, are another important part of our grief toolkit. Sometimes, it can be cathartic to create rituals or take part in activities that honour our loss, such as writing about the loss, creating a memory book or photo album, or picking up a hobby that has significance to the loss.
Other strategies for coping with grief allow us to lean on others. Spending time connected with others, even if we don’t discuss the loss at all, can be a major source of comfort. Talking about our loss with a trusted friend or relative can also be healing - but finding support outside of our inner circle is an option too. Many support groups and in-person or online communities exist to help people navigate diverse types of loss from others who can relate. Individual or group counselling can be yet another helpful resource to seek support as we process and learn from grief and loss.
Most importantly, no one’s grief is exactly the same. What you experience and what you find to be helpful in managing it is unique to you - and it is always okay to ask for help.
References and External Links:
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- New to therapy? Here's your beginner guide - Starting therapy can evoke feelings of vulnerability, but knowing what to expect can help. The journey is individualized, with no exact right or wrong way. During the first session, typically administrative matters are discussed, goals are set, and you and your therapist will get to know each other. Fit between you and you therapist is very important for your outcomes, and it's okay to switch if the fit isn't right. Therapy is adjusted to your timeline and constraints, and can range from weekly to monthly sessions. Reflecting on what you wish to accomplish can guide the process.
Disclaimer: The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be considered healthcare or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult with a healthcare professional for appropriate support.