Navigating Grief and Loss: A Journey of Healing
“We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world–the company of those who have known suffering.” - Helen Keller (1932)
Loss of what we value is a universal human experience; grief is a profound response to loss. Grief can be triggered by the death of a loved one, loss of a job, dissolved relationships, retirement and loss of career identity, or even loss of health. While grieving is a natural response to loss, people's coping can vary greatly. In this blog, we will explore the intricate nature of grief and coping strategies.
What is grief?
Grief refers to the powerful emotional and physical reaction to bereavement or significant loss (American Psychological Association [APA], 2022). Grief often includes physiological distress, anxiety, confusion, yearning, dwelling on the past, and apprehension about the future. Grief can also involve regret for something lost, guilt for something done, or sorrow for a mishap to oneself (APA, 2022). Other emotions experienced with grief and loss include denial, shock, anger, relief, or even emotional numbness (Healthdirect Australia, 2022).
While grief can be emotionally draining, behaviours and thought processes can also change when grieving. Some individuals experience difficulty concentrating or withdraw from previously enjoyed activities, while others turn to substance use (Healthdirect Australia, 2022). Grief can also take a toll on one’s immune system, making people more prone to fatigue, illnesses, headaches, and body aches (Healthdirect Australia, 2022). Unfortunately, grief can also become life-threatening through significant self-neglect (e.g., not eating, sleeping, or maintaining personal hygiene) or suicidal thoughts or behaviours (APA, 2022).
It is essential to remember that grief can look different for everyone, varying in intensity, length, and expression across individuals and cultures (Healthdirect Australia, 2022). Grief has also been referred to as a process or journey with no single pattern of grieving aligning with each person’s experience. For some, feelings associated with grief can be constant and overwhelming; for others, the grief can come in waves, fading away at times and returning later (Healthdirect Australia, 2022).
Just like there is no “right” way to grieve, there is no “right” way to cope or heal from loss. Instead, dealing with grief is a highly personal journey. However, some strategies might help individuals navigate their unique healing journey.
Allow yourself to grieve: Crying is natural and normal, and many people find it a relief. Others find it helpful to listen to music, write, and create art to explore and express their emotions. In other words, utilizing outlets for expressing your feelings can be healing. Also, time spent alone engaging in these activities can allow you to connect with your emotions. Often, thoroughly experiencing your feelings will help you eventually let them go.
Seek Support: While alone time allows us to connect with our feelings, seeking help and support from others is also essential. Reach out to friends, family, and support groups. Talking to people who care about you and whom you trust can be tremendously comforting.
Self-Care: Prioritizing your physical and emotional well-being is essential. Eating well, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and engaging in activities that bring you joy can be incredibly beneficial. Remember that prioritizing your self-care might involve saying “no” to other obligations, making prioritizing yourself challenging. However, self-care is essential.
Therapy: Consider seeking professional help from counsellors familiar with grief and loss. CBT and other therapy modalities can help people understand the impact of loss and provide valuable guidance and coping strategies. Therapy is also an excellent option when your social support is limited.
Time: Remember that grief is a process and not an event. Grieving and healing take time. Be patient and self-compassionate with yourself as you embark on this journey.
Meditation and Mindfulness: Mindfulness practices can help you stay present and attuned to the overwhelming, complex emotions often accompanying grief. Again, the more attuned you are to your feelings, the better you can improve them.
(Grief and Loss…, n.d.; headspace, n.d.; Healthdirect Australia, 2022; Sexton, 2019)
In conclusion, grief and loss are regarded as an inevitable part of the human experience. While the healing journey of grief and loss can be painful, it also provides an opportunity for growth, self-reflection, and deepening our understanding of life. If you are on a journey of healing from loss, remember that it is not about “getting over” the loss but instead learning to live with it. With time, support, and self-compassion, you can reach a place of acceptance and discover strength and resiliency in adversity.
If you would like to learn more about grief and loss, check out these American Psychological Association podcasts related to grief:
Speaking of Psychology: How grieving changes the brain, Mary-Frances O’Connor, PhD
Speaking of Psychology: Ambiguous loss and the “myth of closure,” with Pauline Boss, PhD Speaking of Psychology: Making talking about death easier, with Brian Carpenter, PhD
American Psychological Association. (2022, August). Grief. American Psychological
Grief and Loss. Weber State University: Counseling & Psychological Services Center. (n.d.).
Headspace: National Youth Mental Health Foundation. (n.d.). Dealing with grief and loss &
the effects on mental health. https://headspace.org.au/explore-topics/for-young-people/grief-and-loss/
Healthdirect Australia. (2022, April). Grief and loss. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/grief-
Keller, H. (1932). Peace at eventide. Methuen & Co.
Sexton, L. (2019, September 15). “Psychology works” fact sheet: Grief in adults. Canadian
Psychological Association. https://cpa.ca/psychology-works-fact-sheet-grief-in-adults/