How to Deal With Grief: A Therapist’s Guide

Published on: 23 Sep 2021
Clinically Reviewed by Bisma Anwar, LMHC
woman with her head in her hands sitting on the ground

Updated on 9/7/2022

When it comes down to it, grief is really just another word for love. And its effects can be every bit as consuming. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by feelings of significant loss and wondering how to manage them, it helps to learn more about the reality of living and coping with grief. But how do you deal with grief?

Part of gaining a fundamental understanding of grief includes learning about the grieving process. The good news is that while managing this complex and intense emotion is difficult, it is possible. Here, we’ll explore the grieving process in detail, and look at some of the best ways to cope with grief in a healthy, therapeutic way. 

Grief counseling can help.

Get help recovering after loss. Sign up for grief counseling today.

Read on for our guide to managing and overcoming intense grief.

Going Through the Grieving Process

Grief is defined as the natural response to losing someone or something that you deeply care for. While typically applied to a loved one’s death, you really can grieve losing anything you love. For instance, people often experience intense grief and emotional pain after a marriage ends, or they may wonder how to cope with grief after the loss of or retirement from a job. They may even grieve after a child goes to college. 

There are even more nuanced types of grief that you might be dealing with. The grief process is typically characterized by intense sadness, but grief can also appear as numbness or the feeling of being disconnected from the world. 

The Stages of Grief

There are five common stages of grief. It’s important to note that not everyone will have the same experiences, at the same time, in the same order, or to the same magnitude. People grieve in different ways. The key takeaway is recognizing that there are different stages of grief that’ll typically all need to be worked through. 

Knowing how to manage grief means you’re willing to work through each of the following stages: 

  • Denial: Particularly if it was unexpected, the first emotions after a significant loss are usually shock or surprise. A grieving person might feel that the traumatic event is really happening to someone else or that its consequences won’t be as severe as they actually are.
  • Anger: Despite what you may initially think about it, anger is actually a very healthy emotion. It can be leveraged to make positive changes in our lives and even in the larger world. However, anger as a response to things that are outside of our control can be toxic if we let it get out of control. Whether anger is expressed at higher power, a doctor, or even at a deceased friend, family, or loved one, it’s common to feel a range of strong feelings related to all the types of anger. This can include feelings like increased irritability all the way to out-and-out rage.
  • Bargaining: The bargaining stage will likely be an internal struggle. For instance, sometimes, we’ll try to “make a deal” with God. We’ll stop smoking if the ill person is just allowed to live. We’ll never do something again if we can just get them back. Bargaining can also be expressed outwardly, like offering more money to healthcare providers or lobbying for additional treatment.
  • Depression: Grief and depression often go hand in hand, and they can even be mistaken for one another. But it’s important to note that this type of grief-induced depression is not the same as being clinically depressed. While feelings of despair and sadness are common during this stage, the difference is that depression from grief is triggered by an event. It’s considered a natural step toward working through your intense feelings in a healthy way. The depression you may experience while grieving should eventually fade over time.
  • Acceptance: Acceptance finally comes when you’re able to think about a person or loss with a sense of finality and peace. It’s a way to embrace the situation without having the negative feelings that were associated with the first four stages.

Grief is undoubtedly one of the most difficult things in life to move past, but it can also symbolize a transformation for people. When you learn ways to cope with grief, you can come out on the other side.

“The stages of grief are not always linear, a person might find themselves going between different stages based on their emotions and thoughts. When they reach acceptance is when they finally find themselves at a place of understanding and peace.”

Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC

Handling the Symptoms of Grief

How you handle the symptoms of grief will have a direct impact on the outcome of the healing process. If your feelings of anger or depression aren’t effectively dealt with, it’s possible to get ‘stuck’ in a stage. 

Let’s look at some of the typical symptoms — both physical and mental — so you can learn how to cope with grief in a healthy way.

Physical symptoms of grief:

  • Tiredness or constant fatigue 
  • Weight gain or weight loss 
  • Bodily aches and pains 

Emotional symptoms of grief:

  • Guilt from failing to make amends 
  • Worry about what life will be like now
  • Feelings of helplessness over the situation 
  • Intrusive memories of what things used to be like 
  • Fantasizing about how things would be if the loss never occurred

A coping strategy for grief symptoms can include a variety of things, like changing your eating habits to challenging your thought processes. It’s critical to identify these symptoms as soon as possible, so you have a way to work through them. It might be easy to ignore minor back pain or attribute it to the box you moved last week when it’s actually a physical manifestation of your loss. 

Tips for Coping With Grief

Explore some simple tips that might help you learn how to manage grief. 

Don’t compare 

Coping with the mental and emotional symptoms of grief starts with understanding that your experience isn’t like anyone else’s. You can’t set a time limit on your grief experience, nor can you compare yourself to a friend or family member.

As long as you’re allowing yourself to work through the feelings, grief will lessen over time — you just can’t predict when that will be. Feeling bad about how long (or short) it’s taking you to grieve will only prolong the healing process. 

Set aside time to grieve

By doing this, you’re teaching your mind that there’s no need to run from uncomfortable feelings. Even though they hurt, you can survive this time. There’s something to that adage: what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

Avoidance and unresolved grief may appear to feel better in the short term (and may even be the only way to work through practical details of anticipatory or complicated grief), but it’s not a lasting solution. Eventually, you’ll need to allow yourself time to grieve and heal. Otherwise, your pain will manifest in other relationships and areas of your life.  

Build a support system 

When you’re learning how to manage acute grief, building a support system is a good idea. This could include seeking professional help for grief counseling or joining a grief support group. 

One important clarification to make here is that talking to people doesn’t necessarily mean you need to constantly focus on your loss. In fact, this can be helpful in your grief therapy techniques. While it’s important not to avoid or ignore it, you also don’t want to get sucked into an unhealthy pattern of obsessing over it. 

Focusing solely on the event in every conversation can be a hard habit to break. Instead, feel free to talk about other topics with loved ones or join a new club to meet new people if you need to. The help here comes from having a group around you who’ll be there for you (as you are for them). 

Seek grief counseling

Sometimes the pain of grief is too difficult to manage on our own. In-person or online grief counseling can help you understand your grief, work through the stages of healing, and learn tools to help you cope.

The ways of coping with grief that work for you will ultimately depend on everything from the extent of your loss to your mental health history. Whether you do it alone, or with the professional help of a grief counselor or therapist, a support group, or someone else, confronting your feelings is essential to get through your grief process. 

Sources:

HelpGuide. HelpGuide.org. HelpGuide.org. Published January 7, 2019. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief/coping-with-grief-and-loss.htm

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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