Dealing with Grief: A Step-by-Step Guide for Emotional Healing After the Unexpected Death of a Loved One
August 10, 2022 | Sagi Shaked
Grief is a natural process that the brain uses to heal after a loss. You likely experience grief after losing someone close to you. You may even experience grief after losing part of yourself to amputation.
The way you deal with grief can help you through the process. At the same time, everyone has a unique grieving process, and people deal with loss in different ways.
Read on to learn some tips for dealing with grief after the unexpected death of a loved one.
How Grief Affects You
Grief is the intense reaction you have to a loss. Grief can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotional, physical, and cognitive health.
Grief causes stress, which, in turn, causes the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are intended to prime your body for fight or flight, so they increase your blood pressure and alertness.
As a result of these physical changes, you might experience symptoms such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Chest pain
- Muscle soreness
- Insomnia or fatigue
- Getting sick more often
You may also experience cognitive symptoms from these physical changes. You might have difficulty concentrating or solving problems. Your judgment might suffer. And you might develop memory trouble.
But the most significant effects of grief are emotional.
Some emotional difficulties you might experience while you grieve include:
- Uncontrolled emotions
- Aversion and avoidance
In normal grief, these symptoms come in waves. If you experience constant symptoms, you should consult a doctor. You might have complicated grief, a severe form of grief related to a major depressive disorder.
Step-by-Step Guide for Dealing with Grief
Everyone deals with grief differently. Some people process grief quickly and privately. Others need the support of those around them and slowly process their emotions.
Below are some general steps that can help you deal with grief.
Be Prepared to Face Grief
After you lose a loved one, you will grieve. Accept that grief will happen and allow yourself to experience your feelings.
Bottling up your emotions can cause you to express them in unproductive or destructive ways. Angry outbursts, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse can result from unprocessed grief.
Instead, allow yourself to feel your emotions. Even though they seem very powerful at the start, they will lessen with time. This signifies that your mind is coping with the loss, and it can limit the risk that your grief comes out in negative ways.
Get Help If You Need It
You do not need to feel embarrassed or ashamed for seeking help. Talking through your grief can help you process it.
Some possible sources of assistance can include:
- Grief counselors
- Support groups
Not everyone will have the skills and knowledge to help you. If you can’t get help from one source, keep looking. The fact that you’ve acknowledged your need for help means you understand that you can get through your loss if you find the right formula for you.
Mourn Your Loss
Everyone experiences loss differently. And everyone handles mourning in their unique way. But you should not skip the mourning process. It helps your mind accept the loss and prepares you to move on.
Many people fear mourning. Some think that remembering their loss will intensify their grief. Many people also feel that mourning brings about the end of a relationship they are not prepared to give up.
But mourning, particularly religious and cultural rituals, brings together people who share the same loss. Mourning can help you honor your loved one’s memory in a respectful and culturally appropriate way. And in doing so, mourning can prepare you to accept what happened.
Take Care of Yourself
Grief can cause you to neglect self-care. Some of this happens due to physical changes in your body when you experience stress.
You could forget to eat because you have no appetite. You might experience sleeplessness or, on the other end of the spectrum, debilitating fatigue. You might lose the motivation to do the things you enjoy, like exercising or engaging in hobbies.
But you need to make an effort to care for yourself. Grief suppresses your immune system and triggers inflammation. If you don’t watch your health, you might get sick.
Make sure you eat, sleep, and follow your normal routine as much as possible. While you will experience disruptions in your life due to the emotions you need to process, taking care of yourself will help you avoid a downward spiral.
Accept the Move Forward
Early on, the idea of moving forward seems premature or even disrespectful. Many people fear that moving forward means forgetting about their loved ones or leaving them behind.
But over time, you need to accept that you will inevitably move forward with your life. And you can do this while still honoring your loved one’s memory. As time goes on, it will become less painful to encounter reminders of your loved one. Photos and stories will become a way to celebrate them rather than a reminder of your pain.
Moving on with your life will help you avoid getting stuck with ruminating thoughts and a depressed mood. While it may seem cliche, your loved one would want you to live your life and move forward.
Honor Your Loved One’s Life
Honoring your loved one’s life can help you turn your grief into something positive.
You can honor your loved one in many ways, including:
- Donating to a charity in their name
- Supporting a cause close to them
- Planting a tree or building something in their honor
Another way you can honor their life is to pursue justice for their death. If your loved one died because of someone else’s negligence, a wrongful death lawsuit can bring you a sense of justice and closure.