How to Handle Grief

How to Handle Grief

It's a cliche, and a largely unhelpful one despite how unwaveringly true it is- death is a part of life.

It's easy to view death in that way, unattached until it's someone you love dearly who passes away.

If you've ever experienced the loss of a close loved one you know how devastating it can be.

I'm not going to pretend there's a shortcut or a few simple steps to overcoming grief.

Instead, this post will discuss how to handle grief in a realistic way; a way that may at least help things from being worse than they have to be.

Grief & Loss Therapists in Colorado

Arias Gonzales, MS, LPC

Arias Gonzales, MS, LPC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Jackie Erwin, LPC

Jackie Erwin, LPC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Janelle Wagenknecht, LPCC, ADDC

Janelle Wagenknecht, LPCC, ADDC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Deb Corbitt, LPC

Deb Corbitt, LPC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Winnie Siwa, LPCC

Winnie Siwa, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Sarah Tapia, LPCC

Sarah Tapia, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 602-1342
Brooke Moraski, LPCC, NCC

Brooke Moraski, LPCC, NCC

Colorado
(720) 449-4121
Vanessa Curran, LPCC

Vanessa Curran, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Heather Westbrook, LCSW

Heather Westbrook, LCSW

Pueblo, Colorado
(719) 696-3439
Rodney Collins, LMFT

Rodney Collins, LMFT

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 345-2424

Myths About Grief

In order to handle grief as best as possible it's important to address and dispel myths surrounding grief. 

The biggest myth, unfortunately, is that there are 5 stages of grief. 

It would be nice to have such a clear and concise map of grief, to know exactly where you are and how much further you have to go.

But, that's not how grief works.

It is natural to feel angry, to bargain, to deny at a certain level, and even to come to acceptance, but the majority of people don't actually experience all the stages, and some don't experience any. 

Another myth about grief is that there's an acceptable time frame for it.

Most cultures and societies push people to expedite the grieving process so it can feel like an expectation to "get over it" sooner rather than later.

In truth, grief never truly goes away, it only diminishes in intensity over time and through healthy processing.

So, how can you process this in a healthy way in order to better handle grief?

Conceptualizing the Experience

This is more simple than it sounds.

Taking from the above myth, it's unhelpful to conceptualize grief as a step-by-step process, a better way to conceptualize grief is as a wave.

Grief hits hard, then subsides, then hits again, then subsides, over and over, like the rolling of waves. 

If you conceptualize it in this way then you can learn to ride the wave as opposed to feeling powerless against it.

Nothing will stop the waves from coming, but allowing yourself to feel the intensity when it comes and follow it back down will certainly not make things worse than they have to be.

This requires courage.

It's not easy to sit with uncomfortable feelings- feelings of sadness, remorse, etc.

But if you can imagine that all those difficult emotions are a wave that will have a peak and then a decline, then you ride it out.

Over time those waves get small and smaller until eventually, the sea feels close to normal again.

Neuroscience of Loss

Recent neuroscience has discovered very important findings in researching grief.

The first thing to know that will help you handle grief is that it is good to lean into how attached you were to the person you lost.

Pretending they weren't as important as they were, trying to turn your emotions off, is the wrong direction.

Instead, studies show that focusing on how much they meant to you while avoiding counterfactual thinking is extremely healthy and helps the mind and heart heal.

Counterfactual thinking is thoughts that ignore reality and usually pop up as what-ifs; "what if I had acted sooner," "if she would have just said something," "I should've ..."

Thoughts such as those are quick to come to mind but ultimately destroy the positive image you have of that person and reduce your own self-image as well; it ignores reality and hurts you in the process.

Instead, orient yourself in the here and now, not thinking about how you would like things to be but acknowledging how they actually are, and focusing on the fullness of the connection you had to them.

When you think about someone, your brain interprets that as you interact with that person, and then it begins creating expectations of when you will see that person again.

Learn to recognize that expectation, ride that wave of emotions, and then alter the expectation by conforming your thoughts to reality. 

Give Yourself Time and Patience

Grief can be devastating.

There is no one-size fits all experience of grief- not in time and not in emotions.

Be kind to yourself, be patient with yourself, and give yourself time.

There is no fast-forward button, or "next episode" option.

Grief is something that must be gone through in its own time and pace.

If you are grieving, seek out counseling or grief groups and forums.

Connecting to a community is always beneficial and may help you handle grief.

Conclusion

Grief is complex and multifaceted.

There are many myths about grief, the biggest being that everyone goes through the same 5 stages.

Grief is experienced differently by everyone but there are things that can at least prevent things from being worse than they have to.

Conceptualizing grief as a wave that can be ridden through; understanding the neuroscience of grief; leaning into the connection you feel while staying in the here and now; and above all else showing yourself kindness and patience throughout your process.

There are grief counselors and groups dedicated to helping you feel a sense of community during your time of loss.

You are not alone, and now you have some direction to help you handle grief.

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April 17th, 2024

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