COPING WITH A LOSS: WHAT TO EXPECT AND HOW TO RECOVER
Going through the stages of grief can be one of the most mentally, spiritually and physically draining emotional experiences we go through as humans. The loss of a person, relationship or a significant aspect of your life can trigger feelings that are so powerful and overwhelming, you may not know how to cope with them.
Grief is a different process for everyone but it brings us to the core of human experience and makes us face our mortality and the inevitable losses that we experience throughout our lives.
Humans do not like to be in pain, whether that is emotional or physical. Coping with the emotions that come pouring in with a loss can lead you to respond in a variety of ways, some that may be unhealthy and stunt your ability to heal.
Avoiding the feelings of a loss by drinking, filling your schedule with activities or pretending to be "ok" all may work temporarily, and momentarily make you feel better, but in the long run, unresolved grief can lead to impairment in relationships, work, and functioning.
It is important to recognize the stages of grief and go through them at your own natural pace with the support of a professional, people that you love and healthy habits.
Here are some feelings that you may experience after a significant loss in your life:
Denial: Feeling like the loss didn't really happen is common and you may cycle in-and-out of denial multiple times during your grieving process. This is the stage when the reality of the loss is too painful to face because your body and mind are "shell shocked" and you are unable to face the gravity of the changes that are about to occur in your life. Denial is normal and it is important to bring awareness and acknowledge the moments that you noticed yourself entering this stage.
Bargaining: Thinking of all the "could have been's" and "what if's" about your actions or the situation. The internal back and forth and fantasizing ways the scenario could have played out differently can be extremely painful. It's important to remember the power that fantasy can have over us, it can often be more powerful than the ability to objectively see the reality of the situation. It is very easy to get stuck in this stage and act out in destructive ways. Bargaining allows us to hold onto the object or person that we lost and the possibility of things being different. If you are in this stage recognize the power of fantasy on your ability to move forward through and "let go."
Anger: Feeling anger at the person you lost, life or the situation is an important part of the grief process. Rage, feelings of hatred and thoughts of revenge may feel confusing and wrong- Especially if you are feeling them towards someone that you loved or care about. People often try to repress the feelings of anger and react to them destructive ways. Letting these feelings out is important, but it should be done in a way that is healthy and allows you to process the loss (e.g. writing a letter, boxing, running, journaling, etc). Anger is a powerful emotion and it is very easy to let it consume your ability to think rationally and not act on impulse. When you feel yourself getting angry, notice it and have a list of things you can do to cope with it.
Depression: This is the most difficult part of the grieving process and it can last for a long time. Depression brings forward feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness and physical symptoms such as trouble sleeping, lack of energy and changes in weight. Many people get stuck at this stage and can fall into a Major Depression. If you are feeling depressed, it is crucial to reach out to others for support to avoid isolation, take time for self-care and give yourself space to express your feelings of pain and sadness about the loss. The most important thing during this stage is self-compassion and creating space to take care of your mental, emotional and physical health.
Acceptance: The final stage of the grieving process is acceptance. This is when the loss is processed, accepted and integrated and you are able to find a "new normal." Though the loss may trigger feelings and memories of pain and sadness, they are no longer debilitating nor do they consume your thoughts. The loss becomes a part of your story but no longer defines the past, present or future and feelings of hope are slowly restored. A new way of life and possibilities become real. You take the positive things that you learned from all the pain and you become a stronger, wiser and more resilient person. Acceptance allows you to be the guide for others who will inevitably suffer losses in the future. You will be able to be a living example of the strength of the human experience. How powerful is that?
We are always surprised by the power of our internal strength and ability to heal from life's most brutal blows. These moments are the ones that give meaning to our lives and shape us into the people we are meant to be.
Keep pushing through... You are stronger than you can ever imagine.