A Guide to Coping with Grief-Related Stress
Death can happen anytime. When it does, no amount of planning can prepare you for the emotional, psychological, and even physical pain that comes with the passing of a loved one. Whether it is the loss of a friend, a distant relative, or a person near and dear to your heart, their absence can bring varying levels of stress.
While there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to coping with loss, there are ways that can help you process the experience. From learning to express yourself to trying a neurofeedback program for stress management, we share with you a simple guide to navigating the complex and often challenging journey to recovering from the loss of a loved one.
Grief and Stress
A report from the National Mental Health Association shares, “The loss of a loved one is life’s most stressful event.”
Losing someone you love can bring disorientation and stress. It doesn’t matter if you have expected it to happen, as in the case of long-term illness, or if it happened abruptly, such as in accidents. Regardless of the cause of death, its impact on the ones left behind can be wide and varied.
While each person who lost a loved one grieves in his or her way, there is one universal component that accompanies grief: stress. Elizabeth Harper Neeld, author of Seven Choices: Finding Daylight After Loss Shatters Your World, shares, “When the bonds we have with others are disturbed, at some deep level we fear for our very survival...Our brain has stimulated us to take action, but since we cannot undo the loss, there is no action we can take. We are, therefore, held taut. This means that our bodies are under enormous stress.”
This could be why some people who lost loved ones experience some form of emotional, psychological, or physical manifestation of grief. Anxiety or depression can sink in. Others experience chronic fatigue, intestinal upsets, loss of appetite, and sleep disturbances. Some people get sick because their immune system has been weakened, with new symptoms developing or existing illnesses worsening from the stress brought on by the loss.
Death deprives you of something that can impact your life, and while there is no single template for the best way to cope with it, there are steps you can take to transition to a place where you can somehow move forward. Here are five ways you can do to cope with the loss of a loved one:
1. Expect a Range of Emotions
Losing a loved one can bring on a deluge of emotions. Depending on the level of your relationship, you may experience a variety of feelings ranging from shock to despair. Other bereaved individuals also experience anger, confusion, denial, disbelief, guilt, or humiliation. Some feel extreme sadness or a deep yearning for the one who passed away.
Know that going through these emotions is normal. These are common reactions to losing a loved one. You may even experience drastic mood swings that may make you doubt your mental stability. There will be some days when it feels as if you are numb and oblivious to the pain. Some days, it may feel as if you’re sailing smoothly, while other days, you may feel like the waves of longing are crashing down on you.
2. Express Yourself
Allow yourself to feel these emotions. These are part of the journey to emotional healing. Some say there are stages to grief, although studies such as Alain Sauteraud’s “The Stages of Grief Do Not Exist,” disputes this theory. This is because of two primary reasons: first, emotional states related to grief are non-specific and variable. Another reason is that when these emotions do appear, their order can overlap, with some subsiding and returning spontaneously.
You can also try expressing your emotions through productive activities. Finding an outlet to be free to let out what you are bottling inside can be a healthy way to overcome grief. Some get comfort when they indulge in creative activities such as painting, playing an instrument, or molding a sculpture. Others expend pent-up emotions through sports such as boxing, running, or hiking. Keeping a journal, gardening, or finding a new hobby can also be ways to express yourself.
3. Take Care of Yourself
Dealing with loss is never easy. This is when it is doubly important to take care of yourself. For example, if you are a parent who lost a spouse, your first instinct may be to care for your child. However, you need to remember that you cannot pour from an empty cup. Therefore, you must take care of yourself before you can take care of others.
Indulge in some “me” time, go out with your closest friends, or spend time on prayer and meditation. Try your best to eat healthily, get enough sleep and rest, and squeeze in some exercise. Avoid turning to alcohol, drugs, or other vices that will harm instead of help you.
4. Seek Out a Support System
Another way to overcome the overwhelming emotions of grief is to surround yourself with a healthy support system. It doesn’t matter whether it’s two or 20 — having people who are kind, considerate, and understanding can be good for you.
It may be family, friends, or a group who are also going through a similar experience as you. What matters is that you seek out and open yourself up to caring people who can listen or offer words of comfort.
5. Get Professional Help
Grief is also considered an illness, especially if emotional and psychological manifestations become persistent and destructive and turn into “complicated grief.” Complicated grief goes beyond what is clinically accepted as “normal” when it comes to anxiety and mourning. People who experience this may question their deepest beliefs, feel distant or furiously hostile, or go to extreme lengths to avoid people or places that remind them of their deceased loved ones. They may even feel like life has lost its meaning.
When this happens, it is best to get professional help. There are psychologists, mental health professionals, and licensed grief counselors who can help you process your thoughts and feelings.
Others consider neurofeedback stress management programs to help train their brains to manage stress. This non-invasive stress treatment teaches the brain to self-regulate so an individual can function better behaviorally, cognitively, and emotionally.
The death of a loved one is one of the most trying times a person can go through. There is no go-to formula for getting over the loss, but thankfully, there are ways that you can explore to help you go through the process.
Moving forward may seem challenging at first. But with the right support system, healthy habits, and perhaps professional intervention, you can once again see and understand that life has plenty more to offer.
Dr. Upasana Gala is the founder and CEO of Evolve Brain Training, an award-winning neurofeedback-centered institute that focuses on using non-invasive brain training techniques to maximize the brain's true potential. Earning a doctorate in Neuroscience from the revered Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Gala has spent over a decade trying to unravel the way neurochemical and neurophysiological changes in the brain affect the way we interact with the world. Her goal is to share her knowledge, encourage others to tap into and expand their brain's capabilities, and dispel any myths surrounding our most complex organ.
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