Coping with Grief: How to Handle Your Emotions
Traumatic events are a shock to the mind and body, and lead to a variety of emotions.
Coping with grief takes time, help from others, and the knowledge that grieving isn’t easy.
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
Coping With Grief: The Range of Emotions
Grief doesn’t just happen after someone dies.
Any traumatic event, major life change, or significant loss — a rape, a divorce, even major financial losses — can cause grief. Throughout the grieving process, you may find yourself feeling:
Coping With Grief: Accepting It
“Don’t try to run away from it; rather, face it head on,” advises Sally R. Connolly, a social worker and therapist at the Couples Clinic of Louisville in Louisville, Ky. In more than 30 years of practice, Connolly has helped many individuals and couples deal with grief and various traumatic events.
“Acknowledge that something traumatic has happened and that it has had a profound effect on you,” Connolly advises. Give yourself time to grieve, but seek help when you need it.
Coping With Grief: Finding Help
You may want some time alone to process your thoughts and struggle with your grief, but it’s important to recognize when you need help from others.
“You might need more help if you find that, after some time, you are not able to get back to normal activities, you have trouble sleeping or eating, or have thoughts and feelings that interfere with everyday life,” says Connolly.
A grief counselor or other therapist may be able to help you cope with grief, and finally start to move past it. Getting your grief out in the open is an important first step.
“Talk about it with someone — a friend, family, a support group. Support groups can be wonderful,” Connolly says. There, you can relate to other people who understand your situation, and you can get advice on what helped them through their grief.
Of course, expressing your emotions doesn’t have to be done out loud. “Write about it,” suggests Connolly. Rather than allowing thoughts to swirl in your head, put them down on paper. This is a great way of getting out your feelings if you are shy or embarrassed about sharing them with another person.
Coping With Grief: Getting Closure
Closure is also an important part of coping with grief and may help you move through the grieving process.
“Depending on the event, developing a ritual to say farewell may be helpful. We have funerals when someone dies and they are a healthy step on the road to acceptance. Rituals can be helpful for other traumas as well,” Connolly says.
Coping With Grief: When Will I Feel Better?
There is no set timeline for grieving. And unfortunately, you may never completely get over your loss. But your loss shouldn’t keep you from enjoying life, even with occasional periods of sadness.
“Let yourself grieve as long as you need to. You do have to resume normal life, but know that it’s going to take a while,” says Connolly.
Look for small signs that you’re coping with grief and getting past it.
“Happy times signal that you’re progressing,” she says. When you realize that you aren’t always dwelling on the sadness or don’t think about it as frequently as you once did,”
If you deprive yourself of the grieving process, you may find that you have more difficulty accepting what has happened or that unresolved feelings and issue
Allow yourself to feel sad and even selfish; eventually you’ll find yourself feeling better a little bit at a time. Even though part of you may always feel sad about your loss, you’ll find yourself happy and laughing again one day.
Experts at the American Academy of Family Physicians note that emotional health is defined by how people handle difficult emotions.
For example, many of life’s challenges, such as the loss of a job or death of a family member, can leave us with a marked sense of sadness and even anger.
Doctors note that the expression of these feelings is critical to maintaining stability both physically and emotionally.
When we feel sad it important to express those feelings to others in appropriate ways or use activities such as meditation or exercise to release the built-up stress.
MIND BODY Connection
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, our bodies react to the way we feel. If we are sad or stressed about a situation, our bodies might respond with a variety of physical systems, such as headaches, difficulty sleeping, and weight loss or weight gain.
When we monitor our emotions and identify how we feel, we can choose effective tools to care for our health. When people do not acknowledge and work through emotions such as sadness, they can often develop unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as overeating or substance abuse to avoid the difficult feelings or to find a sense of comfort.
Coping with Sadness
Dr. Edward T. Creagan of the Mayo Clinic suggests that people take particular care of their health in the aftermath of a sad or upsetting event.
Eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, and talking to trusted friends or a counselor are all helpful tools for coping with sadness. When people use these methods for self-care, they often find that the period of sadness passes within a reasonable amount of time.
Sadness and Depression
When sadness is not expressed or processed in healthy ways, it often can lead to depression. The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that this is particularly common among people who use alcohol or drugs to cope with sad feelings.
Many of these substances depress the central nervous system and leave the individual feeling increasingly more depressed.
People having a particularly difficult time with persistent feelings of sadness should consider consulting a medical professional or therapist for additional support.
Treatment for Emotional Issues
People who struggle with healthy management of emotions often find that they benefit from counseling or support groups. Doctors at the American Academy of Family Physicians note that sadness, when not processed and communicated, can lead to destructive emotional patterns, such as anger management issues.
By working with professional counselors or peer support groups, people can learn to identify how they feel and how to cope in healthy ways.
- American Academy of Family Physicians: Mind/Body Connection: How Your Emotions Affect Your Health
- American Academy of Family Physicians: Mental Health: Keeping Your Emotional Health
- American Academy of Family Physicians: Grieving: Facing Illness, Death and Other Losses
- Mayo Clinic:Grief: A Mayo Clinic Doctor Confronts Painful Emotions
- Kidshealth: Why Am I So Sad?
Is Crying Healthy?
When emotions overtake you, crying can be a healthy emotional release. But not all environments are conducive to alleviating sadness or expressing relief.
The notion that big boys or big girls don’t cry is a persistent idea fed by popular sayings, but psychologists and researchers say that it’s just not so.
Shedding tears can be a huge and very healthy emotional release, particularly if you are experiencing deep pain, sadness, anger, or stress.
One study analyzed 140 years of popular articles about crying and found that more than 9 in 10 found tears to be a good way to release pent-up feelings.
An international sample of men and women from 30 countries found that most reported feeling relief after a good cry.
And about 70 percent of therapists say they believe crying is good for their patients.
Crying as Catharsis
The main benefit of crying is catharsis, or a purging or purification of your feelings through emotional release. When you cry, you can let go of the tension and sadness and other emotions that have been causing you pain.
In many ways, crying serves as a safety valve that allows you to blow off emotions that have built up too much pressure inside you.
It’s been difficult for researchers to figure out how this works. When tears are induced in a laboratory setting — for example, having subjects watch a sad movie — more often than not the participants report that they feel worse rather than better.
Despite this, people consistently report that a good cry makes them feel better. One recent study reviewing more than 3,000 detailed reports of recent crying episodes found that most people reported an improvement in their mood afterward.
Another study of 196 Dutch women found that nearly 9 in 10 said they felt better after crying.
Another benefit of crying is that it can bring people closer. An Israeli researcher studying the evolutionary aspects of crying has speculated that shedding tears communicates vulnerability to others, since the tears blur your vision and leaves you defenseless.
A person who cares for you while you are in this weakened state can grow closer to you, and the bond between the two of you may grow stronger.
Have a Healthy Cry
Research has found that for crying to improve emotional health, certain conditions need to be met:
- You should have a shoulder to cry on. People who receive social support while crying report more cathartic release than people who cry alone. Find a friend or loved one you trust.
- You should cry after you’ve solved the problem. People feel better when they cry about a problem that’s already been resolved. If you cry before you’ve dealt with the situation that’s making you feel like crying, you are likely to receive no benefit or actually make yourself feel worse rather than better.
- You need to make sure you’re crying in an appropriate place. People who experience shame or embarrassment while they cry are less likely to report an improvement of their mood. If you’re going to feel bad about crying in a public place or in front of certain people, you need to hold back your tears and go somewhere else.
- Crying likely won’t help you if you are living with a mood disorder. People who live with clinical depression or anxiety disorders are less likely to feel better after they have a good cry. If you find yourself feeling worse after crying, you should see a doctor or therapist to see if you have a mood disorder.
But if you can’t stop the tears from falling, go ahead and let it all out — the odds are you’ll feel better afterward.
- Emotions and Their Role in Your Health (medicalhcgelpaso.wordpress.com)
- Autoimmune Disorders and Emotional Health (everydayhealth.com)
- Effective Communication (mylittleblackpen.wordpress.com)
- Is Crying Healthy? (everydayhealth.com)
- Raising Emotionally Healthy Children (everydayhealth.com)
- How to Raise a Happy Baby and Child (mariadorfner.wordpress.com)
- The Physical Side of Stress (everydayhealth.com)
- Coping With Grief: How to Handle Your Emotions (everydayhealth.com)
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Pt 1 (carlarenee45.wordpress.com)
- When Life Gets You Down: Coping With Situational Depression (everydayhealth.com)
- Is Grief a Form of Depression? (theatlantic.com)
- Working through grief (pheonixalpha.wordpress.com)
- ~Grief~ (myodyssey8.wordpress.com)
- Q & A: Still Grieving??? (namasteconsultinginc.com)
- Help Kids Cope With a Grandparent’s Death (everydayhealth.com)
- Taking emotional inventory (iloveluci2.wordpress.com)
- The Grieving Process (storyimpactorg.wordpress.com)
- Grief & Coping (forcaregivers.wordpress.com)