Working Through Grief
Understanding the Healing Process
- What if grief?
- Normal Cycle of Loss
- Healing Process
- Unresolved/Complicated Grief
- Resources at UNH
- Download Grief Brochure
- Working Through Grief (Slideshare Presentation)
What is Grief?
Grief is a natural and normal reaction to any kind of loss. Some examples of loss include, but are not limited to:
- Loss of a job or other important endeavor
- Death of someone you love
- Ending of an important relationship
Grief can create a variety of emotions that can range from deep sadness to anger. Some of these feelings may be new to you. Accepting and acknowledging that these are normal reactions in grieving is one of the first steps in healing from a loss.
The Normal Cycle for all Losses
Everyone goes through a normal cycle of grief when dealing with a loss. Although the cycle of grief is universal, individual grief is not. We each grieve in our own way and enter each stage at our own pace. Some of us even visit one stage more than once. To begin to heal from a loss, it is important to understand the stages of feelings you will experience. Remember, all these feelings are normal.
Denial, Shock & Disbelief
This is a typical first reaction after a loss. It's nature's way of protecting you from the impact of the loss for awhile. You may:
- Have trouble believing the loss is real
- Feel numb
- Have a sense of being in a dream
- Keep expecting the loss to come back, even though your rational mind knows it wont
Anger or Resentment
This is a very common stage. Even if there is no one to blame for the loss. You may:
- Feel like a great injustice has been done
- Be angry at others
- Be angry at your god
- Resent the person you have lost for leaving you alone
It's normal to regret things you did or didn't say, do or feel. Some people may regret or feel guilty for:
- Not being there to say goodbye
- Being relieved that the person is gone
- Having arguments with the loved one when they were still in your life
Loss can cause one to feel anxious, helpless, and extremely sad. It's common to feel:
- Unable to handle new responsibilities
- Fears about your own death
- Afraid to face life without the person you lost
- Like there is a hole in the center of your life
- A deep yearning for something more
- Like you are reliving all the other sadness you've had in your life
Acceptance, Hope & Personal Growth
In time, the future begins to look hopeful, even though you may still feel pain for your loss. Working through grief may give you new strengths and insight. You may:
- Feel that you have more empathy for others
- Have new confidence in yourself
- Want to explore new interests and relationships
- Have a greater understanding of what is important to you
The Healing Process
Allow Yourself to Grieve
There's no right or wrong way to feel or think about loss. Allow your feelings and thoughts to be what they are and don't be pressured by others' ideas of how you "should" or "have to" be. Crying, talking, writing or doing physical activities are all great ways to express your feelings and thoughts.
You may experience physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral reactions as you grieve. Some examples include fatigue, inability to concentrate, feeling overwhelmed, over or under eating, or withdrawal from others. These reactions are normal and will be determined by how you take care of yourself, the support system you have in place and the relationship you had with the person or thing you have lost.
Take Care Of Your Health
Grief can put a lot of stress on your body. You need to take extra care during this time to keep yourself healthy.
- Eat a health and balanced diet - choose a variety of fruits, vegetables and grains. Limit saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugars and drink plenty of water.
- Get regular physical activity - get your body moving at least 30 minutes every day.
- Get enough sleep.
- Manage stress - set aside quite time for yourself, learn relaxation techniques such as meditation, reach out to your friends for extra support.
- Avoid the use of alcohol and other drugs. Alcohol is a depressant and can make you feel more depressed after a night of drinking than you had the day before.
Reach Out To People You Trust
This is the time to lean on friends, family, counselors and other supportive people who accept your feelings and thoughts, no matter what they are. Often, people want to help but don't know how. Try simply telling them what you need.
If you need more support outside of family and friends you may speak to a professional at the UNH Counseling Center or other campus resources.
Write to Heal
Writing is a safe way to let out your feelings and thoughts. It can also be a way to say goodbye. You might feel sad when you write but you may also gain insight and a sense of relief.
- Try keeping a journal. Spelling and grammar don't matter, a few minutes is all you need and you don't have to be a writer.
- Write about what you are feeling, don't hold back, write everything that comes to mind. The journal is private and only for you.
- Write a letter to the person you lost or anyone else.
- Write about your special memories, look for photos or mementos that can help you recall the details.
- If you can't write, try drawing, painting or creating a collage.
Sometimes people are unable to accept loss or to experience some of the emotions connected with loss. This is often called unresolved or complicated grief. Symptoms include:
- Over an extended amount of time the person seems unable to move through the normal stages of grief.
- Prolonged physical difficulties such as loss of appetite, insomnia, fatigue, agitation, listlessness, loss of interest, or difficulty concentrating.
- Unreasonable or chronic guilt or thoughts of suicide.
People with "normal" grief may also experience these reactions. But the reactions don't tend to interfere with life as much or as long. Unresolved/complicated grief is similar to depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Counseling Center offers counseling to help resolve complicated grief.
Resources at UNH
There are many healthy ways to cope with grief. You can find ways that work for you. Know that there's plenty of resources at UNH if you need assistance.
Individual counseling and support groups.
Office of Health Education and Promotion, Health Services
Individual stress management, meditation, biofeedback counseling and education.
Consultations with a medical clinician about your health
Resource Library, Health Services
Books, DVDs and audios on a variety of health topics, including loss and grief. Library available for personal and research use for UNH Students, faculty and staff.
United Campus Ministry
Spiritual guidance, individual counseling, assistance finding additional spirituality support in the community.
Download Grief Brochure
View more presentations from University of New Hampshire Health Services. This text is adaped from the following sources: Self-Care Handbook: Working Through Grief by Channing Bete Company, 2005 When You Lose Someone You Love by ACHA, 1984 Group Exercises for Adolescents, A Manual for Therapists, 2nd Edition, by Susan Carrell