Coping with Grief and Loss

Understanding the Grieving Process and Learning to Heal

Coping with the loss of someone or something in your life can be very challenging. Often, the pain of loss can feel confusing, painful, and overwhelming. You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. The pain of grief can also disrupt your physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or even think straight. These are normal reactions to significant loss.

What is Grief?

Grief is a natural response to loss. It's the emotional suffering you feel when you lose something or someone in your life. The more significant the loss, the more intense your grief will be.

How to Cope with Grief

While experiencing loss is an inevitable part of life, there are ways to help cope with the pain and suffering you are experiencing.

  1. Acknowledge your pain.
  2. Accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions.
  3. Understand that your grieving process will be unique to you and to your relationship with what/who was lost.
  4. Seek out support from people who care about you and who you feel safe with.
  5. Support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically.

The Grieving Process

Grieving is a highly individual experience; there's no right or wrong way to grieve. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your beliefs, and how significant the loss was to you.

Inevitably, the grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can't be forced or hurried- and there is no "normal" timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years.
Whatever your grief experience, it's important to be patient with yourself and allow the
process to naturally unfold.

Whatever you are feeling in response to the loss, it may help to know that your reaction is natural. Not everyone who grieves goes through the well-known "stages of grief" and that's okay. Grief does not typically occur in a neat, sequential order, so don't worry about what you "should" be feeling or which "stage" you're supposed to be in. Whatever you are feeling is NORMAL and natural. Give yourself some compassion around whatever you are feeling, instead of judging yourself or worrying that you are "doing it wrong." There is NO WRONG WAY to grieve.

Grief can be a Roller Coaster

Instead of a series of stages, we might also think of the grieving process as a roller
coaster, full of ups and downs, highs and lows. Like many roller coasters, the ride
tends to be rougher in the beginning, the lows may be deeper and longer. The difficult
periods should become less intense and shorter as time goes by, but it takes time to
work through a loss.

Source: Hospice Foundation of America

Symptoms of Grief

While loss affects people in different ways, many of us experience the following symptoms when we're grieving. Just remember that almost anything that you experience in the early phases of grief is normal-including feeling like you're going crazy, feeling like you're in a bad dream, or questioning your beliefs.

Emotional Symptoms of Grief 

    • Shock, confusion, or disbelief
    • Sadness
    • Guilt
    • Anger
    • Fear
    • Anxiety, worry

Physical Symptoms of Grief

    • Fatigue
    • Nausea
    • Changes in appetite
    • Headaches and body aches
    • Changes in sleep patterns 
    • Increased susceptibility to illness

Seek Support for Grief and Loss

It is important that you find what works best for you as you begin processing and coping with the loss. Some people may prefer alone time, while others want and need face-to-face support. Find what is best for YOU. Most often, it is best to strike a balance between time alone and time with others.

Take Care of Yourself as you Grieve

When you're grieving, it's more important than ever to take care of yourself. The stress of a major loss can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time.

Most importantly, if you need additional support, please reach out.
There is support available for you.

If you are interested in exploring the services available at University of Nevada, Reno Counseling Services, you may visit our website, call the front desk at (775) 784-4648, or you may reach out to Rachel Ibaibarriaga, Psy.D. directly at racheliba@unr.edu.

Information provided above is based on information provided by HelpGuide.org

Additional Resources

Grief and Loss

Coping with Suicide

Supporting Someone Who is Grieving

Coping with Losing a Pet

Coping with a Break-Up or Divorce