Moving Forward After Experiencing Grief

Grief can affect anyone who has experienced any form of loss.

Two friends on a couch, one is consoling the other, dealing with grief, stages

Grief is one of those emotions that nobody wants to feel. But grief isn’t just something that comes from losing a loved one to death. In fact, although they might not realize it, a lot of people experience grief from any type of loss, including a lost job, a fractured relationship, or even just a sudden change or realizing that life hasn’t turned out like they once pictured. There is even such a thing as anticipatory grief, which is felt when you are uncertain of what the future holds.

Regardless of what kind of grief you are feeling, recovering from its heavy sting can be an uncomfortable and lonely experience. However, no matter the loss, there are steps you can take to promote healing and to start moving forward.

Understand the stages

Often recovery is discussed in stages, but it’s important to note that everyone experiences loss and grief differently.

• Denial. You might react without any feeling at all, or you may try to convince yourself that the loss isn’t painful or that it isn’t truly happening.

• Anger. This stage is often marked by feelings of bitterness toward other people, a higher power, and/or life in general.

• Bargaining. In this stage, you may have “what if…” and “If only I had …” thoughts.

• Depression. This is often the stage where sadness or an overwhelming sense of the loss occurs. During this stage, you might experience strong emotions or side effects such as crying, loss of sleep, or changes in appetite. It's also normal to feel lonely or overwhelmed.

• Acceptance. This is the final stage that everyone feeling grief must work toward—accepting that what happened can’t be changed. You still feel the pain of the loss, but you may be more accepting of the loss.

Related: How Emotions Can Affect Your Heart Health

Feel to heal

Grief is a difficult emotion to process, but feeling negative emotions can help you move on from them. It may help to name and recognize your feelings.

Meet your physical needs

Physical and mental health are very closely linked. While emotions may be fragile after a season of grief, taking care of yourself physically will be beneficial to your mental health. Try to be sure that you’re getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating nutritious foods. Keep up your good habits.

Don’t feel guilty

If you and someone else you know are grieving over loss, and they seem to have finally broken free of grief, don’t feel guilty if you’re still experiencing pain. And don’t let others tell you how you should be feeling. There is no timetable as to when you should be done grieving. It’s an individual process, so be patient with yourself.

Indulge in self-care

Read your favorite books, take bubble baths, or even take a hike up the nearest mountain to release frustration. It's also important to rely on supportive and loving people.

Fill time with good things

Trauma or loss can make you turn to unhealthy behaviors, such as alcohol and drug use, to cope. Although these things might help numb the pain temporarily, you don’t not want to put yourself at risk for addiction. Instead, choose to process your emotions in a healthy way. Try getting involved in a service project, creating a gratitude journal, or setting a fitness goal. If needed, you should never be afraid to see a therapist or counselor for guidance on ways to cope.

Find the hidden lessons

Just like in all challenges, there are lessons hidden in grief—some you can’t learn through other means. Looking back, you may see that loss can show you what is really important in life, it can teach you about hope and patience, it can help you find more purpose and self-compassion, and learn more about yourself.

Facing the world after grief takes courage. Often, you can look back and see how far you’ve come since experiencing loss. Grief can offer a whole new perspective on the meaning of life and can help you find and live by gratitude each day. Although the hole your loss may have left behind in your heart may never fully heal, know that through grief, you can become a more refined, knowledgeable, patient, and greater version of yourself as you choose to move forward. Don’t give up.

Related: Caring for Mental Health During Life Transitions

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