What are the 5 Stages of Grief?
Grief is a complex and such a personal experience, and we are often told that unfolds in stages. It’s important to remember that these stages are not linear and you can repeat a stage many times. It’s very personal and your experience will be different than someone else’s.
Sometimes having the words to describe what you’re feeling and having the outline of the stages can be helpful to identify what you’re feeling and can be useful ways to cope with loss and grief.
1. Denial: Denial is usually identified as the first stage of grief and it’s basically a sense of disbelief that you’ve experience a loss. It’s a mechanism that helps protect you from the overwhelming reality of what you are experiencing. It’s okay to not want to believe what is happening and questioned reality of the situation.
2. Anger: Anger is another stage where you start to accept the reality of what’s happening and it makes you very angry or enraged. This anger can sometimes be directed at yourself or others or the circumstances surrounding your loss. Anger is the normal part of the grieving process and processing your emotions but it’s important to find healthy ways to express your anger.
3. Bargaining: Bargaining is another stage, and this stage is where you start to question God, or a higher power, or the universe or whatever your belief system is about what could’ve been done differently, or if the outcome could’ve changed in some way and asking yourself all of the what if questions.
4. Depression: Depression is another stage, where the loss becomes more real, and you start to feel sadness and emptiness and despair. These feelings are natural however, if they continue to persist for a long time and really starts to affect your life you should consider seeking grief counseling can be one of the ways to cope with loss and grief.
5. Acceptance: Acceptance is sometimes considered as the last stage, however, it’s just a feeling of less pain as you go through your life on a daily basis. You don’t forget the loss, and the pain doesn’t disappear entirely, but you start to begin to experience joy again, and be able to integrate this loss into your life and finding ways to live with it.
The stages are not a roadmap to be followed, exactly, and can be very different for each person. The grieving never really goes away, but you can start to find ways to cope with loss and grief that is unique to you and your journey. Be gentle with yourself and seek support through friends, family or professional, as you navigate your grief.
Here are 10 ways to cope with loss and grief that you can do for yourself in your grief right now to help you take care of yourself.
1. Don’t tell yourself how you’re supposed to feel. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, your grieving process will be unique to you. The ways you cope with loss and grief will also be unique to you.
2. Take a walk every day alone or with someone else, whichever you’re comfortable with. Think about your loved one, cry, and experience nature and your surroundings. This is to symbolically and physically keep moving. We sometimes slowdown in our grief but we need to keep our body moving to keep moving emotionally. Grief and trauma can sometimes get stuck in our bodies and we need a way to release them and physical activity can be a great way to do that.
3. Acknowledge your pain. Recognize that grief can trigger many emotions in you. You may not have words to describe your feelings and that’s okay, recognizing that they exist and are a part of your experience is important.
4. Distract yourself. You can’t stay in that painful place every minute of every hour. If you want to run from the pain, that’s okay. As humans, we are predisposed to avoid pain because we want to survive. You can watch television or movies, play video games or even spend more time working, and that’s okay. You can’t focus on the pain all the time, your mind needs a break, just know it’s okay to distract yourself.
5. Do something nice for yourself. Do whatever it is for you that feels good for you, it could be getting a massage, playing golf, or eating your favorite food without guilt. Just do something nice for yourself and recognize that you’ve been through a lot.
6. Preserve your memories of your loved one. Do something to honor the person you love in a way that represents them. This could be writing a letter, telling stories about them, creating a memory board or box, planting a tree, honoring them by supporting a cause or charity of theirs, or starting a new tradition in their memory.
7. Name or list 3 things you were able to do today at the end of the day. It’s really hard to think of gratitude and do a gratitude list in the middle of grief, instead just try to name 3 things you were able to do today. It might be just getting out of bed, eating, or taking a shower. It’s just about what you were able to do today, and focusing on what you can do.
8. Try to maintain some of your hobbies and interests. Doing some of the activities that were a part of your life before can bring comfort.
9. Talk about your loss to someone else. Have a conversation with people you are connected to and ask them to listen and not to give solutions. Connecting to your community for support is an important part of taking care of yourself.
10. Join a support group to get additional support. You can also seek grief counseling. Having a safe space to explore those difficult feelings and figuring out ways to cope with loss and grief can be helpful.
Avoid drinking too much alcohol or using substances. It may feel good in the moment, but it won’t take away the loss you’re feeling.
These are just some ways to cope with loss and grief, but there are many others, and it’s important to find ways that connect to you and feel good to you while honoring your loved one.
Grief doesn’t go away and you don’t move on from it. Your life begins to grow around the grief and it feels less overwhelming over time.
Does grief ever go away?
We believe that grieving is never finished, we continue to grieve, however, the way we grieve is what changes over time. Our lives grow around grief and loss but it will always be there in some way and how we experience it as our life changes will change as well. It’s not a bad thing, we don’t want to forget the person, place, pet, or experience you lost. Instead, they will be a part of your life as you continue to grow and move forward.
It’s important to remember that there is also no set amount of time to grieve, don’t hold yourself to any timeline for grieving. Healing starts by taking care of yourself right now, and it will be an ongoing process throughout your life and it will change and look differently at different points in your life.
If you are currently working with a grief counselor, you can continue exploring how to integrate some of these ways to cope with loss and grief into your life.