Loss is a part of life. It may not be a part that we want to dwell on, but the fact is that dealing with grief and coming to terms with losing something or someone is a universal experience. A whole different variety of things can come under this dark banner – from losing a job, to the end of a long-term relationship, the death of a loved one, having to move house, children leaving home or even sometimes the loss of an imagined and hoped-for future.
Having the tools to cope with these circumstances when they hit is an important part of growth, but because of the taboo nature of our attitudes to dealing with these strong emotions, often we arrive in adulthood entirely unequipped when something does hit us. This leads to a feeling of helplessness, right at a time when our lives have already been turned upside down. If we don’t guard against it, we can get into negative spirals of thought and then it becomes even harder to find a way out. We all know the classic cycles of denial, anger, sadness and final acceptance, but many become almost frozen in one particular place as they simply don’t understand how to process their feelings and move on.
Being able to bounce back from a significant emotional setback is essential for our mental wellbeing. It may take time, but you can find your way back to a balanced state of being with the right toolkit at your disposal.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
Some of the emotions we have when we experience a major loss are complex and unpalatable. They seem too enormous to deal with and with our busy lives rushing on, often it can feel easier to just push the messy raw feelings to one side rather than meeting them head on. People go to great lengths to repress or avoid feelings that aren’t comfortable or that they don’t know how to deal with. So the first step is really to give yourself permission to feel however you feel. There’s no one size fits all here – you may feel a range of emotions, sometimes all at once. And each person has an emotional style – from those who want to talk about things to others who prefer to process grief on their own. However you experience that loss is valid. There’s also no finite timeline on how you feel. You may regain your balance in a few months, while others will take years to come to terms with it. There’s no rushing the process of grief, so don’t place added restrictions on ‘when’ you should feel better. Pressure is a bad idea at this point – you need to treat yourself like a best friend.
Make The Physical Connection
It’s easy to think that these intense emotions only exist within our minds. But in fact, loss can have a significant physical impact too. Far from being an abstract thought, grief is highly physical for a lot of people. The brain releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in response to the extreme stress of loss, and this can lead to physical problems – from extremely low energy to insomnia, adrenal fatigue, digestion issues and other problems. So it’s important to pay attention to your physical wellbeing as well. Make sure you’re looking after yourself by eating regularly and opting for simple, healthy recipes, taking some gentle exercise and staying hydrated. These may seem unimportant in the face of what you are dealing with, but they are the pillars that will support your health at this difficult time.
Keep The Connection
Depending on the nature of your loss, it may feel very sudden, and that fact can make it harder to accept the situation and move on. It can leave us feeling as if too much has been left unsaid, and rob us of the opportunity for closure. It may be necessary to find some actions that keep you connected while you process the loss. Some people find a lot of healing in writing letters or keeping a journal describing how they feel and the emotional impact of their loss. You don’t have to share these with anyone, it’s more about the process of writing down what you feel, which helps the brain to navigate and accept the loss. Other people find that making practical arrangements can help them, such as planning a funeral in the case of a bereavement – detailed tributes such as selecting the perfect readings and pieces of music or finding urns for the cremation ashes of two people, or perhaps the perfect inscription for a headstone. The process of these actions as well as adding in your own time and care can bring you slowly closer to a place of acceptance. This can also be translated to other circumstances of loss – it’s all about finding the practical things you can do to help you process the mental impact of events.
Sometimes it’s enough to turn to supportive friends and family to share your feelings. At other times you may need something more structured or with some professional guidance. There are plenty of organisations out there which provide support to bereaved relatives and friends. If there’s no one close to you that you feel willing to talk to about the situation, it can often be easier to address your feelings through a bereavement support group. These provide a very non-judgmental environment that can help you to feel a little less alone in the face of your loss. For other forms of loss counselling can be very helpful, or even simply using an online forum geared to your particular circumstances to find advice and support. Get from the eye of the storm before making any irrevocable choices.
Understand It’s a Process
The loss of someone close to you, a job you loved, or a relationship you thought was your future is not something you should expect to ‘get over’. Rather, grief is a fluid state that transforms over time, ebbing and peaking in response to other factors in your life. Crying is the body’s natural reaction to stress, so if you feel like crying don’t attempt to hold back. Treat each day as a new one, and gradually you’ll begin to focus more on today and less on what has happened. The pain dulls and becomes more familiar over time, and eventually, you will be able to see beyond it, even if you always carry it with you. A call to the Samaritans can be invaluable in times of emotional stress, so don’t be afraid to seek the support you need.