Coping with Grief and Loss

What is Grief?

Grief is a painful but natural response to loss. We typically think of grief as related to the loss of a loved one, but grief can result from the loss of anything a person values. For example, the loss of a friendship or relationship, goal, job, or situation- such as when you graduate from college.

Everyone reacts to grief differently. There is no one-way or right or wrong way to grieve and there is no schedule or deadline for the resolution of or recovery from loss. Everybody grieves and incorporates the experience of loss in his or her own way.

Although everyone reacts to loss differently, people often begin coping with grief by moving through the following stages:

  • Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
  • Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
  • Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
  • Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
  • Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.”

Common Reactions to Grief:

Emotional Reactions:

Physical Reactions:

  • Disbelief, shock, or emotional numbness
  • Anger, feeling powerless or that the loss was unfair
  • Remorse or guilt especially if one feels they should have  .
    prevented the loss or believe they contributed to it
  • Sadness or depressed mood
  • Desperate, panicked, anxious, or overwhelmed
  • Loneliness
  • Tearfulness or crying
  • Relief
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Muscle Tension
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Changes in Appetite
  • Exaggerated Startle Response.

**If any of the above physical reactions persist for an unusual amount of time please consult with a health professional.

Changes in Behavior:

 Changes in Thinking:

  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Preoccupation with the deceased / clinging to memories
    or possessions
  • Avoidance
  • Increased use of alcohol or other substances
  • Changes in activity level
  • Increased irritability
  • Poor concentration
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness
  • Feelings of unreality or feeling
    “out of it”

Care For Yourself Emotionally. Give yourself permission to grieve. Allow quiet time alone to reflect and experience your thoughts and feelings.  Allow time to heal without setting unrealistic goals and deadlines. If possible, delay making major life decisions while you are grieving.  Care For Yourself Physically. Get enough sleep and exercise, and eat healthy. Tips to Manage Grief:

  1. Take care of your emotions, express your feelings.Express Your Feelings. Allow opportunities to express the full range of your emotions. This includes sadness, but also perhaps fear, guilt, anger, resentment, and relief. Allow yourself to cry and laugh, keep a journal, read, write poetry, and/or listen to music. Avoiding feelings or emotions through excessive activity, denial, or abuse of substances only prolongs the pain of grief.
  2. Say Goodbye. Depending on your cultural background, this is often done through ceremonies or rituals such as a funeral or memorial service and can help you acknowledge the pain of the loss while also providing social support.
  3. Seek Support. Gathering and using social support is essential. Support from others reduces isolation and loneliness, and can provide a sense of security and safety. Talk with your friends openly about your loss and let them know what you need, what helps you and what does not. If religion or spirituality are important to you, talk to a spiritual advisor. Consider joining a support group for people who have also experienced loss or talk to a friend that has dealt with loss in the past. This can help you identify healthy ways of coping.
  4. Consider seeking professional help, especially if the grief is impairing your ability to function in everyday life, school, or work.

How to Help a Friend:

  1. Be available. Call, stop by to talk, share a meal or activity together. Your presence and companionship are important not just immediately after the loss, but later when grief is still intense but when others have resumed their daily lives and support may dwindle. Listening is a great way to be a resource for a friend in need.
  2. Listen. Don’t feel like you need to offer advice, just listening alone can be very powerful and comforting. Do not try to offer false cheer, minimize the loss, or express that you know exactly how your friend feels.  Try to talk openly about the loss, unless your friend indicates they are not ready to do so.
  3. Be patient and let your friend grieve. Realize that your friend has their own unique way of grieving. Acknowledge the pain. Telling the person that they must be strong or that they should be happy with what they have invalidates the person’s reaction and can leave them feeling ashamed
  4. Encourage self-care. Encourage your friend to care for himself or herself physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially.
  5. Accept your limitations. Accept that you cannot eliminate the pain your friend is experiencing. Grief is a natural, expected response to loss and each person must work through it in his or her own way and pace. Be supportive but care for yourself too.

Signs You or a Friend Should Seek Additional Support:

Many students who are dealing with grief may find it difficult to get themselves going and find it helpful to talk with a counselor to get the support they need to move past their “stuck” point. If you are grieving and are having trouble sleeping or eating, if you feel overwhelmed, or you are having thoughts of suicide or contemplating any type of self-harm, seek help immediately.

The Counseling Center is open Monday – Friday (8:30am-5pm) with extended hours until 6pm on Wednesday. You may also call us at (619) 260-4655.

University Ministry staff offer spiritual guidance to USD students, faculty and staff. Stop by the Hahn University Center room 238 or call 619-260-4735 for more information.

Call the Counseling Center

I need to talk with someone now and the Counseling Center is closed!

If you have an urgent matter or are having thoughts of suicide and the Counseling Center is closed, you can speak with a counselor after-hours by calling the Counseling Center at 619-260-4655 or by calling Public Safety at (619) 260-2222 and asking to speak with the counselor-on-call.