Give yourself a chance to feel better: Six steps to coping with grief

  • Sanchita Sharma, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: May 03, 2015 11:41 IST

Loss is always difficult to deal with, but when disaster strikes swiftly and pitilessly, the emotional toll is mind-wrecking. Distraught and overwhelmed, survivors are often unable process or vocalise the strong emotions they experience.

They feel devastated and alone, unable to grasp the sudden bereavement. Anxiety and helplessness often come first, followed by grief and hopelessness. Very often, there's guilt for having survived when their loved ones didn't.

There is no instant fix to overcoming grief and you have to give yourself time to recover. Prolonged distress is uncommon and with a little help from their family and friends, most people recover from the stress and devastation. Seek professional help if grief stays forefront in your mind and you still feel emotionally overwhelmed a year to 18 months after a major loss.

Sudden loss initially leaves people stunned and disoriented. Once the shock subsides, each of us internalises and copes with trauma differently. Some develop acute stress disorder with symptoms of shock -- nervousness, anxiety, moodiness, palpitation, headaches, nausea -- that usually last for a few days to some weeks. When the trauma becomes chronic and results in anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, sleeplessness, difficulty concentrating and irritability following severe shock and mental stress, it's termed post traumatic stress disorder.

Following 9/11, the American Psychological Association drew up extensive guidelines to help people build emotional well-being to gain a sense of control of their lives following a natural disaster or terror attack.

Here are six steps to coping with grief.

Give yourself time
Things will get better with time but your life will never be the same again. The sooner you accept this, the easier will it be for you to move on. Tragedies devastate you, they make you feel powerless and all alone. There will be days when you will feel shattered, there will be days when you'll feel hopeful. You should not feel guilty if your child makes you laugh, or feel guilty about letting go. You will miss the people you loved in each day without even knowing it, so don't feel guilty about moving on.

Dial a friend
Family and friends mill around after a tragedy but once the dust settles, they often get preoccupied with their own lives. Don't hesitate to ask for support if you find yourself alone. Empathy and support from people who care is a key component to recovery. You need people who listen to you and, when needed, pull you out of an emotional rut. Support from people who share your grief can also help you realise that what you're feeling and going through is a normal part of healing.

Express yourself
Don't wall your feelings in. Find ways to vent your emotions in whatever way you're most comfortable with. Apart from talking with family or close friends, you could consider giving creative expression to your feelings through writing (keeping a diary, write poems, short stories), drawing, gardening etc.

Re-establish routines
When faced with devastation and loss, you're very likely to neglect yourself. You need to look after your mental and physical health to enhance your ability to cope with stress. Eat healthy meals and get plenty of rest. Emotional strain is physically exhausting, so don't scrimp on sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, look for ways to relax through breathing exercises, music, yoga or exercise. Positive routines -- even if it's just going back to school or work -- provide a distraction and take your mind off negative thoughts.

Say no to sedatives and alcohol
Sedatives work by lowering levels of the human stress hormone called cortisol, which is released by the body in response to mental and physical stress. New research shows it’s better to allow the body’s natural mechanism to slowly heal itself because sedatives interfere with the mind’s ability to consolidate memories and recover from flashbacks. Like sedatives, alcohol offers temporary escape from reality and delays active coping from loss.

Don't take life-changing decisions
Grieving requires a period of readjustment so it's best not to add to stress by cluttering your life with other changes. Switching jobs or moving town can be highly stressful and make it even harder for you to recover.

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