Dealing with loss

Times of emotional crisis and upset often involve some kind of loss. For example, the loss of a loved one, or the end of a marriage or relationship.

Scroll down to watch a video on coping with the loss of a parent.

Most people grieve when they lose something or someone important to them. Grieving can feel unbearable, but it's a necessary process.

How does grief make you feel?

The way grief affects you depends on many things, such as the nature of the loss, your upbringing, your beliefs or religion, your age, your relationships, and your physical and mental health.

You can react in many ways to a loss. “But, ultimately, grief consists of several key emotions. Anxiety and helplessness often come first,” explains clinical psychologist Linda Blair. Anger is also common, including feeling angry at someone who has died for "leaving you behind". This is a natural part of the grieving process, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about that. “There’s also sadness, which often comes later,” says Blair.

Knowing that these emotions are common can help them seem more normal. It’s very important to know that they will pass. Some people take a lot longer than others to recover. Some need help from a counsellor, therapist or their GP, but you will eventually adjust to your loss, and the intense feelings will subside.

Dealing with the emotions

“Grief always requires a period of adjustment," Blair says. "Give yourself time to adjust and recover. Be respectful of yourself and your grief. You might feel hopeless for a while, but be patient with yourself.”

There's no instant fix. You might feel affected every day for about a year to 18 months after a major loss. After this time, the grief is less likely to be at the forefront of your mind.

There are practical things you can do to get through a time of crisis or loss:

  • Express yourself. Talking is often a good way to soothe painful emotions. Talking to a friend, family member, health professional or counsellor can begin the healing process.
  • Allow yourself to feel sad. It’s a healthy part of the grieving process. Crying enables your body to release tension.
  • Maintain a schedule. Psychologist Linda Blair recommends keeping “simple things in your routine. It reduces the panicky feelings. It’s important that you see other people at least once a week, because it grounds you.”
  • Sleep. Emotional strain can make you very tired. If you’re having trouble sleeping, see your GP.
  • Eat healthily. A healthy, well-balanced diet will help you to cope with your emotions.
  • Avoid things that "numb" the pain, such as alcohol. It will make you feel worse once the numbness wears off.
  • Go to counselling if it feels right for you, but perhaps not straight away. “Your emotions can overwhelm you at the beginning. Counselling may be more useful after a couple of weeks or months, but only you know when you’re ready,” says Blair.

Children and loss

When you have children, you may not want to display your feelings. Sometimes this is a good thing. For example, showing anger towards their other parent during a separation can be painful for a child to see. Reassure your child that the separation isn’t their fault, as this is a common misconception among children. Keep their routine as normal as possible, and inform them about what's happening so that they're less confused by it all.

However, if both parents are grieving for a family member, it's sometimes good for the children to see that it’s normal to sometimes feel sad and cry. Pay attention when your child wants to share their feelings, whether it’s through talking, drawing or games. Children need to feel that they are listened to, so include them in decisions and events if you feel it’s appropriate.

When to get help

There's a lot of support available during a personal crisis or major loss. Seek help if any of the following apply to you:

  • You don’t feel able to cope with overwhelming emotions or daily life.
  • The intense emotions aren't subsiding.
  • You’re not sleeping.
  • You have symptoms of depression or anxiety.
  • Your relationships are suffering.
  • You're having sexual problems.
  • You're becoming accident-prone.
  • You're caring for someone who isn’t coping well.

Your GP surgery is always a good place to start. They can give you advice about other support services, refer you to a counsellor if appropriate and prescribe medication, if needed. Your GP also has contact details for support groups in your area.

Alternatively, you can contact support organisations directly, such as Cruse Bereavement Care (0844 477 9400) or the Samaritans (0845 790 9090).

Bereavement: coping with grief after the death of a parent

Carys' father committed suicide six years ago. In this video, Cary and her mother talk about how they have dealt with their loss.

Media last reviewed: 11/07/2015

Next review due: 11/07/2017

Page last reviewed: 09/06/2014

Next review due: 09/06/2016


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