Because grief is a natural human process, it’s also common for folks to wonder whether the way they’ve been navigating something is “normal.”
Most often, grief is associated with more finite examples, such as death. But grief can occur during and after any difficult loss, from relationship changes to employment.
Death isn’t the only situation that leads to grief, and it’s important that we allow ourselves and loved ones to take the needed space — no matter what’s causing the grief.
According to Dr. Joanne Frederick, counselor and author of “Copeology,” grief is an extreme sadness and can show up in many ways, including:
- verbal or physical aggression
- reclusion or avoiding spending time with others
- crying spells
- disappearance or withdrawing completely
Have you wondered whether the way you’ve been feeling after experiencing a loss is “normal”? Perhaps you have shame around your negative emotions, and you feel like you should be “over it” by now. Or maybe you have a friend who has been acting very differently since a tragic situation.
Just as all of these questions are expected and common, so are the many ways a person can work through their grief. There is no singular way to grieve, so there is no such thing as a “right” or “wrong” way either.
At Psych Central, when we say “healthy,” we mean the opposite of harmful. There is no one-size-fits-all way to handle a grief-filled situation.
Don’t hesitate to ask for support
For those looking for avenues to navigate their grief in a healthy way, Frederick suggests seeking additional support and feeling OK about asking for what you need.
“I think that society sends a message that if you cry about anything — especially a male and People of Color — it’s a sign of weakness, so ‘keep it moving,’ but unfortunately, this is not healthy,” she says.
“It’s OK to cry,” Frederick continues. “I also think that it’s OK to pray. It’s OK to meditate. It’s OK to create art, music, dance, and even take time out.”
If you’re able, a time-out may look like stepping back from your work or school and allowing yourself the room to feel whatever it is you’re feeling.
Taking time out may require communicating with your supervisors or teachers about altering your workload or deadlines, delegating appropriate tasks, or ensuring that you don’t take on anything additional that isn’t necessary.
Ways to cope with your grief
Frederick emphasizes taking time to process your feelings in a way that feels good to you, even if you choose not to include anyone else in that process.
Some ways you can start that process include:
- Journaling. You could get a journal and write out your thoughts. This can become part of your daily routine where you jot down your thoughts on the subject, or it could be a supplement to processing by yourself.
- Tapping into your creativity. You may consider a creative outlet. This could look like arts and crafts, taking a salsa dancing class, picking up crocheting — the possibilities are endless. It can be an intentional way to channel your energy, or a positive way to put your mind elsewhere.
- Talking things out. When you’re ready, consider talking with friends about the good parts of what you’ve lost or about the hard parts of what you’re dealing with.
- Taking time for yourself. It’s a good idea to make time just for you. This can be particularly useful if you’re more likely to stay busy to ensure you’re still allowing yourself to feel your feelings.
- Seeking professional help. If you don’t already have a safe space to discuss hard feelings and situations, you can always reach out to a mental health professional — either in-person or online.
Sometimes we can forget to take care of ourselves during moments of grief, especially if we have pending responsibilities or other folks to take care of. It can be easy to place your wellness at the bottom of your to-do list, but this may have the opposite effect on your overall grieving.
What you have the capacity for may shift each day, but things to try and keep as a priority include:
- Eating regularly. This can be a hard one because getting up and cooking can take a lot of energy or your appetite may have shifted. This is a great opportunity to let that friend who’s been asking how they can help tap in. Or, on days where you have a little more energy, prep some easy meals and snacks for you to snack on on lower capacity days.
- Drinking water. While this sounds like an obvious one, it’s so easy to let it slip when you’re focused on other things around you. If you can get your hands on a big water bottle with time or measurement markers, that can be a great way to provide some gentle reminders and encouragement to stay hydrated.
- Moving your body. Not everyone is going to go for a jog to release tension, and that is more than OK. But it is a good idea to get your body moving in a way that feels good to you. You can make a point of getting up each day and checking the mail, or do some stretches while you wait for your coffee to brew.
- Getting fresh air. Leaving the house and getting fresh air when you can is especially useful if you’re more likely to isolate during periods of grief.
Frederick reminds us that not each person will respond to grief in the same ways, and that’s OK. “There is no such thing as unhealthy grieving… unless you’re hurting yourself or someone else,” she says.
Sometimes we have expectations of ourselves or others to express their hurt in a particular way, especially in connection with the widely known (though maybe outdated) five stages of grief.
While creator and psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross didn’t originally intend for these stages to become containers for how someone “should” grieve, we often aim to place our grieving on a timeline based on her writing.
But grieving occurs in cycles rather than a neat line, and because our emotions are as individualized and as complex as we are, our expressions vary as well.
“So crying is OK, or not crying is OK. We all vary, we all differ, and we all grieve in different ways… how we express it is individualized, and it’s OK,” reminds Fredrick.
When to seek professional help
In many cases, symptoms of grief fade over time without the need for professional help. Still, it can be helpful to seek help from a mental health professional if grief persists over months or years and significantly affects your quality of life — which is known as complicated or prolonged grief.
If you’re considering self-harm or suicide, you’re not alone
You can access free support right away with these resources:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call the Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for English or 888-628-9454 for Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- The Crisis Text Line. Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
- The Trevor Project. LGBTQIA+ and under 25 years old? Call 866-488-7386, text “START” to 678678, or chat online 24/7.
- Veterans Crisis Line. Call 800-273-8255, text 838255, or chat online 24/7.
- Deaf Crisis Line. Call 321-800-3323, text “HAND” to 839863, or visit their website.
- Befrienders Worldwide. This international crisis helpline network can help you find a local helpline.
If you’re on the road to figuring out what healthy grieving looks like for you, you can feel comforted in knowing that there is no one definitive answer. How you are handling your hard losses or sad feelings is OK because we’re all different people and the ways we handle our emotions vary just as widely.
There’s no need for shame around the weight of your experiences. It can be tough to talk about, but the important part is that you create a support system as best you can and allow yourself time to grieve in ways that feel best to you.