There’s no single right way to cope with grief, but there are methods that work for some people. When dealing with grief and loss, it can be difficult to know whose advice to trust, and many people might try and tell you what worked for them. Ultimately, when it comes to bereavement, everyone is different and there’s no prescriptive solution. Read through this article with an open mind and then focus on the parts that speak to you most.

How to cope with grief

Confront your feelings

At first, you may find it difficult to accept the person has died. It’s normal to feel numb, and to shut off from other people, but ignoring the way you feel can be unhealthy in the long-term. Some people find if they don’t face grief head on, it can show itself in other ways, through ill-health or bad habits. A lot of people discuss confronting feelings at the funeral, and recommend using it to not only acknowledge grief but also seek support among friends and family for coping with grief. However, the real lionshare of the healing process happens can last weeks, months or even years.

Try this: In the next couple of days, at random intervals in the day, just pause. Breathe, and take stock of how you are feeling right in that moment. Feel the natural rise and fall of your chest, focus on the ebb and flow of your breath. Allow yourself to feel the full weight of your emotions. Which emotion is strongest? Is it anger? Sadness? Frustration? Guilt? Anxiety? Any and all of these emotions are a natural response to someone close to you dying, and it’s ok to feel more than one emotion at once.

Many people experience a profound sadness after someone has died. It’s ok to cry, and to feel vulnerable. You don’t need to put on a ‘brave face’, even if there are people relying on you. It may seem you need to put on a front when going back to work, but make sure you speak to your manager. They’ll be understanding of your circumstances, and may ease your workload or make some adjustments to help. Don’t struggle in silence, or compound your grief with the obligation to keep up appearances. Similarly, as a parent you don’t need to always be happy; it’s good for children to see a normal and healthy reaction to death and to see you be open with your emotions.

Find a creative way to express how you feel

One way to think about how you feel is by writing it down. When things are getting too much, or you feel overwhelmed by thoughts, stop for a moment. Find a quiet place away from other people. Take a blank sheet of paper and a pen, and start to list all the things running through your head in that moment. Empty your head of all thoughts. Try this again late at night when you can’t get to sleep, and see if it helps you to feel calmer.

Writing a letter to the person that has died might help you workout how you are feeling, and to feel more connected with your own state of mind. It’s important you are completely open and honest about what you want to say. Are there things you wanted to tell that person but never could? Do you want to say ‘I love you’ or ‘I miss you’? Did you miss an opportunity to say goodbye? Whatever you want to say, remember there are no judgements, just speak freely from the heart.

You may prefer to paint or draw instead, or find your own creative outlet, whatever that may be. It can be cathartic to have a tangible instance of how you feel, and also means you can chart your progress and identify any patterns in how you are feeling. If there is a thought or question you keep coming back to, this could be significant in coming to terms with the death.

Reach out to family and friends

It’s easy to feel isolated after the death of a loved one. This loneliness will feel all the more acute if that person was a spouse, best friend or soulmate. If you are taking a couple of days off work for compassionate leave you may find yourself at a loss, with no clear sense of where to go next. Use this time to address your grief head on. Invite a trusted friend over to talk through your feelings over a cup of tea.

Friends will want to support you at such a difficult time, but many will not know how to or will be nervous of saying the wrong thing. What can they possibly say that will make things better? Tell them what you need. Could you use a chat and a hug? Do you need someone to take care of the grocery shopping? Do you just need some space right now? Let them know. Everyone finds it difficult to cope with grief and those closest to you will understand this.

After the death of a family member, don’t neglect the opportunity to spend more time with your family. Death can really put things into perspective, and might be the prompt you needed to spend more time with siblings, parents, cousins or grandparents. Set the example and be the one to pick up the phone and reconnect with those relatives you have not seen in some time.

Let go of your expectations of grief

People talk about grief happening in five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, but in reality emotions are much messier than this. Some people will experience some of these emotions, but not necessarily in this order. Some people hardly seem to grieve at all. You might feel numb for a long time, and then feel suddenly overwhelmed with emotions all at once and this is OK too.

Don’t let other people tell you how you should be feeling, or make you feel guilty for the way you are expressing grief. If a friend or family member is trying to tell you how to grieve, it may be best to distance yourself from them for the time being.

Take each emotion as it comes. It’s OK to feel happy, as you remember joyful memories or spend time with friends and family, or as you stop to take in the beauty of the world around you.

Take care of yourself

When trying to cope with grief, many people neglect to take care of themselves. There are simple things you can do to instantly improve your mood:

Eat well. Avoid fast food, and instead eat more fruit and vegetables. This will instantly boost your mood. Plan meals for the week in advance to prevent binging on unhealthy food.

Exercise. Whether it’s sport, a trip to the local gym, or a walk around the local park, it’s a good opportunity to get out of the house and you will feel better for it.

Go to bed around 10.30pm, regardless of whether you feel tired or not. If you usually go to bed later, get to sleep by midnight. It’s ok if you cannot fall asleep straightaway, it may take time to get your sleeping pattern back to normal.

Maintain personal hygiene. Wash yourself and your hair regularly, and brush your teeth twice a day.

Mental well-being is equally important. Monitor your mood over time, as your grief may cross over into depression. The distinction between grief and depression isn’t always clear: both display similar symptoms: loss of appetite, restless sleep, low mood and a loss of purpose. If you’ve been feeling constantly low for a number of weeks or months on end, depression may be the culprit, and you should visit your GP. They will be able to give you an accurate diagnosis, and may refer you to bereavement counselling. Charities like Samaritans and Cruse Bereavement Care can offer extra support. There is no shame in seeking help for depression. It’s frequently misunderstood but it is a real problem that you shouldn’t just live with.

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