Counseling Services Self-Help on Grief
1. What is Grief?
Grief is the intense emotion felt when someone experiences a significant loss. It is also the process of working through the pain of that loss. Grieving is a process we all must experience at some point, and is necessary to help us continue to function in our lives. Grieving can be more intense when the loss is very significant to us, or when the loss is unusual for the stage of life we are in at the time. The death of a parent when in college, for example, is an event that most students do not confront. It may be very difficult for a college student who has suffered such a loss, as friends are likely to have difficulty understanding his or her pain. Other losses such as the death of a grandparent, friend, or even a pet can also be difficult to cope with in college.
2. What Kinds of Loss can cause Grief?
Most people recognize significant loss as a death in the family or of a close friend, but there are many life changes and transitions which can produce feelings of loss and grief. These include:
- Relationship Changes, including divorce or separation; marriage or commitment; birth of a child or child leaving home; and changes in a friendship
- Life Changes, including death of a spouse, family member, or friend; pregnancy or loss of a pregnancy.
- Health Changes, such as injury or illness in yourself or a family member
- Job/School-related Changes, such as gain or loss of a promotion or career opportunity, new work conditions, hours, or responsibility; graduation; moving; or retirement
- Other Changes, including loss of income; financial readjustment; or changes in habits (such as quitting smoking)
People can also experience grief when they have gone through a series of losses. If you don't have enough time between losses it is more difficult to heal and the impact of even small losses is often significant.
3. What is the Grieving Process like?
It is normal to experience a range of intense, often overwhelming emotions. Although grieving generally occurs in emotional stages, research has shown that the stages and the intensity of feelings differ for each individual and that there is no "right way" to grieve. People mourn in different ways, depending on personality, gender, life situation, circumstances of the loss, and support from others. Still, there are common emotional, behavioral, and physical reactions that people are likely to experience after a death. It is important to know that these emotional responses are a normal and natural reaction to the loss of someone who was loved. Grieving may progress over a period of two years or even longer, depending on many individual factors, such as depth and length of relationship with the loved one or friend. Grief reactions may include any of the following feelings:
Shock and Numbness The initial reaction to the loss of a loved one is usually a sense of shock or disbelief. Feelings of numbness, confusion, unreality, and an inability to think or make decisions are common when one learns that someone close has died.
Sadness and Longing Feelings of sadness, anguish and a yearning to be with the person who has died are common reactions to the death of a loved one. Grief may occur in "waves" of emotion. Memories, music, shared places or activities, or seeing someone who resembles the loved one in some way may trigger strong feelings. It is also normal to become emotional at unexpected, or inconvenient, moments (e.g. walking to class, watching a movie, waiting in line at a store, etc.).
Physical Symptoms Symptoms such as a hollow feeling in the stomach, pain around the heart, constriction in the throat, weakness, or headaches are examples of ways in which one's body may react to grief.
Depression Sleep problems, appetite changes, diminished energy, and loss of interest in daily activities are likely to occur after the loss of a loved one. Concentration difficulties, such as being forgetful or absent-minded, or feeling as if one is "in a fog" are also common.
Fear and Anxiety Anxiety is a typical reaction to losing a loved one. Feeling agitated, restless, or panicky are symptoms of anxiety. It is also common to worry how one will cope with life without the one who has died, or to fear the loss of important others.
Guilt and Self Blame Feelings of guilt, as well as an exaggerated sense of responsibility, often occur during grief. People who are grieving may regret arguments or negative feelings before the person died, or wish they had visited or told the person how much they were loved. When an individual dies from a terminal illness, loved ones may feel guilty for experiencing a sense of relief that the suffering is over. One may feel guilty for continuing to live when the loved one had to die, or for feeling happy or briefly forgetting what has happened.
Loneliness and Isolation Losing a loved one often creates a deep feeling of loneliness. One feels a tremendous void or sense of emptiness, even when with others. It may also seem wrong or unfair that others are going on with life, or seem to be worrying about trivial concerns. Feelings of loneliness may intensify at times when the support of the deceased person is needed, or in anticipation of important life events such as graduation or birthdays.
Anger It is common to feel angry at others, including those who are coping differently with their grief. One may feel cheated by death, or feel angry at the person for having died. Questions about one's spiritual beliefs may occur during the struggle to come to terms with the loss.
Avoiding Feelings Some people deal with grief by avoiding their feelings or wanting to be alone. This is also a normal response to loss. It may be difficult at times to speak about the death or to accept help from others.
4. How Can I Help Myself Deal with Grief?
Over time, the intensity of grief and distress will diminish as you gradually begin to integrate the loss and adjust to life as it has changed. Life may even deepen in some ways as a result of mourning the person you loved. Through this process, there are some things you can do to help yourself feel better. It is especially important to pay attention to the basic aspects of daily living and to accept help and support from others.
Be Patient and Gentle with Yourself
It is important to be patient with yourself and to give yourself time for healing. You may feel very different than you used to, and some days will be more difficult than others. It may feel strange at times to feel so completely changed, when many aspects of life seem to go on in the same way. Be gentle with yourself -- take the time it needs, don't give yourself a deadline for being "over it".
Allow Yourself to Experience Thoughts and Feelings Openly
Acknowledge and accept all feelings, both positive and negative. Allow yourself to cry--it provides a great release. Allow yourself to enjoy some good times without guilt. Confide in a trusted friend and tell the story of your loss. Try keeping a journal to document the healing process. Pray, meditate or take quiet time. Participate in rituals (writing, art, spiritual practice) that honor the person who has died.
Seek Support from Others
Good friends and family members can help. Tell those around you what helps you and what doesn't (for example, listening to your feelings without needing to find a solution). Most people would like to help if they knew how. Participating in a bereavement group can provide opportunities to share with others who have experienced loss. Speaking with a counselor or a spiritual leader can also be helpful. A wide variety of spiritual communities is available through UT Arlington Student Organizations.
Take Care of your Body
You're likely to feel more fatigued than usual. Get enough rest, eat nutritious meals, and get some exercise. Avoid turning to alcohol or drugs for relief, as this will ultimately make coping more difficult.
Acknowledge your Limitations
Know that you may not do as well in your courses or perform well in other areas after the death of a loved one. You may wish to consider speaking to your professors and/or your academic dean, as it may be important to lighten your workload during this time. Try to avoid taking on new responsibilities or making major life decisions for a time. Make plans for special days such as holidays /anniversaries. Feelings can be intense at these times.
If grief is understood it is easier to handle. Connect on the Internet--there are many resources for people in grief, as well as opportunities to chat with fellow grievers. There are also many helpful books on grief.
When to Seek Professional Help
If you have lost someone who is close to you, speaking with a counselor can help in getting through a very difficult time. If the healing process becomes too overwhelming, you find that you are turning to drugs or alcohol to ease your pain, or you feel urges to harm yourself or others, seek professional help immediately. Caring, experienced counselors are available on campus for confidential appointments by calling UT Arlington Counseling Services at 817-272-3671 or UT Arlington Mental Health Services at 817-272-2771.
5. How Can I Help a Friend?
It is difficult to watch a friend experience the pain of grief, and also sometimes daunting to know what to do to help. Here are some practical ides to help you show your concern.
Talk openly Talk to the bereaved person about his/her loss and feelings. Don't try to offer false cheer or minimize the loss.
Be available Call, stop by to talk, share a meal or activity. Your presence and companionship are important.
Listen/be patient Allow the bereaved person to vent feelings. Don't judge the person's thoughts or feelings. Don't feel you need to offer advice. Listening itself is very powerful.
Take some action Send a card, write a note, call. This is important not just immediately after the loss, but especially later, when grief is still intense but when others have resumed their daily lives and support for the bereaved may dwindle.
Encourage self care Encourage your friend to care for himself or herself physically, emotionally, and socially. Encourage your friend to seek out support and/or professional help, if appropriate. UT Arlington Counseling Services (817-272-3671), and UT Arlington Mental Health Services (817-272-2771, UT Arlington Mental Health Services) offer confidential counseling and referral services.
Accept your own 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/her own way and at his/her own pace. Be supportive, but care for yourself too.
6. Counseling Resources
UT Arlington Counseling Services, 305 Ransom Hall, 817-272-3671
Provides individual counseling sessions, group counseling, and seminars addressing a wide variety of personal, academic, and career concerns. Open 8:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. Monday and Thursday; 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday.
UT Arlington Mental Health Services, Student Health Center, 817-277-2771
Provides individual assessment, counseling, and medication referrals. Open Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
The WARM Place (off campus), 809 Lipscomb St., Fort Worth, TX 76104, 817-870-2272
Provides free grief counseling groups for young adults ages 19-25.
7. Books, Movies, and Internet Resources
- Kelley, P. (1997). Companion to grief. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Kopp, R. & Sorenson, S. (1985). When someone you love is dying. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- LeShan, Eda. (1988). Learning to say good-bye: When a parent dies. New York: Avon.
- Levang, E. & Ilse, S. (1992). Remembering with love: Messages of hope for the first year of grieving and beyond. Minneapolis, MN: Deaconess Press.
- Neeld, E. (1992). Seven Choices: Taking the steps to a new life after losing someone you love. New York: Delacorte.
- Viorst, Judith (1986). Necessary losses. New York: Fawcett Gold Medal.
- Wolfelt, Alan (1992). Understanding Grief: Helping yourself heal. Muncie, IN: Accelerated Development.
- Wolfelt, Alan (1997). The Journey through grief. Ft. Collins, CO: Companion Press.
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