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Coping With Your Own Grief

Kathryn Patricelli, MA, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

There are many ways that people can choose to cope with grief and loss in their lives, some constructive healthy and others destructive or less healthy. Among the more destructive coping methods are a choice to turn to alcohol or other drugs to dull pain and/or provide a illusory means of escape from the pressing demands of grieving. Heavy use of either drugs or alcohol may actually extend and prolong the grief period and lead to other serious problems such as substance abuse or dependence (otherwise known as addiction). Additionally, alcohol, and several other drugs including the benzodiazapines (like Valium, Atavan, Xanax and Klonapin), and the barbiturates have a depressant effect on the brain that can actually lead a person towards serious depression when misused. Magnified feelings of hopelessness and even suicidal thoughts may occur in such circumstances when they otherwise would not. Mixing alcohol with these depressant drugs can be fatal. For these reasons, if alcohol and drugs are to be used at all during a time of grief, their use should be limited, or they should be used as directed by a physician.

hand writing on paperFortunately, there are many constructive and healthy ways to deal with grief. These can include:

  • Journaling – Many people find comfort in writing out their thoughts and feelings during the grieving period. Some even decide to write letters to the deceased or lost person. This can be a very good way to express feelings that people may not feel comfortable sharing with others and to avoid bottling up of emotions, which can extend the grief process or lead to other physical/emotional problems.
  • Talking with an Intimate – Others find that talking with a close family member or friend is beneficial and allows them to share memories about the lost relationship or emotions that they are feeling.
  • Getting Professional Help – Some people decide that they are not comfortable sharing their feelings with close friends and family. Alternatively, they may feel that they do not wish to burden those around them who are also suffering. In these cases, many choose to speak with a professional grief therapist.

    In a typical psychotherapy intervention, the therapist will both encourage the person to share feelings and thoughts about the loss and will encourage and challenge them to do things (such as to be a part of social activities, to exercise, etc.) that will help themselves to reengage life and get better. It can be an empowering process to speak with someone that understands the grief process and can help to normalize the emotions or reactions that are being felt.

  • Medication - Grief therapists and other doctors that might be consulted during times of grief may suggest that a prescription for anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications would be helpful. When taken as directed by a doctor, such medicines can be extremely helpful for managing extreme grief symptoms (such as unremitting sadness, anxiety, or confusion, etc.). Since grief is not an illness so much as it is a life process, it is unwise to rely purely on medicines as a way to manage grief related pain. Properly used medicines can take the edge off the worst grief symptoms. They cannot speed the process of recovery and regrowth that must inevitably occur for grief to resolve.
  • Support Groups – For those that don’t want to speak to an intimate friend or family member or a counselor one-on-one, a community-based or internet-based support group is an option. Many people find it comforting to speak with others who are experiencing similar types of loss and who are at different stages of the grieving process. As is the case with individual therapy, support group support can help to normalize what grieving people are feeling.