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Grief: Coping With Grief

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Key points

  • Grief is a normal and healthy reaction that occurs when you lose someone or something important. Although it is possible to delay or postpone grieving, it is not possible to avoid grieving altogether.
  • Grief will subside over time. However, the grieving process does not happen in a step-by-step or orderly fashion. Give yourself all the time you need to identify, accept, and express your emotions.
  • Your feelings are unique. Each person handles emotions and feelings differently. Find the way to deal with your emotions that fits you.
  • Support is important during the grieving process. Support comes in many forms, such as from friends and family, by participating in activities you enjoy, or through exercises to help you express your feelings, such as writing letters or keeping a journal.

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Feelings of grief vary depending on your personality, past experiences, the length of time that has passed since your loss, and the personal importance of that loss to you. After losing a loved one, the nature of your past relationship will also affect the way you grieve. When grieving, it is normal to:

  • Feel sadness and yearning for the person, object, or situation that you have lost. These feelings are central to all grieving.
  • Feel worry, anxiety, frustration, confusion, anger, or guilt.
  • Be overly sensitive to others' behavior.
  • React strongly to seemingly minor losses or changes when they trigger feelings of grief over your major loss.
  • Feel insecure and alone, and want to isolate yourself from others.

As you recognize each feeling and accept it, you become able to work through the feeling and heal your emotional distress. Your personality, coping style, and past experiences influence how you deal with your feelings.

A broad range of feelings are expected during the grieving process. If you are concerned that your feelings may be too painful or unusual, talk with a mental health professional experienced in grief counseling.

Test Your Knowledge

Feeling oversensitive is common when grieving.


Dealing with grief means accepting your feelings, even though they may be painful.


The grieving process is a way to work through your loss. Successfully dealing with your feelings helps you adjust to your loss, eventually stop yearning for what you have lost, and return to your normal daily activities. Grieving a major loss may help you grow emotionally. You may learn something new about yourself. For example, you may learn that you have more inner strength than you thought you had.

Test Your Knowledge

The grieving process:

May teach you something new about yourself.
Is a way to accept a loss.
Helps you grow emotionally.

Identify your feelings

Sometimes after a loss, it is hard to figure out exactly what you are feeling. You may have several feelings at the same time or conflicting feelings, such as sadness and relief. Writing is a good way to identify what you are feeling. Writing about what you feel can:

  • Stimulate thinking and help you organize and analyze your thoughts.
  • Deepen your understanding of a situation and may help you get in touch with feelings you had not recognized before.
  • Prompt you to reflect on what is happening to you. This can help you put things into perspective and come to an understanding of how the changes affect your life.

When you are ready:

  • Set aside time to write.
  • Choose a private, comfortable place to do your writing.
  • Choose a method of writing. You may choose to write a letter to your loved one, for example, or a poem or story.
  • Don't worry about how well you write. Write about everyday occurrences or conversations you have had.
  • Write what you feel. Don't screen your thoughts; give yourself permission to write whatever comes to mind. Strong feelings (such as fear, anger, or frustration) may arise. Write about simple pleasures and joys you have experienced, too. If you have concerns about your strong feelings, talk with a trusted friend, member of the clergy, or mental health professional.

Accept your feelings

  • Talk with people about how you are feeling. Resist the urge to be quiet around or avoid people. If you are having trouble talking about your feelings with family members and friends, consider joining a bereavement support group.
  • Express your emotions. You may feel that this is a sign of weakness, or that you won't be able to control yourself if you show your emotions. None of these is true. However, if you are afraid that you might harm yourself or someone else if you express an emotion, talk with someone you trust, your health professional, or a mental health professional about your concerns.
  • Be patient and kind to yourself. Your feelings may be unpredictable and uncomfortable. Remind yourself that your uncomfortable feelings are expected and will fade as time goes on.

Handling difficult feelings

Each person handles emotion differently. Here are some ideas about how to deal with some of the most common feelings during the grieving process:

Test Your Knowledge

A good way to deal with your feelings of emotional distress related to grief is to:

Express your emotions.
Talk with other people about how you feel.
Be patient and kind to yourself.

Now that you have read this information, you can better identify and cope with the feelings you are experiencing while grieving a major loss.

Talk with a health professional

If you have questions about this information, take it with you when you visit your health professional. You may want to use a highlighter to mark areas or make notes in the margins of the pages where you have questions.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerSidney Zisook, MD - Psychiatry
Last RevisedOctober 17, 2011

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