Cope with Loss and Pain
When you lose someone or something very precious to you, the grief can be intense. Pain, sad memories, and unanswered questions can haunt you. You may even feel that you’ll never be the same – that you’ll never laugh or be whole again. Take heart – though there is no way to grieve without pain, there are healthy ways to grieve which allow you to constructively move forward. Don’t settle for a life drained of joy – work through your loss and, slowly but surely, you will get better.
Part 1 of 2:Working Towards Happiness
1. Shift the focus away from sadness
Shift the focus away from sadness. Try to remember the good times and the best memories you shared with the person or pet you’ve lost. Focusing on negative thoughts or regrets won’t change what has happened. It will just make you feel worse. Be assured that no one who has brought you happiness would ever want you to wallow in sadness. Try to remember things like the way this person talked, the small quirky mannerisms, the times that you spent laughing together and the things this person has taught you about life and yourself.
If you’ve lost a pet, remember the beautiful times you spent together, the happy life you gave your pet, and the special traits your pet had.
Every time you feel tempted to become even more sad, angry, or self-pitying, grab a diary and write down the good things you can remember about the person or pet that has been lost. In moments of sadness, you can consult this journal for a reminder of the happiness you had.
2. Distract yourself
Distract yourself. By keeping busy and occupying yourself in tasks that require a dedicated focus, you give yourself a break from constantly ruminating over the loss. This also gives you the space to realize that there are still good things about your world.
While work or studies can provide some relief from the constant thoughts about loss, don’t simply rely on your routine to distract yourself or you risk feeling that there is only work and sorrow and nothing in between. Help reacquaint yourself with happier pursuits by doing something that gives you peace. There are all sorts of possibilities, such as gardening, cooking, fishing, listening to your favorite music, walking, drawing, painting, writing, etc. Choose whatever calms you and gives you a sense of joyful achievement (not something everyday work or studies can always promise).
Consider getting involved in social work. Shift your focus from your own problems to those of others. Consider volunteering as one possibility. If you like children, helping with young children who display lots of spontaneity and laughter may ease your mind.
3. Find delight in beautiful days
Find delight in beautiful days. A common symptom of grief is to stay at home, neglecting your external life. When you’ve moved past your initial sadness, take the opportunity to embrace sunny days. Spend some time walking, contemplating and simply noticing the natural beauty around you. Don’t try to chase specific feelings – merely let the warmth of the sun wash over you and the sounds of the world flow through you. Marvel at the beauty of the trees and architecture you see. Let the hustle and bustle of life remind you that the world is beautiful. Life does go on – you deserve to be a part of it and to eventually rejoin the daily routine.
There is some scientific evidence that suggests that sunlight has natural antidepressant properties. Getting out of the house may help you out of an emotional funk.
4. Reclaim the idea of what you’ve lost
Reclaim the idea of what you’ve lost. When you lose someone, it’s an unfortunate fact that you’ll never enjoy his or her physical presence again. However, this doesn’t mean that the person or pet you lost doesn’t still exist in the world as an idea or a symbol. Know that the person or pet you’ve lost lives on in your thoughts, words, and actions. When we say, do, or think something that’s influenced by the memory of someone who’s gone, s/he lives on.
Many religions teach that the soul or essence of a person remains after his or her physical body dies. Other religions teach that a person’s essence is transformed into another form or redistributed into the earth. If you’re religious, take solace in the fact that the person you have lost still exists in a spiritual sense.
5. Spend time with good people
Spend time with good people. It can be difficult to motivate yourself to get out and spend time with your friends after a loss. However, doing so can cause a noted improvement in your mood. It’s good to seek the company of friends who will be understanding of your emotional state even if you haven’t recovered 100%. Find friends or acquaintances who are fun, yet kind and sensitive. They will help you ease back into your normal social role, which in turn will help you stay occupied as you move on from your grief.
The first hangout session after a major loss can be a little subdued or awkward simply because your friends are worried about how to approach the subject. Don’t let this get you down – you had to make your re-entrance to your normal social life at some point. Be persistent – though it may take weeks or months for things to seem completely “normal,” spending time with kind friends is almost always a good idea.
6. Don’t fake happiness
Don’t fake happiness. As you re-enter your normal routine, you may feel that certain career and social situations require you to be happier than you actually are. While you should try to avoid wallowing in grief, you should also try to avoid “forcing” your own happiness. “Forced” happiness feels awful – it’s an absolute burden to wear a smile when you don’t want to. Don’t make happiness a chore! It’s alright to appear and act seriously in your social life and in your work, provided you do nothing to hinder the happiness of others. Save your smile for when your happiness is genuine – it will be so much sweeter.
7. Allow time to heal
Allow time to heal. Time heals all wounds. Your emotional recovery may take months or years – this is OK. In due time, you can eventually start honoring the person you lost through a renewed determination to enjoy your life to the fullest.
Don’t worry – you won’t ever forget those you’ve loved. Nor will you misplace the internal strength that drove you to seek lost goals or achievements. What may change is how you approach your life from this point – there may be a sharpened focus, a new sense of value or a totally changed perspective about certain aspects of your life. This progress won’t be possible, however, if you don’t give yourself time to heal.
While you should give yourself adequate time to heal, at the same time, it’s important to remember that your life is precious and that you’re responsible for making the most of your time here. The purpose of your life is to be happy, not sad. Don’t rush away from grief, but don’t be content with a partial recovery. Make your journey to recovery one of gradual improvement. You owe it to yourself – keep moving forward, no matter how long it takes.
8. Don’t second-guess your happiness
Don’t second-guess your happiness. Don’t feel bad for feeling good! There’s no set length of time for recovering from a loss. If you regain your happiness sooner rather than later, don’t feel guilty for “not grieving enough.” If you feel like you’ve recovered from a loss, you probably have. Don’t set deadlines on grieving, but don’t postpone your happiness either. Never force yourself to be sadder than you need to be.
Part 2 of 2:Weathering Grief
1. Face the loss
Face the loss. After a serious loss, we sometimes want to do something – anything – to dull the pain. Submitting to a harmful habit like drug use, alcohol abuse, oversleeping, Internet overuse, or wanton promiscuity threatens your well-being and leaves you vulnerable to addiction and further pain. You’ll never truly heal until you confront the loss. Ignoring the pain caused by the loss or sedating yourself with distractions will only work for so long – no matter how fast you run from it, eventually, your grief will overtake you. Confront your loss. Allow yourself to cry or grieve in another way that feels natural. Only by first acknowledging your grief can you begin to defeat it.
When a loss is fresh in your memory, your grief deserves your full attention. However, you should draw a line on prolonged grieving. Give yourself a period of time – perhaps a few days to a week – to be profoundly sad. Protracted wallowing ultimately keeps you stuck in your sense of loss, paralyzed by self-pity and unable to move forward.
2. Let your pain out
Let your pain out. Let the tears flow. Never be afraid to cry, even if it’s not something you usually do. Realize that there is no right or wrong way to feel pain or to express it. What is important is that you recognize the pain and try to work through it. How you do so is entirely up to you and will vary from person to person.
Find an outlet for your pain. If you’re compelled to do a certain activity as you grieve, do it (provided it doesn’t involve hurting yourself or others.) Crying, pummeling the pillow, going for a long run, throwing things out,screaming at the top of your lungs in a forest or other solitary place, and sketching your memories are just some of the ways that different people find outlets for their pain. All are equally valid.
Avoid doing anything that might result in harm to yourself or to others. Loss isn’t about inflicting harm or making things worse. Loss is a time for learning how to draw on your inner emotional reserves and learning how to cope with pain.
3. Share your feelings with others
Share your feelings with others. It’s healthy to seek out people who will take care of you when you’re suffering. If you can’t find a friend, lean on a compassionate stranger or a priest, counselor, or therapist. Even if you feel that you’re rambling, confused and uncertain, talking to someone you trust is one form of allowing yourself to start dumping out some the pain you’re experiencing. See talk as a form of “sorting” your emotions – your thoughts don’t need to be coherent or reasoned. They just need to be expressive.
If you’re worried others listening to you might be confused or upset by what you’re saying, a simple warning up front can alleviate this concern. Just let them know you’re feeling sad, upset, confused, etc., and that, although some of the words you say aren’t going to make sense, you appreciate having someone listen. A caring friend or supporter won’t mind.
4. Distance yourself from people who aren’t compassionate
Distance yourself from people who aren’t compassionate. Unfortunately, not everyone you talk to while you’re grieving will be helpful to you. Ignore people who say things like “get over it”, “stop being so sensitive”, “I got over it quickly when it happened to me”, etc. They don’t know how you feel, so don’t give their dismissive comments any attention. Tell them “You don’t have to be around me while I’m going through this if it’s too much for you to bear. But I need to go through it, regardless of how you’re feeling, so please give me some space.”
Some of the people who are dismissive of your grief may even be friends with good (but misguided) intentions. Reconnect with these people when you’re feeling stronger. Until then, distance yourself from their impatience – you can’t rush an emotional recovery.
5. Harbor no regrets
Harbor no regrets. After you’ve lost someone, you may feel guilty. You may be preoccupied by thoughts like, “I wish I’d said goodbye one last time,” or “I wish I’d treated this person better.” Don’t allow yourself to be consumed by your sense of guilt. You cannot change the past by mulling over it again and again. It’s not your fault that you lost someone you loved. Rather than dwelling on what you could have done or should have done, focus on what you can do – process your emotions and move forward.
If you feel guilty following a loss, talk to other people who knew the person or pet. They will almost always be able to help you convince yourself that the loss isn’t your fault.
6. Save things that remind you of your loved one
Save things that remind you of your loved one. Just because a person or a pet is gone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t always remember them. It may be comforting to know that even if the person or pet is no longer here, the friendship, love and personal ties you have with them still exist. No one will ever be able to take that away from you, and the relationship you have with them will always be a part of you. Some mementos will always be worth keeping to remind you of your own courage, tenacity and ability to envision a better future.
Keep the mementos that remind you of the person or pet in a box somewhere out of the way. Bring them out when you need a tangible reminder of your memories. It’s not usually a good idea to leave the mementos lying around in the open. A constant reminder that someone is gone can make it hard to move on.
7. Get help
Get help. In our society, we have a tremendously harmful stigma against people who seek help with emotional problems. Seeing a therapist or counselor does not make you weak or pathetic. Rather, it’s a sign of strength. By seeking out the help you need, you show an admirable desire to move forward and overcome your grief. Don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with a professional – in 2004, more than a quarter of American adults had seen a therapist within the previous two years.