Written in collaboration with Gina M Goth M. Ed CAC LPC
We never “get over” the loss of our loved ones. There is no timeline, and no right way or wrong way to grieve. But in time we can learn to adjust and to grow forward through grief. We accept that life will never look or feel the same and that sadness, longing, and the weight of grief are a part of life.
Adaptive coping is the use of healthy strategies to help us adjust and adapt to loss while finding ways to still live a fulfilling, meaningful life. They cannot erase our sorrow, but they can help us to heal and grow over time.
People who experience trauma and grief try to cope in whatever ways they can. Some ways are harmful: excessive substance use, isolation, overeating, procrastination, alcohol etc.
Other, seemingly less alarming behaviors can be just as unproductive. These are temporary, “quick fix” distractions that reduce emotional pain in the short-term but provide very little in the way of actual healing. Distracting coping is like emotional aspirin; it only numbs the pain temporarily.
In fact, these behaviors may prevent us from effectively processing our emotions and experiences, which can lead to a prolonged sense of anxiety and emotional pain.
Some examples of distracting coping with grief are over-working, staying busy, focusing only on the needs of others, constantly saying “I’m fine,” emotional or physical isolation, seeking constant distraction, emotional eating, fighting, and just giving up. These behaviors become a problem when they are consistently used to avoid and numb feelings, when they prevent us from learning how to deal with the emotions and experiences related to our grief.
Just as each person’s experience of grief is unique, coping strategies work differently for each person. Think about the strategies you have used successfully when faced with difficult situations in the past. Try using them to help you cope now. Here are some tips for coping with loss:
Allow yourself to experience the pain of loss. As much as it hurts, it is natural and healthy to grieve. Sometimes people feel guilty, thinking they should “get over it.” Let yourself grieve and fully experience your feelings, like shock, sadness, anger, and loneliness. Don’t judge yourself for any feelings you have, even if you think you shouldn’t have them.
Take care of yourself. Remember, grief work is experiential. Explore what provides respite, a buffer, some relief and assimilate those strategies into your daily self-care practice. Try to be patient with yourself and with others. And give yourself a break from grieving.
If you feel you are not making any progress moving forward on your own, don’t give up. Join a support group or seek counseling. Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS) offers free counseling and support to anyone coping with the trauma of October 27th, renewed grief over the High Holidays, or anxiety, fear or sadness as the one year mark approaches. Call 412-521-3800, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit jfcspgh.org/communitysupport.