How can I cope with grief?

G R. Smith, MD
Coping with grief requires having a community that is tolerant of your feelings of sadness; taking advantage of support groups is key. In this video, psychiatrist G. Richard Smith, MD, explains why doing "grief work" is so important for healing. 
If you are struggling to cope with your grief, consider these strategies that may help:
  • Spend time with people who knew the person who died
  • Spend time with friends
  • Talk to a pastor, priest, rabbi or religious leader
  • Talk to a therapist or counselor
  • Join a support group
  • Take care of your body
As you make the courageous journey into and through your grief, you may feel the desire to turn back. To keep going through the grief, remind yourself that in grieving one loss you are learning how to relate to all losses. The work you are doing on this loss will build your capacity to grieve losses throughout the rest of your life.

You can also remind yourself that with each layer of pain that you uncover, you are freeing yourself from the compulsion to avoid pain. (Pain avoidance can take the form of compulsive busyness, drug or alcohol abuse, workaholism, or any other form of addiction.) You are also freeing yourself from a compulsion to re-create the pain. The legitimate grieving you have to do in your life is persistent in its efforts to be heard. It will resurface in many forms until you honor it.
Listening to Depression: How Understanding Your Pain Can Heal Your Life

More About this Book

Listening to Depression: How Understanding Your Pain Can Heal Your Life

A New Way of Thinking About DepressionWhat does it really mean to be depressed? You know depression as a collection of symptoms—fatigue, listlessness, feelings of worthlessness—and the source of...
Most people have experienced some difficulties in life, whether personal, professional, or financial. Make use of what you learned from those experiences now, in your time of grieving. They can shed light on how you cope with painful situations, as well as the origins of your defenses. This can help you separate approaches that aren't serving you well from those that are healthy and useful.
  • Do some sleuthing. A few simple questions can help you identify your coping strategies. What makes you feel better when you feel awful? What do you tend to do when you are distressed? Which of your coping strategies are helpful, and which might be hurtful?
  • Think back. How were deaths and losses handled in your family? Were they largely shuffled away behind closed doors or openly marked and mourned? When did you first experience the death of someone you loved? How old were you? How were you told about it? Were you allowed to participate in services? How safe was it to express your own feelings of loss? Was your grief acknowledged, or were you told implicitly or explicitly to stop being so upset? How were sad or angry feelings expressed in your family?
  • Replace an unhealthy approach. Try to replace one unhealthy coping strategy with a healthier possibility. For example, when you feel overwhelmed, call a friend to talk rather than downing a pint of ice cream or a stiff drink. Be judicious, though. Seeking solitude when you need it or occasionally taking second helpings of comfort food or a single drink should not necessarily be considered a problem.

Continue Learning about Grief & Emotional Health

Change, Loss, and Grief: Are Your Reactions Unhealthy?
Change, Loss, and Grief: Are Your Reactions Unhealthy?
Most people think of the grieving process as something experienced only after the death of a loved one. But we grieve for many reasons -- be it the lo...
Read More
How can I connect with a loved one who has died?
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MDDr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Paying attention to coincidences or unusual events is one way to connect with a loved one who ha...
More Answers
What do I need to know about caring for someone with emotional trauma?
Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
When a loved one is experiencing emotional trauma, you should endeavor to keep them comfortable and ...
More Answers
Caleb Walker on Playing His Brother Paul
Caleb Walker on Playing His Brother Paul

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.