August 30 is observed as National Grief Awareness Day; it’s an opportune time to better understand how we might cope with a personal loss and help others manage their grief while reminding them – and ourselves – that overcoming grief is not as simple as turning off a light switch.
By PUJA SEHGAL, M.D.
It’s something each of us will experience in our lives and must try to work through. For some, it’s managed rather quickly; for others, it can be a long, sad, winding road.
What is grief?
As you might think, grief is often brought about by the loss of a friend, relative, or beloved pet.
What does it feel like?
It seems that when we experience a personal loss, we could not have imagined the variety of feelings that are stirred, because grief isn’t just sadness. A patient once said his initial reaction to the death of his elderly father – though expected – felt like a physical “punch in the gut.”
Grief can be a combination of feelings changing day to day, hour to hour, or minute to minute – sadness and pain can quickly turn into anger yet be accompanied by a sense of profound loss.
Dealing with grief on a personal level
Mourning the loss of a loved one can be quite challenging, requiring patience and time. Most of us will gradually come to accept our feelings and not stay overwhelmed by them. Over time, we develop a set of coping skills to help us carry on.
Suggestions for coping:
- Don’t bottle-up feelings; share them. Simply talking with others may help. Normalizing grief can help you and others cope with the struggles accompanying a loss.
- Allow yourself plenty of time to heal.
- Get physical. Exercise helps increase the production of endorphins, which help block pain perception and increase feelings of wellbeing. (And you’ll probably sleep better.)
- Get creative. Artistic expressions such as writing, drawing, or painting can be a significant benefit.
- Allow yourself to cry. It’s perfectly natural. Don’t suppress the need to cry; you help free emotions when you let them out.
- Don’t rush. As everyone is different, take time to heal. Don’t listen to those who say, “just get over it.”
- Don’t use drugs or alcohol to dull feelings. These only mask pain for a short time and isolate you from friends and family when you need them most.
- Try to pursue new interests. Whether it’s learning a new skill like cooking or pottery, volunteering with community or faith-based organizations, or joining a recreational sports league, get out there and get involved.
- Consider treating yourself to a trip. Traveling can help form new perspectives and realize new opportunities for the future.
- Think about joining a support group. Being around others experiencing grief and sharing feelings will help you realize you are not alone in your loss.
- The City of Houston’s Employee Assistance Program can help. EAP teams offer counseling for those experiencing challenges in their professional and personal life. Appointments with internal counselors are available for scheduling at (832) 393-6510.
- Houston Police Department Mental Health Division (832) 394-4210: HPD.CIT@HoustonPolice.orgHOUSTONCIT.ORG.
Helping others deal with their grief
Don’t fear you’ll say the wrong thing or perhaps have nothing to say – go ahead and reach out to them.
- Just listen. (Surprisingly, sometimes that’s enough to help someone heal.)
- Don’t push or pry, just be there.
- Offer hands-on support if you can, like help with daily tasks and errands.
- Get them out of the house. Taking them to a movie (preferably a comedy) or a peaceful drive through a park can be helpful.
- Suggest they see a doctor if you notice prolonged, unremitting grief. (Sometimes a grieving person needs medical intervention.)
Author Puja Sehgal, M.D.
Published August 7, 2023