Navigating Grief: How to Take Care of Yourself in a Worst-Case Scenario
Trigger Warning: Please note that this blog contains a discussion of suicide, self-injurious behavior, depression and/or references of other mental health disorders that may act as triggers. Continue at your own discretion.
Suicides and other mental health conditions are on the rise, especially suicides among young people. Every day we engage with people—our colleagues, mentors, students, friends, family—and more often than not, we’re left in the dark about what they may be struggling with.
When you lose someone to suicide, your mind races, your body is filled with grief, and you may find it hard to go on with that loss. That’s all normal.
If you’re here, it’s likely because you’re trying to learn how to cope with a sense of loss, all while navigating the buzzing questions in your head.
Although there’s no one “right” way to cope with suicide, this article will give you some tips, affirmations, and advice that can help you get through it.
1. Acknowledge, name, and process your feelings.
When someone you love passes away, the pain of loss is immense. And when we lose someone to suicide, there’s often a sense of guilt that comes with it. You might wonder what else you could have done differently or what you wished you had told them when you had the chance.
Nothing you are thinking or feeling right now is wrong. The first step towards healing is to acknowledge your feelings. Name them. Pay attention to how your physical body experiences them at the moment.
You may be tempted to push your feelings away, and many people choose this path. But these coping skills don’t help you to heal from your trauma. So, do your best to avoid things like:
· prescription medications
· overusing drugs or alcohol
· binging bad habits (overeating, oversleeping, watching TV, having sex, or playing video games are common)
In moderation, these things in our life can help up. But when grieving, it can be easy to have too much of a good thing.
Remember that avoiding your feelings doesn’t make them go away—it only pushes them down to a place inside where they will grow.
2. Talk about it.
I’ll be honest with you. This isn’t going to be easy—but it is necessary.
It might feel like there is no one who you could possibly talk to right now, but there are actually a lot of people who want to listen to you, including:
· friends and family members
· a licensed therapist
· support groups
If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your experience with someone just yet, then consider journaling as a tool for talking to yourself about how you’re feeling.
3. Meet your body’s needs first.
Grief, like any mental stressor, takes an enormous toll on your physical body. You might feel as if you were sick, and a good approach is to take care of yourself as if you are physically sick.
These three things are the pillars of mental health, so caring for yourself in these ways will help you cope.
Activity. Balance restorative resting with physical activity and exercise. A short walk every day can work wonders.
Sleep. Getting good sleep is essential for your body to heal. Try to stick to a solid schedule for waking and sleeping and create a restful environment in your bedroom. A few hours before bed, avoid screens, alcohol, and intense exercise.
Healthy eating. A nutritious diet has a huge impact on how you feel. Prioritize eating three meals a day, and try to add in healthy foods, especially fresh or frozen vegetables.
When you care for your physical body, improving your mental health becomes more manageable.
4. Adjust your lifestyle to avoid overwhelm.
When we experience trauma and flooding emotions, overwhelm is bound to happen. A big part of coping with grief is acknowledging that life will not look the same as before this traumatic experience.
If exercise is nightly stretching instead of a mile run, that’s okay. If it’s hard to cook meals and you need to order takeout, that’s okay. If you need to take time off work, that’s okay.
Even if you need to modify your regular routine, try to stick to a routine. Some structure will help you get through each day with less mental effort.
5. Not everyone will experience grief in the same way.
You may look around you and wonder why others don’t seem to be grieving in the same way you are.
It’s important to recognize that everyone experiences grief in their own way, in their own time.
Common trauma responses in the face of suicide include:
Eventually, people who experience grief will find acceptance. Although all the other feelings may not disappear, acceptance will help you continue through life.
6. Progress isn’t linear.
As you move through your grief, it’s important to keep in mind that progress is not linear—by that, I mean that you will experience ups and downs. You may feel like you’ve taken a step back, but it’s important that a sense that you’ve lost progress doesn’t knock you down.
Some days, things will feel better. Other times, they may feel worse. And that’s normal.
Have faith that you will continue to heal.
Coping with Suicide through a Trauma-Informed Lens
If you want to equip yourself or your organization with the tools you need to become more resilient through difficult challenges, including the death of a loved one or a suicide, consider speaking directly with a Trauma-Informed Specialist.