How to cope with bereavement

Posted on: 19 March 2016 by Lynda Shaw

Dr Lynda Shaw offers tips to cope with feelings of guilt and isolation after bereavement.

coping with bereavement

Grief affects us all in different ways and can create feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, disbelief and utter sadness. Getting through Christmas and the dark days of mid winter is probably one of hardest challenges we face in the first year of losing a loved one, but in time and by having hope the pain will lessen, your life can in time continue in whatever ways feel right to you.

In 1969, the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief” consisting of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  Although these are based on her studies primarily aimed at patients who were faced with terminal illness, many people have universally applied them to other hard life changing experiences such as the death of a loved one or a break-up.

Avoiding  anxiety and sorrow

It may seem inconceivable to think of a life of fun and happiness after the loss of a loved one, but don’t let your guilt and fear get in the way of you moving forwards in time and continuing to live a happy and fulfilling life. Grief can play havoc to our physical and mental wellbeing, so it is imperative to find ways to let go and relieve some of the pressures of heightened anxiety and sorrow.

As author Robert A. Berezin said, mourning is the biological process of the brain-body for healing and recovery from loss. Having a set of coping strategies in place is a healthy way of managing your anguish and should be viewed as a form of protection - to give yourself time to better adjust to your loss and cope with the pain. Grief can be very lonely, even when you are surrounded by loved ones or close friends.  If you are a sociable person and have always loved meeting new people, enjoy good conversation and the company of others, joining a group or society where you can meet like-minded individuals who may share similar interests as you, is the perfect way to make sure you get out of the house.

Expressing your emotions in a tangible and creative way can also be helpful, such as setting up a charity or getting involved with an organisation that was important to your loved one. Many find comfort in doing something positive through aiding others as well as receiving support yourself at the same time.

Heartbreak can also impair immunity particularly in older people as they are more prone to picking up infections due to their poor defenses against bacteria as well as the increase of cortisol, a stress hormone that can dampen the immune system.  As hard as it sounds, if you can learn to re-engage with others in a support group or local community and to focus on the positive things that you can do, it can help to alleviate some of the pain and ease you on your journey to heal.

Other top tips to cope with bereavement

  1. Don’t feel guilty if you are interested in meeting someone.   Your late partner would most likely want you to enjoy life. You will know in your heart of hearts when the time is right. Of course, you will never forget your partner however, you’re never closing the book on your life together, you are simply starting a different chapter in your life.
  2. Spend as much time with your family and friends as you can. You never know who they can introduce you to but in the meanwhile enjoy those you love, and laugh as much as possible.

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