Am I grieving in healthy ways?

BY: Lesley Dials, LISW

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

Even though grief is a normal and necessary process, it can be one of the most difficult experiences of one's life. Due to the unique nature of grief and the many ways to grieve, you may question whether you are grieving in healthy ways.

Unhealthy coping skills can provide short-term relief but they have long-term negative consequences. It is not uncommon for a bereaved individual to be tempted to engage in these behaviors. It is understandable for that person to desire immediate relief or distraction from their grief symptoms. For example, I have provided grief support to individuals who have shared that they have noticed an increase in their alcohol consumption since the death of their loved one. Substance use temporarily distracts from their grief, but only serves to delay their pain until the usage has stopped. And it creates other problems as well. I have had the privilege to provide bereavement support groups at a residential treatment center for those struggling with chemical dependency addictions. Once they were sober, individuals there often felt overwhelmed with unresolved grief. They grieve that they did not deal fully with their loss while actively using—even when the loss has occurred years before. Others have observed that their addictions began shortly after the death of their loved one.

Other examples of unhealthy coping skills are over or under-eating, fighting or yelling with others, compulsive spending, significantly increasing work hours, smoking, and increasing other substance use including caffeine.

Healthy coping skills decrease our symptoms while allowing us to deal with our grief. They provide us effective relief and have long-term positive outcomes. The skills can sometimes take time to implement but they are worth it. They do not create additional problems for us or ask more of us than we can provide. They do not harm us or put us at risk of being harmed. They support us on our grief journeys without delaying or lengthening the healing process. 

One of the most effective healthy coping skills shared with me is exercise. This can be as simple as going for a short walk or as complex as working out at the gym. Studies indicate that engaging in exercise helps us both physically and mentally. Other examples of healthy coping skills are talking with others about our thoughts and feelings, journaling, listening to music, creating art, reading, meditating, practicing mindfulness or muscle relaxation exercises and spending time in nature.

Grief is one of our human experiences. Grief shifts toward healing as one continues on the journey. Healthy coping skills help us navigate it in manageable ways.

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