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Strategies to Cope with Grief and Loss

Romy Kunitz is a clinical and developmental psychologist based in Sydney NSW and has been in private practice for more than 20 years. Romy has extensive experience in working with individuals, couples and families and also provides services to Australian military veterans and their families for Open Arms.

Research shows that the most stressful life event is the experience of death. Losing a loved one is like losing a huge chunk of oneself. The mental and often physical pain can be difficult and debilitating, making it hard to imagine that things will ever get back to normal. No two people experience the death of a loved one in the same way. Loss is personal.

Strategies and Techniques to Cope with the Loss of a Loved One

It is essential to adequately express and deal with grief because its emotional state impacts overall wellbeing. This means that a holistic approach is needed in helping people through their loss. Grief experiences that are not carefully managed, with denial of reality and repression of feelings, may contribute to disease conditions.

Grief counselling helps facilitate the mourning process and assist people who are grieving in the following ways.

Encouragement to express various aspects of grief

Losing a loved one is significant trauma, and recovery is a long process. In the immediate weeks and months after the loss, a person may not have processed the loss. Seeing a counsellor when they are possibly shut down or too raw could make things worse. A mourner should seek support from a bereavement counsellor or psychologist when they feel the time is right.

A counsellor or therapist can provide a private and safe space for aspects of grief to flow out, including sadness, irritability, anger, anxiety, hopelessness, disbelief, confusion, despair, helplessness, anguish, guilt, and depression. This allows for understanding, stability and catharsis.

Remembering

Pay tribute to the relationship by remembering and reviewing the lost person and the times spent together.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on a person’s thoughts and behaviour, not only about the death itself but about a new life without the lost loved one. To increase a sense of mastery and control, some CBT strategies are outlined below to help overcome grief from the loss of a loved one.

  • Establish a routine and draw up a daily schedule or activity plan around bedtime, meals and exercise.
  • Promote self-care which can include regular medical check-ups, limiting alcohol intake, drinking 2 litres of water a day, and making time for enjoyable activities and outings.
  • Try to break down anxiety by listing all the things that are causing stress and writing a to-do list, crossing off items as they are completed.
  • Exposure therapy by gradually exposing yourself to difficult situations, even if it takes a few attempts. Also, plan for ‘the firsts’, which are often the most difficult, like an anniversary and how you want to acknowledge it.
  • Identify distorted beliefs or unhelpful thoughts that keep you stuck because these lead to guilt or frustration with yourself or others. Ask yourself questions like ‘what would your loved one tell you if they were here now?’ and ‘where is the evidence for your thoughts?’ Consider other thoughts you could have.
  • Make a to-do list for difficult decisions like deciding when to sort through belongings and whether to move or not. Ideally, it’s best not to make any life-changing decisions for 12 months after the loss, allowing emotions to settle.
  • Problem-solving techniques can also help. Write down how you perceive a problem and think of some possible solutions. List the positives and negatives for each solution as well as the consequences for each.
  1. Read about grief

Reading about grief can help you better understand the loss experience and increase a sense of hope. Some suggested books include Getting to the Other Side of Grief:  Overcoming the Loss of a Spouse, Good Grief, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, and How Can it be All Right when Everything is All Wrong?

  1. Meditation

Meditation has been proven to assist with focus and neuroplasticity. The Headspace or Smiling Mind apps are recommended and easily accessible. Try for at least 20 minutes a day.

  1. Dedicate daily time to mourn

Set aside a specific time period each day to focus on mourning your loss. When the day’s time is up, resume your regular activities and postpone grieving thoughts until the next scheduled time.

  1. Avoid the use of substances and self-destructive behaviours

Be able to identify how the use of substances or other self-destructive behaviours has helped avoid feelings associated with the loss and served as an escape from the pain or guilt. In some instances, chemical dependence needs to be addressed by going to rehab or having treatment for substance abuse before the loss can be dealt with.

Through it, all be kind to yourself. And accept kindness from others. Be open and honest about wanting to talk about your loss, or not, and about wanting visitors, or not. Don’t put yourself under pressure. Mourning and overcoming grief takes time. It’s a personal journey. Take one day at a time.

To find out more about Romy, check out Episode 3 of Before You Go, hosted by Dale Maroney.

The information on this website is for general information only and are not (and nor are they intended to be) a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice, nor is it used for diagnosis and treatment. You, or anyone you are concerned about, are encouraged to seek professional medical or mental health advice and treatment from suitably qualified medical and clinical practitioners and providers. 

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If you are in crisis or think you may have an emergency, immediately call Emergency 000. If you're having thoughts of self-harm or harm to others call Lifeline on 13 11 23 to talk to a skilled, trained counsellor. If you are located outside Australia, contact your local emergency line directly.

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Romy Kunitz is a clinical and developmental psychologist based in Sydney NSW and has been in private practice for more than 20 years. Romy has extensive experience in working with individuals, couples and families and also provides services to Australian military veterans and their families for Open Arms.

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