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Grief Survival Guide: How To Positively Manage Stress Caused By Loss

July 17, 2020

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When it comes to stress caused by grief, it can be really difficult to separate from some of the normal stress that we experience in our daily lives. Adding the stress of losing a loved one can make your levels of stress and anxiety unbearable and seemingly impossible to manage. Especially as we age, it is even more likely that we will experience loss and be faced with the challenge of overcoming grief. 

In terms of actually managing the stress caused by loss in a positive way, it certainly changes from person to person, and there is really no right or wrong way to go about it. When faced with stress, everyone tends to find different coping mechanisms that are healthy and most effective. In understanding the reasons behind the stress that grief can bring us, we can better plan for how to manage it in a positive way. Once you can accept that it is normal and okay to have the reaction that you are having, you are already taking important steps in the coping process. In this article, we will go through what types of physical and mental effects grief can have on the body and how you can go about positively managing them..

Why is Stress Caused By Loss Different Than Everyday Stress?

Stress levels can tremendously increase after the death of a loved one for a couple of reasons.

Sure, every person has stressors that they are faced with in their daily life. Whether your stress stems from work, school, relationships, or other aspects of your daily routine, there is a good chance that you are faced with at least some type of situations that cause stress or anxiety. Given that these stressors are more normal and you have been consistently exposed to them most of the time, it is likely that you have found at least some strategies for coping with them. 

There are a variety of ways that you can manage your daily stress, whether it be through exercise, meditation, or strategies related to your diet or sleep routine. When it comes to the stress caused by loss however, it can often feel so different that it seems like there is no way to manage it. Interestingly enough, there are multiple reasons behind this. Though not an exhaustive list, here are just a few reasons why stress caused by loss feels different

  • Different emotional experiences. As humans, we certainly experience a rollercoaster of emotions throughout our lives. But, when it comes specifically to traumatic experiences like the death of a loved one, we experience intense and often foreign emotions that can feel shocking and difficult to deal with. When you experience something unexpected or new, specifically a negative experience, not knowing how to deal with it can be a huge source of stress. It could be that you feel you lack the proper resources, or even if the experience of loss isn’t entirely new to you, it could be unexpected and shocking. 
  • Change itself. Some individuals are great at adapting to change, and others aren’t. It’s a fact that losing someone you love is one of the most major changes that can often occur in your life. Adjusting to life without someone can be a change that feels nearly impossible to deal with. Anyone who must adapt to a life that suddenly looks very different will be faced with the immense challenge of moving forward. 
  • Stress in the interpersonal aspects of your life. When it comes to losing a loved one, it is most likely true that you are not the only person affected by the loss. Especially with close family members, the interpersonal stress that accompanies grief can result in a lot of tension and even anger among members of the family. Everyone copes differently, and it can unfortunately cause hurt feelings and distancing in the other relationships in your life. 
  • The pressure of moving on.  Unfortunately, there are a variety of reasons why not all of us can take all of the necessary time and space to grieve. Whether there is pressure from your employment or other relationships in your life, there is often the added stress of feeling like you need to “get back to normal” as quickly as you can. Moving forward after the loss of a loved one takes a certain amount of time and energy that can make everything else in your life seem overwhelming and difficult to manage. 
  • Feeling like you have a lack of control. There is a lot of frustration that accompanies loss, and it can feel very different than the normal frustrations we come across in life. When you lose someone you love, it can be frustrating to know that you have no choice but to move on to life without them. For a lot of people, feeling helpless and knowing that you cannot do anything to change what has happened can be an unbearable frustration. 

To reiterate, this list does not necessarily include every reason as to why stress caused by loss is different. For most of us, traumatic experiences like loss aren’t something that we experience often. Having an understanding of why you may react differently or feel less equipped to deal with a situation like loss is the first step in learning how to positively manage your emotions. 

A man sits appearing to be stressed, something that can easily happen as a result of losing a loved one.
Often, having a deeper understanding of your situation can make it easier to accept how you are feeling. It can be a natural instinct to want to beat ourselves up or try to rush the process of grief after losing a loved one. The best way to get back to feeling normal starts with accepting that it is okay for you to react and feel the emotions you are feeling. 

What Are Some of the Symptoms that Grief Can Have on the Body? 

The stress caused by loss can often be pretty physical.

At some point in your life, you have probably heard of a “heartache” or “broken heart.” These terms are quite commonly used, and often describe any situation that makes us feel upset. Interestingly enough however, you can literally feel a physical pain as if your heart is aching. Additionally, certain memories or thoughts can make your stomach hurt or make you feel chilled or tense. Here are some of the physical symptoms caused by grief:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Increased inflammation
  • High blood pressure/risk of blood clots
  • Decreased immune system function

The systems in your body that are equipped to deal with physical or emotional stress actually overlap quite a bit, which is why you can experience both emotional and physical symptoms caused by something like loss of a loved one. 

A woman is in bed appearing to be extremely fatigued, which is one of the physical symptoms that grief can cause.
Physical and emotional stress can often be one and the same. Stress caused by loss can make you feel extremely fatigued and incapable of going about your daily life, among a lot of other physical symptoms that can be difficult to manage. 

How Can You Positively Manage the Stress Caused By Loss?

There are a lot of ways that you can deal with grief in a way that is healthy and effective.  

As we have mentioned previously in this article, the type of stress that is brought about by grief can often seem resistant to the normal strategies that you use to deal with your everyday stressors. Luckily, there are plenty of methods that you can apply to dealing with the stress of losing a loved one. Here are just a few suggestions for grief coping strategies: 

  • Rely on a support system. Hopefully, you have at least one or more people in your life that you can look to in a time of crisis. Forming a support network, whether it be made up of family or friends, will be extremely useful in the grieving process. Tell your loved ones what you need from them as best you can, and look to them for support or a shoulder to lean on when you are feeling stressed. 
  • Turn to your religion or faith if applicable. Not everyone necessarily considers themselves to be a religious person, and that is absolutely okay. However, if you are someone who has a strong background in faith and could potentially utilize this in the grieving process, it is a great option for managing the stress that losing your loved one can cause. Any spiritual activity that is meaningful to you can be helpful in positively managing your stress and offer a way to “escape” and properly deal with your emotions.  
  • Join a support group or seek professional help. Grief can often make us feel completely alone, even if we have other loved ones around us. Because of this, it may be more effective for some individuals to seek out professional help, whether it be joining a support group that offers group therapy or speaking privately to a counselor or therapist. Sometimes, we need others to evaluate our grieving process and help us decide how to make a plan moving forward. 
One person appears to be holding another person's hands in a supportive manner. Relying on loved ones and finding support in this way is one method for dealing  with grief.
There are multiple ways that you can find support in dealing with the stress of losing a loved one. Sometimes, we do best looking for support directly from other family members or loved ones. Other times, it is most effective to seek professional help from healthcare professionals who are trained to understand and parse out the grieving process. 

Positively managing stress caused by loss is no easy feat, but there are options for you to choose from. Understanding that your emotional reactions are natural and acceptable is the first step in healthy grieving. As best you can, find a support network that is most beneficial to your well-being and equips you with the resources to deal with your stress. 

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