Loss is an inevitable part of life. Whether it’s someone we love, a relationship that’s run its course or a new life stage - endings are never easy.
We can’t protect ourselves against the pain of loss, but we can build resilience to help us bounce back faster, and learn to look after ourselves as we move through it.
Whatever you’re working through right now, here are some tips to help you process and move on.
10 tips for coping with loss
1. Feel what you need to feel
As clinical psychologist and Holocaust survivor Edith Eger beautifully writes, you can’t heal what you don’t allow yourself to feel. As with all difficult feelings, the best way to process and move on from loss is to allow yourself to experience it - however painful. Give yourself space to grieve intentionally and without judgement: ignoring the pain won’t help you in the long-run.
2. Don’t set yourself a time-limit
Try to avoid judging your grief or comparing your responses to anyone else’s: we all respond to loss in our own way. There is no ‘right’ way to grieve, and no ‘right’ amount of time by which you should be okay. This holds true if you move on from loss faster than you expected.
3. Allow all the feelings
Endings can bring up grief and sadness, but they can also bring up a whole cocktail of mixed emotions: anger, resentment, disappointment. Rather than judging these emotions, allow space for whatever comes up: acknowledging these feelings is the only way to move past them. This includes any positive emotions that come up at a time you feel you ‘should’ be sad. There’s no right way to experience loss. Whatever you’re feeling is normal and valid.
4. Find an outlet for your grief
We all express emotion in our own way. Whether your form of expression involves journalling, painting, running, therapy or just screaming into a pillow - make sure you’re getting it out somehow. If putting your feelings into words feels impossible, creative outlets like art, music or spending time in nature can provide emotional release, and help to articulate what might otherwise feel inexpressible.
5. Let people in
“Love from others is key in helping us survive the loss of a particular love. With their support, we can endeavor to find a way of bearing the pain and going on without the person who has died - daring to go forward to trust in life again.” (Julia Samuel, Grief Works).
Surround yourself with a strong support network and try to fight the impulse to withdraw into yourself. Allow others to be there for you, and ask for help when you need it. Loss is much more manageable when you don’t have to bear the pain alone.
6. Practice radical acceptance
Denial is famously the first stage of grief, but it will only get you so far. Radical acceptance means fully accepting the facts of reality, and realising that trying to fight against reality only makes things more difficult. It’s a distress tolerance skill, designed to prevent pain from turning into suffering. By coming to terms with the things we cannot change (however painful this may be), we can shift our focus onto the things we can control, and avoid ruminating on the past.
7. Reframe grief as a symptom of love
Speaking about the loss of his mother on The Late Show, Andrew Garfield said described his grief as “unexpressed love”. He said:
“I hope this grief stays with me because it’s all of the unexpressed love that I didn’t get to tell her, and I told her every day, she was the best of us.
Grief is indescribably painful, but it’s also a sign of intense and unwavering love: a reminder of the existence of something beautiful and important.
As Helen Keller once wrote: “what we once loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”
8. Let go of regret
In the wake of loss, there is often regret: “I wish I’d said goodbye”, “I wish I hadn’t said that”, “I wish I’d done things differently.”
There will always be things we wish we’d done differently if we’d had more information. But our information is always limited. And we can’t control the past.
Rather than ruminating on things you can’t change, focus on what you can do now: processing your grief, holding your loved ones close, forgiving yourself for past events and allowing yourself to move on.
9. Trust that it won't feel this way forever
It’s the cliché that everyone tells you, but it’s true. No feeling lasts forever, and no pain (however enormous and unbearable it feels in the moment) is truly unmanageable. You will get through this, and it will feel better.
In the case of a lost loved one, to say that it will feel better is not to say that your love for the person will diminish. But rather that you will learn to live with the grief: it will change shape, and you will find new ways of moving through the world without them.
10. Embrace new beginnings
Endings are painful. But they also make space for new things to grow. Without discounting the pain of loss, we can work to reframe difficult endings by anticipating new beginnings.