Most of us will deal with grief at some point in life. Grief is typically experienced as feelings of sadness, numbness, guilt or regret, longing and even anger. The intensity of these feelings typically fades over time as we adapt to the loss.
Mourning is how we express grief. Think of it as a way to sort out the feelings associated with grief. Our cultural and religious beliefs can guide this process, providing rituals and structure for our mourning to recognize our loss and help us not become overwhelmed with distressing feelings. There is no right or wrong way to mourn, nor is there a timeline for mourning that applies to everyone.
Typical and complicated grief
When we experience multiple losses, we’re vulnerable to something called complicated grief. This is especially true when we haven’t been able to mourn a past loss or when a loss is ambiguous, such as when a loved one disappears without a trace or ends their own life. We can also experience complicated grief when the loss doesn’t involve death but instead the loss of a way of life, such as following a job loss. When we experience complicated grief, events that seem unrelated to our experience, like hearing about a loss that a coworker is going through, can trigger our feelings of grief.
Many aspects of typical grief are the same as those of complicated grief. Typical grief gradually fades but complicated grief can become more serious as time passes. People may describe complicated grief as being an intense and ongoing period of mourning. In complicated grief, we may struggle to carry out the normal activities of daily life, develop symptoms of depression or anxiety, or use unhealthy behaviours such as sleeping too much or watching too much television to cope with feelings.
Grief support through counselling
Counselling can be helpful for those experiencing all types of grief. In counselling, you can explore feelings about loss and learn healthy coping skills. A counsellor may ask questions about the events surrounding the loss of your loved one. They may ask about your mood, thoughts and behavior, lifestyle, sleeping and eating patterns.
Counselling can help reduce negative emotions and prevent negative beliefs about loss from taking over. It is especially important for people who feel like ending their lives following a loved one's death to seek help. If you or someone you know is feeling this way, reach out for support as soon as possible.
If you or your loved one is in crisis and you aren’t sure what to do, call 9-1-1 or go to your local emergency room.
Positive coping strategies
A counsellor can also help you to identify and develop positive coping strategies, or you can do this work on your own, perhaps with the support of a friend or family member. Positive coping strategies include:
- Regular exercise – Activity helps to increase the production of chemicals that make you feel better which has the effect of burning off the energy negative emotions create. Exercise also improves your sleep and appetite.
- Routine– Implementing and sticking to a routine that structures your day will support a healthy body, mind and spirit. This includes keeping a regular sleep/wake cycle and eating meals at regular intervals. Loss of appetite is common when grieving but even if you don’t feel hungry, try to eat to keep your body nourished and prevent further loss of appetite. Try to also keep up your other regular activities.
- Rituals– If religious or traditional practices are part of your life, making time and space for these practices or seeking the support of a spiritual leader may bring comfort and help to guide and support you as you mourn.
- Reduce or avoid substance use – Alcohol and other substances can unbalance the production of chemicals in your body and make you feel worse in the long run, even if you feel momentarily better.
- Connect with others – It’s common to feel overwhelmed and exhausted when grieving which can lead to the desire to withdraw. Connecting with friends and family is important because isolation can worsen symptoms of grief. Loved ones offer a source of distraction, support and are likely to notice if your grief symptoms are becoming severe.
Helping a grieving friend or family member
If you are close to someone who is grieving, you may feel the impact of their loss as well. Many people report feeling concern for friends or family members who have experienced a loss but also note that they don’t know what to say or do. It’s most important to know that it isn’t your job to solve, fix or end their grief.
The only way out of grief is through it. The most helpful thing you can do is remind your friend or family member often of your presence in their life and your willingness to support them in whatever way they find meaningful. Invite the grieving person to tell you what will be helpful for them, or make a specific offer, such as dropping off dinner, and then ask if that feels alright to them.
Employee Assistance Program support
Grief is a healthy, normal response to a loss. Most people will adapt and return to their usual way of functioning over time. If feelings of grief are too intense or lasting too long for you or a loved one to manage, it’s best to seek the help of a qualified professional. Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counsellors are compassionate, highly trained professionals who are available to support you and your family. Our clinical intake team is also available to provide additional information and community resources that may be helpful to you and your loved ones.
If you need assistance, our EAP team is here to help:
1.800.590.5553 (toll free)
Counsellor Connect (Complete intake and request initial appointment.)
To check if you have EAP coverage, login to your mybluecross® account.