How Can I Recover From Complicated Grief?
When typical grief over the loss of a loved one extends for much longer than is normal, you may be suffering from complicated grief. Although it may feel as if life will never be good again, there are several things you can do to get through this, from getting professional treatment to gathering with others who have experienced similar loss and grief.
Complicated grief is difficult because it is a sense of loss that seems as if it will never go away. If you are grieving a loved one and can’t seem to feel any better, even months or a year later, you may need professional care to process your feelings and accept and adapt to a new way of life.
As you go through treatment, rely on social support, find joy in memories, and take care of yourself to aid your recovery.
When Normal Grief Becomes Complicated
Complicated grief disorder is a condition that is recognized as an extension of the normal grieving process. If you have lost a loved one, you can expect to go through a normal period of grief during which you feel sad, hopeless, as if you can’t live without that person, and as if you can’t really function in your typical activities. When this persists for a year or more, it may be considered complicated grief, and you may need professional support to be able to move on and enjoy life again.
What Protects You from Complicated Grief?
Everyone experiences loss. It is inevitable, as are the difficult emotions that come with grieving someone you love. Most people will move through the stages of grief and begin to feel better after weeks or months, but some get stuck. Exactly why some people struggle so much and develop complicated grief is not fully understood, but there are definite risk factors and protective factors:
- Having good social support, from a close family or friends, can protect you from complicated grief when you lose a loved one.
- Being mentally healthy will also protect you, even if you have diagnosed mental illnesses. Untreated conditions, especially depression and trauma disorders, can put you at greater risk.
- Knowing how to manage stress in healthy ways makes complicated grief less likely. A great deal of stress that you can’t cope with puts you at risk.
- Trauma, including a very violent or unexpected passing of a loved one, can put you at greater risk for complicated grief. But, having processed trauma in productive ways can protect you.
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Getting Professional Care for Grief
If you or someone you care about is struggling to recover from a personal loss, the best way to make improvements is to seek out professional care and support. A mental health professional can make a diagnosis and determine if you have complicated grief disorder and then suggest a course of treatment to help you overcome it.
Therapy is the most effective strategy for helping someone get through complicated grief. A therapist can help you understand what you are experiencing, explore your emotions, develop better coping skills, and process the loss in a way that is healthy and productive. When dealing with grief, a therapist may also ask you to have imaginary conversations with your lost loved one, which while difficult can help you accept what has happened. A therapist can also help you determine if you have any underlying mental illnesses that need management to help you better process grief.
Lean on Friends and Family
Professional treatment is crucial for complicated grief, but you can also rely on other people for additional support. It can be tempting in this difficult time to withdraw, but this will only make grief worse and more entrenched. Force yourself to be around other people, whether you talk about your grief of not. Also, consider joining a support group for people who are grieving. The support of people who understand your struggle is invaluable.
Accept all of Your Emotions
You may feel guilty during this time if you find joy in anything or if you laugh, but researchers have found that people who have varied and flexible emotions cope better with loss. Let yourself enjoy life in spite of losing someone you love. Do activities you enjoy and laugh with friends with no guilt or shame. A great way to start expressing positive emotions again is to reminisce about all the funny, happy memories you have of your loved one.
Take Care of Yourself
Grief can make you neglect basic self-care, but you won’t recover if you don’t meet your needs. Taking care of you means getting help and relying on others, but it also means keeping up with sleep, good nutrition, and exercise. It means maintaining your normal hobbies and work, even if you don’t feel like it. Do everything you can to keep yourself well, and as you take the difficult steps to recover from complicated grief, you will be in a better position and your healing may be quicker.