When Death Stuns Those Left Behind - How to Cope?
Dec 18, 2013 - 4:57:43 PM
Clinical psychologist and bereavement specialist Dr. Hayley Hirschmann offers tips on managing after the death of a loved one
A loved one's death often causes the most intense type of bereavement, and the level of emotional suffering typically matches the significance of one's personal loss. Ultimately, however, grief is a highly personal and individual experience, Dr. Hirschmann says.
"There's no right or wrong way to grieve, but some forms of grief are less productive and can lead to outcomes such as extended anxiety and depression," she explains. "It's important that the bereaved understand that while they couldn't control their loved one's passing, they do have some control in grieving in a healthy manner. This realization offers hope."
Common feelings surrounding loss
Many factors affect how people grieve, ranging from the nature of the loss - which can be harder for those losing a spouse, child, parent or sibling - along with personality, coping style, faith and life experiences. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced what became known as the 5 stages of grief more than 40 years ago, acknowledging that experiencing all the stages isn't necessary or even a linear process. They include denial; anger; bargaining; depression; and acceptance.
Keeping this framework in mind, it can be useful to understand what emotions to expect in the days, weeks and months after a loved one dies. These include:
"We often view grief as a strictly emotional process, but it can also involve physical problems such as fatigue, nausea, weight fluctuations, aches and pains, and insomnia," Dr. Hirschmann points out.
Tips for coping
Wallowing in grief can be destructive, however, but not facing your feelings can be equally damaging to your mental health, according to Dr. Hirschmann. She offers these tips for managing bereavement in a way that leads you forward:
"An experienced psychotherapist can help you work through your intense emotions and overcome obstacles to healing," Dr. Hirschmann says. "If you aren't feeling better over time, your grief may have developed into a more severe problem such as depression. When you're grieving, it's more important than ever to take care of yourself."
Hayley Hirschmann, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who treats issues specific to women, such as postpartum depression, menopause related depression, adjustment to divorce or single parenthood, and coping with chronic illness, losses or trauma.
The Morris Psychological Group, P.A. offers a wide range of therapy and evaluation services to adults, children and adolescents. www.morrispsych.com
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