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5 Activities to Help You Work Through Loss and Grief

Although it's not the topic I intended to write about today, recent events have compelled me to explore, reflect on and write about the psychology behind loss.

There are many people in my country, and around the world, who felt a strong sense of grief about the recent passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. As lots of people commented on social media, the death of a lady in her late 90's, regardless of her privilege and position, was perhaps to be expected.

Nevertheless, there was a public outpouring of grief from around the world. And maybe because of her power and position, we have been reminded that no matter who we are, both we - and those we love and admire - share the same fragile mortality.

In simple terms, grief is an intense emotional experience triggered by loss, and the word 'grief' has its roots in the Latin 'gravis' which loosely translates to 'a heavy burden'; which anyone who has experienced grief can attest to.

But loss itself comes in many forms; the loss of a relationship, a job, your faith, a home, even empty nest feelings as children return to university this month.

Although we all experience loss in a different way, there are several commonly felt physical, emotional, cognitive, interpersonal and lifestyle symptoms that characterise grief, as shown in the image below.

We live in a world where many of us have learned to suppress or avoid difficult emotions and when you sense people around you want you to be ok, it can be hard to find the space you need to work through your emotions, or you may be tempted to hide how you are really feeling.

But it is natural to feel sadness, longing, numbness, relief, shame, guilt, despair, anger or regret; and hiding your feelings doesn't make them go away, and it can make them worse.

Contrary to the belief of some, positive psychology promotes acceptance of all emotions and experiences, both positive and negative.

Grief is a normal and healthy emotion and forms a major part of the healing process after loss. But it can be associated with negative changes to physical and mental health, so self-awareness and seeking support from others is an important step.

There are a number of activities that can help you handle loss or grief, some of which I have outlined below.

Express Your Grief

Make sure you give yourself time to process and express these emotions. Consider talking things though with loved ones, or a counsellor if the emotions are particularly strong. Don't be afraid to let others know that you don't need them to make it better, you just need them to listen. Another helpful way of expressing your loss is to keep a journal and write about how you are feeling.

Create a Memory Box

Reminiscing about happy times and events in the past generates positive emotions and can help you celebrate the life and connection you had with someone, even when coloured with the sadness of loss. Create a memory box of items and photos that bring to mind happy times and set a regular time to visit the memory box, for example on the anniversary of a loved one's passing.

Narrative/Story Therapy

Telling the story of your loss and talking about your experiences is an important part of making sense of what has happened and processing your grief. You may also find it helpful to write about what has happened from your perspective, including your thoughts and feelings. Associated with this is telling the shared story of your life and your loved one's life, reflecting on important memories, experiences and hopes.

Write a Letter to Your Loved One

Writing as a form of emotional therapy is a well-researched practice that generates many positive outcomes. Writing a letter to a loved one can be a healthy way of working through your feelings and gives you the chance to say things you didn't get the chance to say. Write freely from the heart and include everything you would like to share, then decide what you would like to do with the letter.

Connect With Your Emotions

It is important to find ways to connect with and process your emotions, and to acknowledge and work through your thoughts and feelings. It might help to think of your emotions like the characters in the Disney film 'Inside Out'; in which there is a separate part of you that feels angry, sad or scared. Name all these parts and ask them what this part thinks about the loss, where in the body it feels most strongly and what it wants to do?

Then bring to mind the compassionate, loving and wise parts of you and think about what it wants to say to all of these other parts, how it can help the other parts heal & what this part wants for you too.

Life is all about balance, and loss is as much a part of life as joy & happiness. It affects all of us at various times in our lives and the pain of grief is the price we pay for loving deeply.

Knowing healthy coping skills to help you handle the strong emotions loss often generates is part of building resilience. It isn't about avoiding or denying the pain, it's about embracing it safe in the knowledge that over time the pain will fade, even as the love and loss is still felt.

If you require additional support to help you manage grief or loss, there are a number of charities who can help, including;


Author: Tamara Judge

Bio: Tamara is a positive psychology consultant, coach and the founder of Keystone Coaching. She is an accredited coach at Senior Practitioner Level with the EMCC, holds an MSc in Applied Positive Psychology & Coaching Psychology from the University of East London and is a qualified Mindfulness & Meditation Teacher.

She uses her expert knowledge in multidimensional positive psychology and education, to help educational and business organisations; improve wellbeing and reduce burnout; create a more positive culture; develop inspirational leaders & stronger teams; and improve engagement & performance. Tamara is passionate about raising the profile of wellbeing and empowering individuals & leaders to actively engage in & value opportunities for self-care.


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