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How to Cope With Loss

Grief can be a crushing burden that can make it difficult to see clearly. Here are some proven paths to help you navigate the challenges of loss.

Written by Hilary Collins / August 9, 2022

Quick Bites

  • Grief impacts not just your emotional and mental health, but your physical and financial health as well.
  • You might feel some surprising emotions—anger, guilt, resentment, numbness—but don’t judge yourself for how you feel.
  • Avoid knee-jerk decisions, especially financial ones.
  • There’s no shame in asking for help, whether that be from a friend, family member, or a mental health professional.

When you lose someone you love, everything you know can be thrown off its axis. You might feel like you want to hide from the world when you were previously a social butterfly. You might want to splurge on a new car when you’re usually a savvy saver. You might feel nothing at all.

Grief is a complex experience that impacts you in a variety of ways. While there’s no quick solution to the painful challenges of loss, there are some proven insights from researchers, psychologists and financial experts that can help you navigate months ahead. Here are five important things to consider as you cope with a loss.

Inside this article

  1. How grief can impact you
  2. How grief can impact finances
  3. Lean on your support system
  4. Let your emotions ebb and flow
  5. Get professional help

Be aware of how grief can impact your health

You’re likely already painfully aware of how grief can impact your emotions, but there are also very real ways that grief hits you physically. Harvard researchers have found that grief can bring not only depression, but loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, physical pain, and continual stress that can exacerbate other conditions.[1]

To manage that physical damage, experts advise taking these steps:

  • Eat healthy meals regularly. Grief is extremely stressful, and stress affects people differently. You might be constantly craving junk food or struggling with complete appetite loss. Make sure that you are drinking water, eating fresh foods, and getting balanced, regular meals.

  • Implement a sleep schedule. Similarly, some people dealing with grief might want to sleep all day while others can’t get a wink. Instead, follow healthy sleep practices like avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and screens while implementing a consistent bedtime and wake-up time.

  • Get moving. Whether it’s a daily walk or a mind-body activity like yoga, exercise can be extremely helpful for both your mental and physical health.

These suggestions might seem basic, but research shows that exercise supports mental and physical health, that healthy diets lower the risk of depression, and that getting enough sleep lowers the odds of mental distress.[2,3,4] If you can get your daily habits on track, you are likely to feel much more stable and peaceful, even while you’re grieving.

Be aware of how grief can impact your finances

Again, this may not be your dominant concern, but loss often is accompanied by major financial changes. You might be learning about life insurance, sorting out an estate or untangling bills and budgets you weren’t previously involved with.

Whether you’re inheriting a large amount or despairing over how you’ll make ends meet, don’t make any big financial decisions right now. Here is some expert financial advice for anyone going through a loss:

  • Focus on the most immediate problem. Instead of looking to the future when you’re at your most vulnerable, only address the problem at hand. Don’t worry about next year, next month or even next week—just focus on what’s in front of you.

  • Don’t make hasty decisions. You might feel the urge to quit your job, sell your home or make a major investment. Resist that urge. “During a time of immediate grief, a person isn't in the most grounded place emotionally,” says Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, founder of Mind Money Balance, a financial therapy and financial coaching practice. “They might be financially reactive and move through things quickly. I've seen folks sell homes or cars quickly, spend an inheritance rashly, or donate sentimental items during a time when they weren't thinking clearly.”

  • Be on the lookout for fraudsters. Scammers are always eager to exploit vulnerable people, and the time after a loss is a very vulnerable time. In the past, scammers have run scams on the grieving including pretending your loved one owed money that you now must pay, identity fraud using obituary information or trying to insinuate themselves into your life as a long-lost relative or a new love interest. Be very cautious and don’t let yourself be talked into something unwise.[5]

If you’re feeling overwhelmed financially, reach out for a hand.

“Give yourself space and help,” Bryan-Podvin advises. “Get help from a trusted person that isn't as close to the person who recently died. While an estate attorney can be great, that might not be financially feasible, so seeking out guidance from someone at a local financial nonprofit, like your local credit union or United Way, can be a good starting point.”

Lean on your support system

Grief can leave you feeling very alone. It can be easy to sink into that loneliness instead of reaching out, but now is a very important time to connect with your family and friends and let them help you.

Bryan-Podvin notes that it can be helpful to hand off small but annoying tasks, like canceling subscriptions or making phone calls, to your network.

“While some customer service reps are incredibly compassionate, you might find others are burned out and aren't as kind as you're expecting," she says. "This is why having help—sometimes, literally a person you can pass the phone to—can be so important.”

When researchers studied people that had recently lost a spouse, they found that social support was extremely helpful in countering the stress of grief.[6] The study participants said that they received the most helpful support from their family and friends, especially because it gave them the space to be disorganized and panicked in their grief. Interestingly, being able to be there for friends and family going through the same loss was also important to the study participants.

So open up to the people around you. They can help carry you through the pain of loss and you may find some relief in doing the same for them.

Let your emotions ebb and flow

You might have heard of the five stages of grief. Since the 60s, this idea of grief following a sequential framework from denial to acceptance has been popular. However, more recent research shows that these stages of grief don’t exist at all, much less as a path of orderly steps to follow.[7]

“We grieve in waves—there are moments where we can compartmentalize and feel pretty emotionally balanced, and then there are moments where we turn into piles of sadness or anger,” Bryan-Podvin says. “Don't judge how you respond to grief.”

Instead, put this concept as well as any idea of how you “should” feel out of your mind. Don’t ask yourself if you’re grieving enough or if you’re hurting too much. Grief can contain not just sadness and yearning, but anger, resentment, confusion, relief, guilt or any number of emotions. At times, you might even feel multiple contradictory emotions at the same time—or you might feel nothing at all. Give your emotions room to just be.

Get professional help

You don’t have to treat therapy as a last-ditch effort. If you’re going through a loss, working with a therapist can be immensely helpful. While time will eventually heal most wounds, research shows that therapy can help you recontextualize your grief and cope with the negative emotions.

Professional help becomes even more important if your grief becomes complicated grief, a condition where the painful feelings and symptoms of grief refuse to fade and negatively impact your life.[8] Research from the National Institutes of Health has found that therapy for complicated grief substantially improved those negative symptoms for 70% of study participants struggling with complicated grief.[9]

Losing someone close to you is incredibly painful and you might feel like your world is upside-down, but you don’t have to face it alone. Reach out for help when you need it, whether that help is a family member, a friend, a neighbor, a therapist or a financial advisor, and give yourself grace to get through the difficult days ahead.

Article Sources
  1. “How to overcome grief’s health-damaging effects,” Feb. 15, 2022, Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/how-to-overcome-griefs-health-damaging-effects
  2. “Real-Life Benefits of Exercise and Physical Activity,” April 3, 2020, National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/real-life-benefits-exercise-and-physical-activity
  3. “Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food,” March 26, 2020, Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
  4. “Effect of Inadequate Sleep on Frequent Mental Distress,” June 17, 2021, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2021/20_0573.htm
  5. “FBI El Paso Warns About Scams That Are Targeting the Deceased and Their Grieving Families: Bereavement Scams,” April 30, 2020, Federal Bureau of Investigation. https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/elpaso/news/press-releases/fbi-el-paso-warns-about-scams-that-are-targeting-the-deceased-and-their-grieving-families-bereavement-scams
  6. “Grief and social support after the death of a spouse,” Dec. 25, 2001, Journal of Advanced Nursing. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1365-2648.1999.01220.x
  7. “The ‘stages of grief’ do not exist,” June 2018, Journal de Thérapie Comportementale et Cognitive. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1155170418300259?via%3Dihub
  8. “Complicated Grief,” June 19, 2021, Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/complicated-grief/symptoms-causes/syc-20360374
  9. “Coping With Grief,” October 2017, National Institutes of Health. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2017/10/coping-grief

About the Author

Hilary Collins

Hilary Collins

Hilary is an experienced finance writer with a passion for turning complicated topics into readable stories with real-world takeaways.

Full bio

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