New York State Funeral Directors Association

How to Cope with Loss and Its Effects

The famous psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said, “There is no typical response to loss, because there is no typical loss.”

Each person experiences grief and loss in their own unique way, and understanding how and why we grieve, while important, doesn’t make it any easier to lose a loved one.

If you, or someone you know is coping with a loss, it can help to know how the human brain and body are affected by grief, and how health, relationships, and work might suffer throughout the grieving process.

Grief can manifest in many different ways, and having tools to understand and cope with grief is a critical part of reaching a point of acceptance when you've experienced a loss.

The Five Stages of Grief

One of the best known models of grief is the Kubler-Ross Five Stages Model, which is well known and accepted in the scientific community.

While not everyone progresses through the stages at the same pace or to the same degree, they act as a guide for what certain behaviors might arise throughout the coping process.

The stages are:

  • Denial - a refusal to accept that a loss has occurred or will occur, often based on shock
  • Anger - frustration or rage at the circumstances, doctors, family members, or even the lost one themselves often follows denial
  • Bargaining - appeals to a higher power and feelings of guilt take over as one frantically tries to change reality
  • Depression - deep sadness, sometimes to a debilitating degree can cause drastic lifestyle changes, emotional numbness and withdrawal
  • Acceptance - eventually, the loss has been processed and a point of peace is reached after the grieving process is coming to an end, one can begin to move forward

How Grief Affects the Brain and Body

Loss is experienced differently by every person, and so for each person, unique words and scenarios can trigger thoughts of grief and grieving behaviors.Woman Faces Grief

The stress associated with coping, alongside changes to diet, activity, and sleep that can be symptomatic of experiencing loss can traumatize the brain.

This can spark mood swings and personality changes that affect one’s social and professional life.

At a time when one needs support most, they are often especially unable to be good friends, coworkers or even parents because their grief is overwhelming.

Grief can also increase risk of heart attack, cause memory and sleep problems, suppress immune function, and lead to exhaustion.

How to Cope with Grief and Seek Help

The first step to coping with grief is finding closure and a way to say goodbye.

Holding a funeral or memorial service is a great way to spend time with loved ones who can share grief and rely on each other as they cope with the loss.

As the grieving process progresses, it’s important to make sure that there are outlets for negative emotions one might experience.

Joining a support group is a good way to vent and take time out to cope that is separate from everyday life.

Sometimes, one-to-one counseling or talk therapy can help in the processing of emotions and provide tools to cope independently as time goes on.

Loss is something everyone experiences, and it’s never easy to go through.

No matter how prepared you are, losing a loved one can affect nearly every aspect of your daily life and emotional wellbeing.

Understanding what loss and grief might look like for each individual person can be difficult, but there is comfort in knowing that no matter who you are, you’re not alone, there are ways to cope, and things will get better with time. 

LucyForWebLucy Wyndham
Lucy gave up a professional career in order to become a stay at home mom, freelance writer and content manager. Having had a recent loss in the family, she's reaching out to help others similarly affected.