How to Process Grief After the Loss of a Loved One

How to Process Grief After the Loss of a Loved One

Losing a loved one can be a life-altering experience. Everyone processes grief on their own timeline and in their own way. It’s natural to feel a variety of emotions. 

Here, we’ll explore how to process grief and what steps might help as you move toward healing. Remember, learning new information while mourning loss can be hard, so be patient with yourself. It may be helpful to revisit this article multiple times.

The acute grief process 

When experiencing a loss, you might understandably feel like your world has been shaken. During the acute grief phase, different aspects of your life may be affected by the loss.

The acute grief process may consist of various intense emotions. While these reactions and responses are normal, they can temporarily affect your day-to-day life as you’re trying to figure out how to process grief. Here are some suggestions to help you navigate acute grief: 

Acknowledge that your way of thinking may be affected

While processing grief, gently remind yourself that your mood is likely coloring your thinking. When you are struggling to focus or remember:

  • Write things down in a notepad or journal.
  • Set alarms as reminders.
  • Create to-do lists.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Give yourself breaks as needed.

Try to maintain self-care practices

Prioritize comforts that can nourish your mind and body. Navigating grief may be challenging at first, but creating a self-care routine will help you cope with more resilience and resources. Consider the following tips:

  • Write in a journal.
  • Eat healthy foods that are nourishing.
  • Talk to family and friends you trust.
  • Take a hot bath or shower.

Get connected to your community

Talk to people in your circle, such as family and friends, who will let you share openly about your loved one and mourning loss. You can also consider the following suggestions: 

  • Reach out to a local support group.
  • Join an online forum or community.
  • Engage in a well-being activity, such as yoga or meditation.
  • Volunteer with an organization for the bereaved, such as hospice.

The integrated grief process 

After the acute process of grief (which tends to diminish after the first year of loss), you may experience the integrated grief process. This tends to happen gradually over time.

During this time, the emotional peak may have passed and the effects of your loss may interfere less with your day-to-day life. However, many people will likely experience occasional spikes of grief as they work through integrated grief, especially around important times like holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. Here are some suggestions to help you process integrated grief:

Plan ahead for important days

Reevaluate how you’d like to spend holidays and birthdays, like observing traditions or opting to do something new. Consider who you’d like to spend these days with or if you’d prefer to spend them alone.

For example, you may decide on a “Plan A” and a backup “Plan B.” Plan A may involve honoring the holiday with family and friends whereas Plan B may be a more solitary activity like going to a favorite place you used to share or looking through photo albums. 

Give yourself permission to feel mixed emotions

Grief can affect the way you feel and think. Listen to what your emotions are communicating, even if they’re mixed. It’s normal to feel sad and angry that your loved one isn’t with you and to feel joy during special times. Choose the option that feels best on that day. Embracing your complex emotions can help you honor your experience and process grief.

Prolonged or complicated grief

Not everyone who is processing grief will progress to the integrated part of grief. Some individuals will experience what’s considered prolonged grief. Prolonged grief, or complicated grief, is when acute feelings last for a year or more without resolving, and there’s no transition into the integrated phase. 

About 10% to 20% of people will experience complicated grief that can last several years. Researchers have identified several factors that make it more likely, such as: 

  • If the loss was through sudden or traumatic circumstances
  • If there were multiple losses
  • If a survivor doesn’t have enough social support
  • If a person has a history of mood or anxiety disorders or prior experiences with trauma 

Complicated grief creates a state of suspended and heightened distress that significantly interferes with home, work, school, or social responsibilities. Thankfully, getting support from mental health professionals for complicated grief can give you a safe space to share how you’re feeling and help you get the care you need.

Support is available for you

The loss of a loved one can be painful. It’s OK to ask for help as you’re trying to take care of yourself and find ways to navigate your loss. 

Get professional support with Lyra for processing grief

Lyra’s therapists offer resources, useful perspectives, and hope.

Reach out for support from Lyra today
About the reviewer
Andrea Holman, PhD

Dr. Holman is a DEI&B program manager on the workforce transformation team at Lyra Health. Previously, she served as a tenured associate professor of psychology at Huston-Tillotson University. She served as co-chair of the health and wellness working group for the city of Austin's task force on Institutional Racism & Systemic Inequities and now works as a leader in the nonprofit Central Texas Collective for Race Equity that resulted from the task force. She has conducted research on understanding the psychological experience of African Americans and racial advocacy from the perspective of Black and Latinx Americans. She has contributed to articles (including publications in The Counseling Psychologist and Harvard Business Review), book chapters, national conference presentations, virtual seminars, workshops, and a number of podcasts on these subjects.

Clinically reviewed by
Andrea Holman, PhD
Program Manager, Workforce Transformation
By The Lyra Team
1 of April 2024 - 3 min read
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