Coping with Loss

Young women's version of this guide
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Unhappy Teenage Boy Sitting On Sofa At HomeLoss is a part of life that becomes more common as people grow older. Losing someone or something important to you is never easy, but it can help to learn more about loss, how it can affect you, and how to deal with it in healthy and healing ways.

What is loss?

There are many different kinds of loss, such as death, divorce, a move, an illness, or even the death of a pet. In fact, any big change can lead to feelings of loss. Break-ups and changing friendships can be experienced as loss too.

What does loss feel like?

How a person reacts to loss depends on many things, and it can feel different for everyone. It’s normal for your reaction to a loss to change over time. At first you might have a feeling of numbness or “denial,” which means that it doesn’t feel like the loss really happened. After you’ve accepted that the loss is real, it’s common to experience feelings such as anger and extreme sadness. It’s also common to feel guilt, as if you should have done something to prevent the loss or should have acted differently before the loss happened. All of these feelings are normal.

It may take a long time, but you will eventually come to accept the loss. Over time, your feelings will become less intense. Nothing, not even time can change the fact that you’ve had a loss, but you can get back to your daily routine. No one can say exactly how long it will take, but give yourself time and you’ll start to feel better each day.

Is there any way to avoid the painful feelings?

Painful feelings are always part of loss, but there are some things that can help you get through the experience. Be sure to take care of your health by eating, getting enough rest, and avoiding drugs and alcohol. Try not to make any major decisions until you’re feeling better, since you probably aren’t thinking as clearly as you usually do. Expressing your feelings by talking, writing, creating art, or listening to or playing music is often helpful. Sometimes people find in helpful to go to counseling or to join support groups for people experiencing similar losses. It can also help to stick to your usual daily routines. No one can predict exactly how someone will respond to a loss and how long the feelings will last, but in most cases, people are able to adjust to loss and move ahead with their lives.

What can I do to help someone through a loss?

It may not sound like much, but just “being there” is the most important thing you can do, even though this may feel uncomfortable. Listening to the person’s feelings, sharing memories, and helping with everyday things such as doing errands can be extremely helpful. For someone who has suffered a loss, the presence of friends is an important reminder that they’re not all alone.

What if I don’t start to feel better?

It’s important to get professional help if you feel like you can’t cope with the loss on your own.

It’s time to get professional help if you or a friend experiences any of the following:

  • Spending a lot of time alone, instead of with friends and family
  • Changes in sleeping or eating, or lack of interest in normal, daily activities
  • Using drugs and alcohol to numb your feelings
  • Doing risky things that you usually wouldn’t do
  • Feeling like you want to harm yourself in any way

Anyone who feels that the pain from a loss is too much to handle should think about talking to a professional, such as a school counselor, psychologist, social worker, or clergy person. The most important things to remember about coping with loss are:

  • Be patient with yourself
  • Find healthy ways to let your feelings out
  • Let people who are close to you offer their support
  • See a counselor if you feel like you could use help with getting through your loss
If you’re concerned about coping with loss, here’s a tip on how to bring it up with your provider: “I’ve been feeling down ever since (whatever happened). Is there anything that can help me feel better?”