How To Cope With Loss

The past couple of weeks have seen tragic stories dominating news headlines.

With almost 300 people dying when the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet crashed near the Russia - Ukraine border and the ongoing conflict in Gaza at the forefront of our minds, our thoughts are with the friends and families of the victims.

If the pictures flashing across the news show us anything, it's that loss of a loved one is universal. And, in the midst of so much tragedy and death, we find ourselves asking how someone copes with that level of grief.

A woman crosses herself as people lay flowers and light candles in front of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Kiev on July 18, 2014, to commemorate passengers of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 carrying 295 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Psychotherapist and counsellor Karin Sieger says: "While the experience of bereavement is as individual as the person living it and as individual as the person who has died, there are also common themes, which apply to us all."

Karin explains that we all move through bereavement stages, but not necessarily in the same order or at the same speed.

"The length and intensity of the overall experience depends on the nature and closeness of our relationship with the person who has died, the timing of death, our support network, our previous experiences of death and loss. This is not to say that bereavement gets easier the more we experience it," she says.

According to Karin, the stages of loss consist of denial and disbelief, anger with ourselves, others and the person who has died, depression and feeling vulnerable and sensitive.

Practical issues around funeral and other arrangements can feel overwhelming and cause anxiety.

Eventually we reach the stage of acceptance.

"Gradually we may start facing up to the reality that the other has died and that we continue living without them. We learn to accept and bear the pain with greater calmness.

"Overall, the bereavement journey takes at least one year, while we go through various anniversaries or annual events of meaning to us, which we can no longer share with the person who has died. It is important to move through the bereavement phases and not to get stuck," Karin says.

Dr Sheri Jacobson, clinical director of Harley Therapy gives these tips on coping loss:

1. Give up the timeline. Give up the idea that there is a schedule to manage bereavement. It takes time, and you just can't decide how long.

It can also come and go in waves, and just as you think you are moving on you can be triggered by something, such as seeing someone connected to the person you lost, or hearing a song that reminds you of them.

It's a series of highs and lows (or lows and lowers) and often the most appropriate thing to do is to ride it out.

2. Don't compare your grief to others' grief. We all deal with sadness differently and heal differently. If others seem more upset then you, or alternatively if you are taking longer to get over things, don't judge yourself.

3. Don't act like it's okay if it's not. Grief can trigger other sadness from the past and have a snowball effect. If you feel really overwhelmed by grief, in a way that doesn't seem to match the experience or that goes on much longer then it should, do seek professional help. It's possible that your grief has led to depression.

4. Expect physical side effects, not just emotional ones. Bereavement can cause the body to manifest shock symptoms. These can include extreme fatigue, mild panic attacks, foggy thinking, muscle pains, and random aches, amongst other things.

While the temptation when suffering the loss of a loved one is to numb out on things like alcohol and over eating, it is important to take care of your health as much as possible because of physical symptoms.

Do try to get enough rest, eat sensibly, and get some exercise even if it's just long walks.

5. Don't feel guilty on good days. One thing people don't talk about when it comes to bereavement is that quite early in the healing process you might feel quite normal out of the blue, and, dare you say it, happy.

The tendency is to then feel terribly guilty and pull up sad feelings again. But feeling happiness can be part of healing, too, just as much as processing sadness is, and its better to allow yourself to feel what you feel.

6. Don't feel pressured to see others connected to your loved one. For some people it is healing and helpful to surround themselves with others who are mutually mourning your lost loved one.

But if that is not working for you, or you just aren't ready, don't feel pressured. And if the only real thing you had in common was the person you've mutually lost, it does not mean you 'have' to maintain a friendship. It's ok to not feel they are someone you choose to be friends with.

7. Try mindfulness as a coping technique. Bereavement can keep us stuck in the past to the point we can have a hard time connecting with what is around us and can possibly feel untethered, 'spaced out', or overwhelmed by emotion.

Mindfulness, a technique gaining in popularity, can help. It encourages you to bring your attention to what is around you. In times of great stress, just focussing on the colours or noises around you, or the sound of your breath, for example, can help you feel calmer.

8. At the same time, if you are constantly and for many weeks avoiding those who knew the person you've lost, check to see if you are also suddenly extra busy, taking on tons of work and social activities, and unable to sit still.

It could be you are avoiding processing your feelings at all. A bereavement counsellor might be helpful to help look at why this might be your coping tactic and if there are other ways to cope that might be more helpful.

If you need support or someone to talk to, call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or visit the website.