The Stages of Loss & How to Cope with Loss – Dr. Shimi Kang MD.

Blog

The Stages of Loss & How to Cope with Loss

Right now, many of us are experiencing a significant loss together. Our lifestyles have been altered to a near-unrecognizable degree. For many, this change has meant a loss of freedom and flexibility in our daily lives, loss of income, loss of security, or even loved ones. No matter how loss comes into our lives, there are certain stages that we all go through.

Everyone experiences loss, and there are a few typical stages associated with it. We all experience loss differently. The stages of loss or grief aren’t linear or universal, but encountering it is universal and has a direct effect on numerous parts of the human brain. For instance, this experience can create a strain on our hearts, due to the effect loss has on stress response hormones.  

So what are the stages of loss, and how can you cope?

Denial

We saw a certain mindset at the beginning of COVID-19. There was the thought that this would “not be that bad” or that it “wouldn’t affect us that much.” This denial mindset is very typical when it comes to loss as it acts as a defence mechanism. It’s your way of ignoring things that seem too big or too terrifying to unpack. It’s normal at the beginning of a significant change or a trauma to deny it to keep life in its familiar rhythm. A good question to ask yourself is, is there anything you are in denial of right now? Your income, ability to travel, your kid’s education? 

Anger

Anger is one of the most visceral responses to loss and is also a phase that scares people. Many will try to suppress their anger or control it, which can end up leading to more anger. 

Anger is directly related to the fight, flight, or freeze survival mechanism in your brain. When we experience loss, there’s a certain amount of confusion. The life we knew and felt safe within has been altered, and there is perceived danger in that. Anger is a perfectly reasonable response to loss but can become unhealthy when you direct it at someone or yourself. 

Blame or Guilt

Blame can occur when people start looking for meaning in the loss. When we search for meaning in life, it often means we’re searching for the reason why something happened. Often going through loss isn’t dependent upon a catalyst, yet many of us search for something or someone to blame.

Some people also feel guilty during this time of hardship. This stage of loss may be less common but is still a genuine phase. Feeling guilt when you’ve lost something can look different. Perhaps you blame yourself for not trying hard enough in a marriage when, in reality, it takes two people to create a relationship. Maybe you blame yourself for not acting sooner in times of crisis when, in fact, you weren’t well informed. Guilt is normal, but it’s essential to remember that loss is a natural part of life, and it’s not your fault. 

Overwhelm or Depression

Loss is overwhelming, and becoming overwhelmed with something can often lead to depression. As we go through the stages, we’re forced to find level footing in a new life that seems unfamiliar. As we said in the previous phase — we’re trying to find meaning in the loss. When we can’t find these answers, the loss can become overwhelming, and we may find ourselves retreating into a hazy confusion of asking, “Why?” 

Remember, there’s no clear answer as to why a change or a loss has occurred. Continuously searching for meaning or answers can lead to mental exhaustion and even depression. 

Acceptance

There’s a difference between healthy acceptance of a loss and unhealthy acceptance. When we accept something as truth, we either accept it and move on with that knowledge as a new part of our reality, or we accept the loss and react to it in a negative way — such as blame, depression, or anger directed at others. It’s important to note that real acceptance is one in which you accept this loss as a new truth in your life. This is the stage where you learn how to factor that truth into your world view and sense of self without trying to control it, change it, or blame it on someone or something. 

How to Cope with Loss in a Healthy Way

When dealing with loss, the best thing you can do is practice self-compassion. It’s ok to feel anger, denial, overwhelm, or any number of emotions. It’s healthy and vital to the healing process to allow yourself to feel these emotions without judgement. When you break a bone or cut yourself, you experience different feelings as you heal. Sometimes, a cut gets very itchy or tight as it heals — it’s no different with emotional traumas. The emotions you feel after a significant change in your life are your brain trying to recover from loss. What can you do to help this healing process along?

Here are a few examples:

  • Journaling — especially gratitude journaling
  • Staying in touch with loved ones and friends for a sense of community
  • Developing a daily routine that feels familiar and gives you a sense of control
  • Taking time to play and allow yourself to smile and laugh at the moment
  • Practicing meditation to calm your mind and focus on the present
  • Eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising
  • Talking to an expert or reading a book about dealing with loss

Coping with loss isn’t simple. I can’t give you a timeline for how long it’ll take — it’s different for everyone. We’ll all experience a variety of loss in our lives, so it’s important to remember to come together and talk about loss instead of hiding away in silence with it. If you’re struggling to cope with loss in your life and want to speak to someone who can help, I’m here for you. Please get in touch with me today.