When Grief Feels Overwhelming

Simone Koger, MA, LMFTA, CGP

2022-04-18

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Grief can get pretty overwhelming. I guess that is why the metaphor for grief feeling like waves in an ocean can feel so fitting.

Everyone's grief journey's are 100% their own. That connection you had to the person who has died or left your life was unique. Because you are unique. Along with grief being unique to each person, it can also feel isolating. The truth is, it is the opposite of isolating- grief in it's truest form is our way of processing the change in connection, perception, reality or circumstances of our connection to another person.

Societal Norms has Shamed the Way We Grieve

Grief is not always about death- It can also be a change in the connection we have to another person. We grieve changes in relationships, roles, expectations, routines, and many more forms of connection. Yet, our society has given us a "time" of how "appropriate" grief seems to be before it becomes "inappropriate". People have their own ideas of when grief goes from being appropriate to concerning. This societal norm of needing to be "done" grieving to get back into a more normative routine is the real thing that is concerning. There is a connotation of shame tied to grieving in Western society. This has led to a lot of self-criticism of how to grieve, when to grieve, where to grieve, and how long it is "socially acceptable" to grieve. Outside of those parameters- people are met with frustation, lack of empathy, irritation, ultimatums, and many other unhelpful reactions.

When Grief Feels Overwhelming

Now I am not saying to change your whole life to be a pile of grief- what I am saying is that there needs to be a healthier balance of validating grief to maintain a supportive lifestyle. The waves of grief eb and flow- and therefore some days are harder than others.

1. Know Your Cycle

Understanding your personal grief cycle can increase your ability to use support tools when you need them the most. Those ebs and flows start to have a natural cycle that you can recognize over time. Journaling your grief, talking to a therapist consistently, finding activities (eg. running, writing, yoga, knitting, creative arts) can all help you identify your own cycle. That way when the cycle leans more towards that overwhelming side of grief, you have a plan of how to support yourself.

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2. Validating your emotions

This may sound redundant, but because there is a societal shame tied to how we grieve- validating your own grief can feel extremely difficult. A few options include: Talking to a grief therapist about your feelings, name them out loud- and the steps towards self-validation will come over time. Journaling your feelings if you are not ready to say them out loud. Find self-care tools that help you feel emotionally heard. This might include listening to music that helps you process your painful emotions. Or watching a show that helps your cry.

3. Talking to someone

This is not just a poster article for therapy, but if you take anything away from this article, it is to find the people and tools that help you feel validated in your grief. Whether it is friends or family members who also are going through this loss; maybe a grief counselor who you can be yourself with; even a fur-baby cat, dog, lizard- hampster- Talking about it can help. An art installation called Telephone of the Wind in Olympia was created out of inspiration for a "wind telephone" set up in Japan to help people grieve their lost loved ones. You can find more information about the Telephone of the Wind here. Even if you are talking into an old phone- talking can be helpful.

4. Learning tools that work for you

We naturally do this and can get support from a grief counselor- learning tools that work for your grief helps support your grief cycle. Some of the natural ways you soothe yourself might not seem significant now- but they are hugely significant in your grief process. Maybe you rub your arm when you are upset, or you have a favorite blanket to cozy up with. It might be that you have a specific routine that helps you feel at ease, or expressing your emotions in writing. There are endless amounts of ways to self-soothe. Finding the ones that feel natural to you is an important part of that balance we discussed earlier in this article.

You are never truly alone in grief.

If you feel isolated, alone, overwhelmed and stuck in your grief- reach out to a therapist. Look for a grief therapist near your area. We have specialized training that allows us to provide well rounded support and intentional therapeutic tools to navigate your grief together. If you are not ready for therapy, please check out grief support websites for more resources:

Grief Share website with groups for people grieving.

Grief.com also has helpful resources for friends, families, and people grieving.

Grief F*cking Sucks is a helpful prompted journal to share with a loved one who is processing grief. (Teen+ for language)

The Invisible String a children's book for navigating loss.

Also watch for my most recent grief journal coming out this Summer- Grief Sucks, A journal with Over 120 prompts for grief support.