Managing Grief for Students. Your Mental Health Matters

Managing grief

Adult life is a rollercoaster. It’s full of challenges, unexpected events, and heartbreaking news. Standing on the edge of the new era of their lives, most students are unprepared for the twists of fate they’re likely to face. In this article, we aim to explain how to act in case you or people you care about get to go through significant life challenges.

Understanding Grief

Have you ever faced grief yourself or indirectly? You certainly have, but might have been unaware of its indications and essence. Grieving is a deep emotional response to any kind of loss, whether it is about losing or separating from a loved one or saying goodbye to a life you used to live. Although grief is an inner process, its signs might occur on every level from physical to behavioral and even mental. It may seem that grieving is a problem of some few but in fact, most people grieve without mourning, which makes the period of bereavement process invisible for others.

Grief Types Described

Experiencing heavy emotions like grief and sorrow is natural. They are even necessary for getting a deeper understanding of yourself and learning how to cope with emotional hardships. Nonetheless, grief can also break a person and not let one live a fulfilled life after a loss. To analyze the situation and choose the best way out, you need to distinguish different types of grief.

“Healthy” Grieving

It’s called “healthy” in terms of the process that is aimed at recovering after a loss/ major life change and adaptation to the new normal. Although this type of grief is considered to be “healthy”, specialists don’t give certain time limits for it to be over. The recuperation time varies according to the case.

Early Grieving

People with a pessimistic mindset are particularly exposed to early grieving. It means that they begin to feel a loss before it actually happens to them, in such a way expanding the duration of the grieving period and putting the nervous system under unnecessary long-term stress.

Belated Grieving

It may happen that the feeling of loss doesn’t come immediately. Psychologists explain this as a defence mechanism of our nervous system that wants to keep negative emotions out. But eventually, they took their place and stayed until a person was ready to let them go.

Chronic Grieving

If a person didn’t manage to cope with grief and loss, it becomes chronic and stays for good. It ties a bereaved with the past and doesn’t let to move forward, making one’s life a never-ending circle of sorrow.

Sealed Grieving

Keeping emotions down without giving them an outlet is the worst decision one might go for. If kept behind closed doors, grief, sorrow, and despair begin to destroy a person from the inside, causing somatic aches, mental and physical diseases.

What To Expect When Going Through Grief

According to a Swiss-American psychiatrist named Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, when a person experiences a loss, his or her grieving period can be divided into 5 (or 7, according to the other popular model) stages including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Neither the sequence nor the completeness of these stages is universal. Some people go through 3-4 phases, some make a full stop somewhere in the middle never coming to “acceptance”. Let’s get a closer look at the grief cycle.

Denial

Just like belated grieving, denial is a protective mechanism of the human psyche. By denying a loss, we win some time for our nervous system to cool down and prepare for the next stage, where we’ll have to realize the situation as it is. But for now, we lose touch with objective reality and convince ourselves that nothing bad has happened. In short, denial works as a temporary painkiller.

Anger

Anger is one of the basic human emotions. It can disguise the majority of weaker negative emotions that we are not ready to comprehend yet. Despair, sorrow, grievance, weakness, indignation, even love can be covered under a visual expression of anger aimed at objectively innocent people or objects. This phase is one of the most intense in the whole cycle and it ends quicker than the others too.

Bargaining

After anger comes a stage of emotional drain. Here people try to “bargain” with fate, God, with other people involved in their loss to rewind the situation and don’t let the loss happen. The bereaved will come up with multiple ways of how one might have acted to avoid the reason for the grieving.

Depression

Denial, anger, and bargaining are the three stages that reject reality. When the psyche runs out of means to postpone the comprehension of the objective facts and emotions, comes depression. It’s the most dangerous phase of the grieving cycle as you might get sunk without realizing it.

Acceptance

Acceptance is not a happy ending of a bereavement story. It won’t give you relief or ease your pain (if talking about serious losses). What it brings is a clear understanding that life continues and you have to adjust to it for your own sake. You might never feel the way you used to because loss functions as an express life lesson. And being different doesn’t mean being unable to become happy again. Rather, only on this condition, you will.

What Grief Feels Like

Conditions like grief don’t proceed utterly unnoticed. The accompanying symptoms may be divided into physical, emotional, and social, depending on the stage and its intensity.

Physical Signs

  • Crying is the most natural reaction of our body against stress and excessive emotional burden, aiming to release us from negative emotions.
  • Chronic fatigue may show up to save as much energy as possible because the organism feels that emotions drain our vitality.
  • Excessive sleeping also aims to store strength and living energy, calm down the nervous system, and save our body from exhaustion.
  • Digestive issues go along with stressful situations as a natural response to overexertion.

Emotional Signs

  • Nightmares are common after or before a bereavement takes place, as the psyche tends to show everything we are concerned about via dreams.
  • Emotional numbness is a defensive mechanism that simply blocks emotions to save the nervous system.
  • Frustration shows itself as an absence of aspirations and confusion about everything connected with the future.

Social Signs

  • Isolation is one of the most common ways of how bereaved people manage grief, the problem is that for some it’s not the way out.
  • Risky behavior occurs when individuals feel that they have nothing to lose thus taking unjustified risks seems like an option.

If You Are Grieving When At College

Sometimes grief shows up while you’re living a student life full of academic events, studies, and other activities. And here you feel like you’ve fallen out of that world. Not to lose the connection and help yourself to recover, try to follow these simple rules.

Let Yourself Feel The Grief

You shouldn’t act as nothing has happened. You have to feel these emotions, let them in and let them out. Cry if you want, isolate for some time if you need. Just do what you feel like doing.

Cherish Yourself

Your emotional and physical state is your prime responsibility. In times of severe stress, you need to gather strength and not let yourself fall apart. Have enough food, sleep, and rest, do what your body tells you to. It may be drawing, listening to music, walking, or driving, just listen closely.

Find Support

When on campus, you’re always surrounded by people. Tell your close friends about how you feel, have a heart-to-heart talk, or just sit quietly together with a person who can share your loss. If there’re no such people, every college has professional psychologists or even grief counsellors who are always ready to help.

What is Grief Counseling

Bereavement or grief counseling is a way of helping people experiencing a loss to come back to life by realizing the new normal and adjusting to it, feeling support, care, and professional guidance. Grief counselors can be found in the majority of social institutions like schools, colleges, crisis centers, hospitals, etc.

Where To Seek Help When Grieving

If you’re going through this challenging phase yourself or seeking information in order to help someone overcome their crisis situation, here’s where you can turn to for more information.

Online Support Groups

Grieving.com - when grieving becomes overwhelming, it’s the first place to seek professional aid.

Grief in Common - try live chatting with people who have experienced the same loss, or even heavier one.

Hope Again - a popular source for young people facing life challenges.

Non-Profit Organizations

C.O.P.E.- specializes in providing relief to parents who’ve lost a child.

The Compassionate Friends, Inc. - the community has offices in every US state and offers free of charge understanding and support.

Living-Through-Grief.com - teaches how to live after a loss and the new ways to find happiness.

Professional and Governmental Organizations

Camp Erin - a national program targeted at bereavement that offers teens to visit the weekend camp to learn how to manage their grief and emotions.

Charlie's Guys - is a place where young people can feel supported after the loss of a loved one.

National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement - acts as an educational and training resource for school teachers,  professionals, and students.

Community Support Groups

Children’s Bereavement Center - a deliberately created place for kids who have suffered a loss. GriefShare - a wide support group with local communities throughout the world meeting on a weekly basis.

National Alliance for Grieving Children - an organization that aims to teach people how to aid the grieving.

Online Information 

Webhealing - an online source providing the needed with articles, stories, videos, and other grief educational info.

Helpguide.org - an online guide that provides a comforting way for those who are grieving.

What’s Your Grief? - a website that teaches people how to help themselves when struggling with bereavement.

Additional Grief Resources By Topic

Losing a Parent

Family Lives On Foundation - makes people who have experienced a family member loss feel not alone on their way.

Losing Your Parents - a website with a comprehensive grief-dedicated media library.

Losing a Sibling

Helping Yourself Heal When an Adult Sibling Dies - is a place where young people can get advice and support on their loss.

The Sibling Connection - they know how to aid students to cope with the loss of a loved one or a close friend.

Losing a Pet

Griefnet.org - provides 24/7 email and online support for the bereaved after all kinds of loss.

My Grief Angels - a comprehensive resource that provides the needed with a grief app, online support, and other valuable and heart-healing information.

Relationship Crash

Silent Tears - an online community for people who have been parted with their other half.

GriefShare - offers weekly online meetings for loss discussions and support.

Terminal Illness Struggle

Hospice of the Comforter - an online-based community that educates caregivers and those who are combatting death themselves.

Hospicenet.org - they have collected tons of practical materials and advice on various caregiving and grief healing topics.

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