Grief and Loss

For some students, late adolescence is the first time they experience loss. A loss can occur for several reasons including the death of a loved one or pet, a change in a friendship, a breakup with a dating partner, a change in family circumstances, an injury that ends an athletic career, a change in your health, moving away from home or changing homes, a change in financial security, and more. Losses are very personal and can trigger intense sadness. 

Grief is a normal response to loss and is part of the healing process. It encompasses the emotional and physical responses we have when processing a loss such as:

  • Shock
  • Feeling out of control
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Feeling irritable and easily agitated
  • Anger
  • Guilt or remorse
  • Feeling more anxious
  • Feeling numb or indecisive
  • Inability to concentrate

There is no set amount of time it takes to move through the grieving process. While it varies by individual, there are five common stages of grief that most people experience as described in the infographic below. Some people progress through these stages in order, while others hop around, and not everyone will feel or do all of these things. There is no schedule or timetable for grief. In fact, sometimes people can move on to the acceptance stage and be doing fine but months later be triggered by something that reminds them of their loss. This can bring up intense feelings again.

Five Stage of Grief

Each person grieves loss differently and, while loss is universal, it can sometimes feel quite lonely. Below are some strategies for coping with grief and for supporting a friend or family member who is grieving.

For yourself:

  • Connect with others. Talk to friends or family members. Consider seeking out counseling services, speaking to a spiritual or faith-based leader, or joining a support group.
  • Get moving. Try taking a walk or exercising in any way you find fun.
  • Practice mindfulness to stay in touch with and process your feelings in the moment.
  • Start a journal or write down your thoughts.
  • Practice gratitude or do something positive for another person.

Support others by:

  • Being there. People may not reach out when they are grieving, so check in to ask how they are doing.
  • Listening and allowing them to be sad, angry, or whatever else they are feeling.
  • Normalizing loss. Don’t try to fix their pain nor minimize their grief.
  • Asking how you can help and offering ways you help.

Because grieving can be a lengthy process, it is important to understand when it might be helpful to talk to a mental health provider. Seek care if you feel your grief is overwhelming and if you notice any of the following:

  • Continued disruption in daily routines like attending classes or work.
  • Decline in personal hygiene and self care.
  • Feelings of hopelessness.
  • Other signs of distress.