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Beyond Why? Coping With Grief and Loss

Coping with Grief and Loss (PowerPoint presentation)

Maybe you're troubled by the death of a loved one. Maybe you're experiencing another significant loss - divorce, the end of a special relationship, or perhaps a friend has committed suicide. It might be that you're uncertain about how to help someone you love handle grief.

A loss experience and the accompanying grief may seem overwhelming. It can overload your normal coping methods and result in strong, unsettling emotional and physical responses. By acknowledging your loss and being aware of the variety of responses grieving people very naturally experience, you are taking steps to cope effectively with this change in your life.

Your reactions to death and loss are uniquely yours. You're likely puzzling over "why?" and you're apt to be perplexed by a tangle of feelings. Numbness. Sadness, Anger. Loneliness. Despair. Fear. Doubt. Guilt. Depression.

Reactions such as these are not signs of weakness but indications that your mind and body are adjusting to a stressful event. The distress you encounter probably will be most intense the first two weeks after the death or loss occurs. But intense feelings and reactions can stir again and again. These feelings may crowd your head and heart on the anniversaries of the occurrence, birthday, or holidays. Grief can trigger any of the following reactions:

Physical Changes

  • Rapid pulse
  • Chills
  • Dryness of throat, mouth
  • Tightened stomach
  • Tense muscles
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Speech difficulties
  • Diarrhea, frequent urination
  • Headaches


  • Unpleasant feelings without warning
  • Sadness
  • Helplessness
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Frustration
  • Depression

Sleep Disturbances

  • Insomnia
  • Disruptive dreams, nightmares


  • Feeling exposed to threat
  • Feeling lack of control

Interpersonal Problems

  • Increased irritability
  • Callousness to others
  • Changed interaction with others
  • Arguments with family, friends

Behavioral Changes

  • Excessively hyperactive
  • Inability to relax
  • Withdrawn, moody
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Excessive humor
  • Tearfulness
  • Lowered sex drive, impotency
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, tobacco

Intrusive Thoughts

  • Replaying an event or memory over and over
  • Thoughts of the loss at unexpected times
  • Haunting thoughts of other losses

Cognitive Changes

  • Indecision
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Unable to sustain attention
  • Disjointed thoughts
  • Sense of confusion
  • Decreased efficiency, productivity

Although grief is a personal experience, it's important to seek interpersonal support from friends, family, clergy, and/or counselors. One of the most valuable methods of coping with your grief is to express your thoughts and feelings to others with whom you are comfortable...maybe time and time again. You may need to let others know you need them to be empathic listeners, not problem solvers. In recounting the events surrounding a loss, you're making the loss real.

Caring and consoling friends also can play an important role by encouraging you to experience the pain, not avoid it. They may help you acknowledge the depth of hurt you're experiencing through stories, songs, memories, and sayings. Such reflection paves the way for preserving a memory of the lost person. After all, you will be growing through the loss.

The grieving process takes time - often more time than you might fathom. If ever there is a time to be good to yourself, this is it. Some suggestions to help relieve the effects of stress you might be experiencing are outlined below.

Exercise help the body use chemicals produced as the result of a stressful event. You will, however, want to be reasonable about your exercise routine.

Rest and relation count, even if you're having trouble sleeping. When you can't sleep, don't toss and turn; instead, read, watch TV, or turn to a hobby for distraction. Relaxation exercises or a warm shower or bath might prove soothing.

Eating well is a necessity because your body needs fuel to physically recover from stress. It's also wise to limit caffeine intakes.

Avoid drugs and alcohol, especially while grieving. Resorting to drugs of any kind only turns down the sound while the music keeps playing. The effects of stress will continue to drain your energy. Alcohol, a depressant, may heighten the sadness you're feeling.

Sharing your feelings with people you trust will facilitate your healing process. Don't be embarrassed to vent your emotions. Grief that is suppressed could haunt you sometime later.

Let others help you in whatever ways you can use assistance. Chances are, they want to help and aren't sure just what to do, so let them know what you need.

Slow down and take time to experience your grief. It's good to be selfish with your time and plan some things you enjoy doing. Staying too busy as a diversion from grief only prolongs and intensifies the grief reactions you'll have to face later.

Your spiritual life may bring comfort to you now. Allow yourself time to think and reflect.

Reading books and articles written about grief can be enlightening. There are many good sources of information for understanding your thoughts, feelings, and actions while grieving a loss.

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts when grieving. So, as difficult as it might be, have patience as you work to accept this loss and recover a sense of balance in your life.

Other Resources:

The Unabridged Student Counseling Virtual Pamphlet Collection