Many events create stress and anxiety in our everyday lives. However, when tragedy occurs, the levels of grief experienced can be painfully disruptive. Profound sorrow can feel overwhelmingly unmanageable even for the strongest person around. The demands of handling daily responsibilities, along with the tragedy itself, can be beyond what a person can take.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Does It Mean When You’re Overwhelmed With Grief?
- What You Can Do When You’re Overwhelmed With Grief
- How to Help a Loved One Who’s Overwhelmed With Grief
How well you cope with your loss depends on many factors like your past grief experiences, the number of losses you’ve suffered, and your support system. Overwhelming and unfamiliar emotions tend to creep up during the grief process that can be debilitating for someone dealing with a significant loss.
The spectrum of loss-related feelings can range from feeling overwhelmed to being in control to avoiding them altogether. In time, these crushing sensations will lessen, although there may be times when it feels as if you can't take the pain anymore.
What Does It Mean When You’re Overwhelmed With Grief?
Describing what it feels like to be overwhelmed with grief depends on the person suffering from loss because tolerance levels differ from person to person. A person overwhelmed with grief can experience challenging and unexpected emotions that are difficult to manage. While some types of grief can lead to feeling overwhelmed and confused, others can be downright depressing and make you think that there’s no hope left in this world.
A person who’s suffered through a significant loss will typically experience the type of gut-wrenching sorrow that comes naturally after losing someone they love. The overwhelming feelings of loss and sadness that follow are a normal response to suffering.
Individuals experiencing grief overload will generally suffer through grief triggers and extreme emotional ups and downs lasting longer than expected. They may find it difficult to function in their everyday lives and suffer from the feelings that their grief is too unbearable to move forward.
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What You Can Do When You’re Overwhelmed With Grief
If stress and anxiety keep you from healthily progressing through the grief process, you may suffer from grief-related overwhelm. Responding appropriately to overwhelming grief can be challenging, especially if this is your first experience with a loss of this magnitude.
Although the normal grieving process can and does feel overwhelming to most at times, it’s not usual to feel this way long after your loved one has died. While the severity of these feelings varies from person to person, everyone processes their grief at their own pace. Here are some tips and advice on what you can do when your grief overwhelms you.
1. Take a step back
Taking time out from grieving when feeling overwhelmed can help reset your feelings and emotions while giving you some room to breathe. Figure out what’s causing your grief to feel staggering by stepping outside your pain and sorrow for a moment. Once you have a clearer head, you may be able to pinpoint what’s triggering you to feel like your grief is too much to cope with. Some of the more common overwhelming indicators of despair are:
2. Allow yourself time to heal
There’s no set timeline for how long grief will last. Some people may start to feel better six to eight weeks after experiencing loss, while others can grieve a lifetime. The entire grief process typically lasts from a few months to several years. Grief can be overwhelming and potentially destructive to your mental health.
Still, it usually resolves on its own when you give yourself the necessary time to process your feelings and emotions. Don’t try to rush the grieving process. In time, you’ll start to notice that you’re feeling better and more motivated to move forward with your life.
3. Be alone with your grief
When experiencing loss, you'll go through ups and downs with how you feel. You can expect that at some point, your grief will become overwhelming. When you start to think that you can't take the pain and sorrow any longer, remove yourself from your everyday responsibilities long enough to restore yourself.
Consider setting aside some time for daily mindfulness in the form of yoga or meditation. These activities allow you to clear your mind and racing thoughts while cleansing your spirit. Know that although feelings of overwhelm can be scary, they're a necessary and natural response to grief.
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4. Release your pain
Allow yourself to feel the pain associated with your sorrow. Trust your capacity to come out on the other side of your pain when you’re feeling overwhelming loss and sadness. A defense against overwhelming grief is releasing your pain and surrendering to the process of mourning your loss.
Holding in or stifling your grief only exacerbates the grieving process, so does trying to defend your feelings and emotions when your friends and loved ones ask about how you’re doing. Stifled grief turns into unprocessed grief, which can lead to the complications of chronic sadness and depression.
5. Surrender to the journey
Let your pain and suffering be what it's going to be. Until you transcend the despair and discover self-compassion, you'll be fighting with yourself and your sorrow. One way of accepting what's ahead is by observing the changes taking place and facing your fear of what's to come.
It's important to grieve what you've lost and find meaning despite the staggering pain and sorrow you're experiencing. Eventually, the feelings of overwhelm will subside. You don't need to have it all immediately figured out. You'll find that by allowing your grief to take you where it's going, your anxiety starts to ease.
6. Seek professional help
When your grief gets so overwhelming that you can't seem to find the light at the end of the tunnel, there's nothing wrong with enlisting the help of a professional grief counselor. Sometimes asking for help can seem intimidating or shameful because of the stigma associated with seeking mental health therapy.
Incapacitating fear can lead to further issues of complicated grief when left untreated. Today, there are many available online resources for you to seek the help you need from the privacy of your home.
How to Help a Loved One Who’s Overwhelmed With Grief
When a loved one's overwhelmed with sadness and sorrow following a tragic loss, it's hard to know how to help them get through this challenging time. Often, those closest to the bereaved will find themselves at a loss for what to say or do to try and help, so friends and loved ones do nothing at all, hoping that everything will soon return to normal.
Unfortunately, for some individuals experiencing grief, things don't always go back right away to the way they used to be. Here are some ways to help your loved one get through this emotionally challenging time.
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7. Lessen their load
When a person’s undergoing the first few stages of grief, even the most mundane tasks seem overwhelming and challenging to accomplish. Take some of the ordinary duties and routines out of their hands for a few days. They may need some time to process and come out of the initial stages of grief.
A bereaved person typically feels they can’t cope with daily life during the first few days after experiencing a significant loss. Those who are feeling overwhelmed may completely withdraw from their lives and responsibilities for weeks after the event.
8. Distract them from their sorrow
The stress and sense of loss can be overwhelming to someone experiencing a significant loss in their life. The negative feelings and emotions they're undergoing due to their loss might make them feel a total loss of hope and control over what goes on in their lives and around them.
It's not unusual for someone who feels despondent to succumb to feeling that their grief is too much for them to handle. Offer your loved one opportunities to try different activities to help keep their mind off their grief until they start feeling better.
9. Recognize signs of depression
Bereaved individuals tend to lose hope due to the range of emotions such as anxiety, depression, and despair they may be experiencing due to their overwhelming loss. Grief and depression can look very much the same, and often it’s hard to tell the difference between the two. Here are some of the signs to look for that may be affecting your loved one’s ability to cope with their grief after a few weeks post-loss.
- Grief keeps them from returning to their everyday life even after a few weeks
- They’re tired all the time, losing sleep, and feeling disoriented
- They’ve lost hope and a desire to live
- They’ve isolated themselves from the people and things they love
- They start abusing alcohol, illegal drugs, or controlled substances
10. Provide ongoing support
Grief doesn’t end with the funeral of a person’s loved one. Mourning takes place over time and can worsen as the days go by. Be prepared to provide ongoing support to your loved ones by checking in on them even when they seem to be doing alright.
Grief can creep up at any time, and the feelings of overwhelm often come up unexpectedly. You can offer comfort by recognizing losses on important dates such as anniversaries or birthdays, showing up to lend a hand around the house, or being there to listen to them talk about their loss.
Getting Through Grief Overwhelm
Overwhelming thoughts and feelings are a normal part of the grieving process for many bereaved individuals. The grieving experience can be challenging and seem like too much for those moving from acceptance toward transformation. While there isn't any quick fix to the way you're experiencing your grief, allowing for it to take its course is one way to alleviate that suffocating feeling that comes with loss.