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Grief is a normal response to loss. Grief is an emotional process that affects people in many different ways. It is normal to feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster and that your reactions are out of control. Although it is a normal process, it can be quite difficult to navigate, especially as a student. The grieving process can disrupt routines, impact deadlines, and make focusing on taking care of yourself and completing your assignments difficult. Sometimes it can be hard to disclose your struggles to others. You may not want to “burden” them or retell the story a bunch of times. You may worry that you should “be over it by now” and that others won’t understand why it is still bothering you.

Different Kinds of Grief and Loss

Loss can come in many different forms. Grief is commonly associated with someone dying. However, you can experience grief from any loss. You may be surprised by how strongly you experience grief from a loss not related to death. It might be hard to explain to others what happened and why you’re so upset. Losing something important to you hurts, regardless of what it was or how it happened. Feelings of loss are often very personal. Some examples of loss include:

  • A close friendship ending
  • Relationship breakups or divorce
  • Serious illness of a loved one
  • Loss of health due to illness
  • Loss of mental ability
  • Losing or changing jobs
  • Graduating from school
  • Moving or leaving home
  • Loss of financial security
  • Destruction of property

Sudden losses, like crimes, accidents, natural distasters, or suicide can be traumatic. There is no way to prepare and it can make you feel out of control. They can challenge your sense of security and confidence in the predictability of life.

Predictable losses, like those due to terminal illness, sometimes allow more time to prepare for the loss. However, they create two layers of grief: the grief related to the anticipation of the loss (anticipatory giref), and the grief related to the loss itself.

Ambiguous loss is what we experience when someone is still there physically, but not their same self you've always known. This is mainly experienced when a loved one has a cognitive impairment or sudden change in personality, forever affecting your relationship. These often result from things such as dementia, a traumatic brain injury, or a stroke.

Losing someone to suicide can feel different from other kinds of loss due to the mixed emotions, circumstances, and stigma surrounding death by suicide.

The Grieving Process

Every loss and every grieving person is unique. Everyone grieves in different ways and at different speeds. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Many grieving students feel torn between conflicting impulses. You may feel pressure to get back to “normal” by studying or spending time with friends at the same time that you feel drawn to looking at photos of the person you lost, listening to music you shared, or being alone and crying. The grieving process is not about forgetting, but about you learning to live with your loss. It’s normal for certain situations, memories, or anniversaries to bring up intense reactions and feelings, even if you thought you were “over it” or had “moved on.” Don’t try to force yourself to be normal and ignore how you are feeling.

Grief Cycle

Potential Responses

There are a variety of potential responses to grief that involve emotions (e.g. depressed mood, anger, guilt, loneliness, numbness, tearfulness, relief, anxiety, fear, feeling misunderstood, or ambivalence), physical responses (e.g. changes in appetite, sleep habits, energy level, being more prone to physical illness) and behavioral responses (e.g. socially withdrawing, irritability, difficulty focusing, increased substance use, and loss of joy in previously pleasurable activities).

Self-Care Suggestions
  • Stay in touch with family and friends. Communicate how you are doing and that it is ok to talk about the loss with you. Balance social time with time for yourself.
  • Be patient with yourself. You may not be 100% for some time. You may not be able to work at your normal level of performance. It is not permanent.
  • Get plenty of rest and be mindful of the need to eat, even if you do not have an appetite. Try eating foods that are enjoyable to you.
  • Talk to your professors about postponing exams and assignments if you feel it is necessary.
  • Express your feelings through writing and art as well as talking—especially if you do not know how you are feeling.
  • Read more about the grieving process.
  • Some people find spirituality, meditation, or mindful reflection helpful.
  • Take time to relax, listen to music, read a book, exercise, or anything you find pleasurable and relaxing.
  • If you feel you need some extra help, come to the Counseling Center, meet with a local clinician, or join a support group.

Everyone has different styles of coping with painful events. These suggestions may help you think of ideas about things that may be helpful in dealing with grief. You may want to try out these ideas or think of some of your own. Asking friends and family how they have handled grief in the past can be helpful in finding ways to cope, but only you know which coping skills will fit your personality and lifestyle best. 

Helping a Grieving Friend

Click here for suggestions about Helping a Grieving Friend.

If you are concerned about the safety of a grieving friend, you can access our Consultation Services, or if necessary, encourage them to access our Emergency Services.

Other Resources

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