Avoidance Coping vs. Grief Relief: Taking a Break from Grief

I’ve eluded to the fact that I’ve been going through a bit of a…ahem…rough patch, This is one of those all consuming tough times – one that occupies 100% of your thoughts and 50% of your conversation. Your life is spent involved in spurts of trying to put your life back together and longer stretches where your consumed by an inability to move.It’s been 7 years since my mother’s death, but these days I am reminded what those of you in the wilderness of your grief are experiencing on a fairly regular basis. Some to a greater degree and some to lesser, it all depends; but regardless what I anecdotally know is this, you have got to find some grief relief once in a while or you will go insane.

We recently had a reader ask a very important question. He sought clarity on the difference between staying busy to avoid grief and being busy to obtain intermittent relief from grief. Avoidance coping and taking a break are two very different things. The first being a hinderance to healthy grieving and the later being a requisite. I would hate for anyone to get the two confused and feel guilty or dysfunctional for allowing themselves that which is necessary – i.e. a grief time out.

In Psychology Avoidance Coping is considered a maladaptive coping mechanism (that’s a fancy way of saying – not helpful). As you might expect, Avoidance Coping basically means one avoids dealing with negative or anxiety producing issues, stressors, thoughts, or feelings. In grief this might mean you avoid thinking or talking about your loved one, put off tasks because of the perceived emotional impact, or avoid acknowledging and dealing with complicated emotions. Unfortunately, by actively avoiding these things and allowing your fear to hangout in the back of your mind, you actually wind up allowing your anxiety to grow.

Now this is different than someone who is dealing with their grief in their own way and at their own pace, yet feels the need to take a break from time to time. I hope the commenter who relaxraised the original question doesn’t mind me quoting him but he put it very well when he said he, “find grieving to be helpful and necessary, yet it also is exhausting. I find I can recover from periods of grieving by napping, or by cooking, watching TV, reading, running errands, going to a movie, visiting family, etc.” What our commenter has described here is good self-care.

Experiencing periods of grief, trauma, life-transition, and emotional crisis can be mentally exhausting. Similar to allowing your body short breaks to recover when exercising, you must allow your mind and body to take a break from dealing with complicated thoughts and emotions.  In fact, one of my favorite grief model, the Dual Process Model of Grief, says that it’s healthy and helpful for people to alternate between facing their grief related thoughts, emotions and secondary stressors and avoiding their loss (i.e. taking a grief time out)

Oftentimes, especially early on, grieving individuals feel guilty for allowing themselves to be distracted. It’s normal to feel this way and all I can do is urge you please give yourself permission to take a breath. In many ways you will be grieving this loss forever, so pace yourself.  Now, get out a pen and a piece of paper and brainstorm the things you do (or can do) to take a break from your grief. I assure you, it doesn’t have to be grand. Here are a few ideas to get you started…

  • Go to the movies
  • Find a hobby
  • Bake something
  • Cook something
  • Listen to music
  • Hike
  • Exercise
  • Spend time with friends
  • Read a good book
  • Chat on the phone
  • Play with the (grand)kids
  • Dance
  • Join a club
  • Take a class
  • Have a laugh
  • Shop
  • Watch TV
  • Sleep
  • Use your imagination
  • Check things off your to-do list
  • Work
  • Take a bath
  • Go outside

How do you take a break from your grief? Share it with us below or on Facebook. Also…subscribe!

April 12, 2017

5 responses on "Avoidance Coping vs. Grief Relief: Taking a Break from Grief"

  1. I keep asking why why did this happen she had been a loving compassionate nurse for 25 + years didn’t want to go to the hospital some people say it just her time. That God has plans for her but that don’t make me feel any better

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      John,

      I’m so sorry for your pain and about your wife’s death. People often offer sentiments like – “it was her time” and “it’s God’s plan” – but rarely do these words change our pain in any way. I want you to know what you are feeling sounds very normal, her death was only just last month. People often question and replay the circumstances and ask ‘why?’. There is absolutely nothing I can say at this point to make you feel any better, but hang in there. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it does make some of grief a little less intense.

      Sincerely,
      Eleanor

  2. I lost my wife my best friend my lover mother to my two sons and
    Grandma to Emma skylar And little cavin Ryder who was born may the 5.2016 Carolyn died April 11 and it seems like yesterday yesterday and today was really rough she died in our bed room. It just she was never sick. She caught the stomach bug and thru the process of throwing up couldn’t keep anything down lost her potassium and got very dehydriated causing her heart to go in to arythemia.
    We had been married 40 years she died at age 61

  3. My mother passed away at the end of November after years of declining health due to Chrionic COPD. For years she had been housebound and dependent on me and my sister for doing everything for her and what seems like forever, my life has always revolved and been ruled and manipulated around her. So why have I not gone to pieces since her passing, why have I not cried, why am I in what seems to be an emotional void!!??

    I’ve told myself that because of the funeral arrangements, then catching up on Christmas, going away for Chritmas and New Year and now dealing with the final financial arrangements, are all reasons why I’m not grieving….. I’m waiting for mums passing to hit me and wondering when or if it ever will! How do I grieve and if I don’t am I just heartless and made do stone?

    Since her passing I’ve tried to pick my life back up and tried to relish the fact that at last I do not have to consider the impact on mum when arranging to meet friends, visit my children or even arrange holidays or decide to do something I would like to do. My mind is blank, my feelings numb, I have little energy or desire to take up or go dancing, something that I love and has been my stalwart for years. I have no creative desire or energy to continue with my card making, another hobby of mine and something I could happily spend hours lost in……. Is this my way of grieving!?

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      Hey Denise,

      Your mother was ill for years and from what I understand you knew ahead of time that her death was coming. Have you read our article on anticipatory grief? I think this may shed some light on the way you are handling your mother’s death.

      On the other hand it does sound like your mother’s death has had an impact on your ability to take pleasure in the things you once found pleasureful. Your mother’s death was not so long ago and after years of centering your life around her it makes sense that you should still be struggling to adjust. Perhaps because you had time to understand and accept your mother’s death before it even happened, that instead of the extreme feelings we always think we’ll feel, you are instead feeling numbness.

      It’s hard for us to know for sure what you’re experiencing from our limited interaction here on the website. I would say if you continue to feel numb and your interest in the activities you once found pleasure in does not return in time (and if you’re not able to find pleasure in other activities) then you might want see a counselor of some sort. Really this is the only way for a mental health professional to truly help you understand what is going on.

      Eleanor

Leave a Message

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Disclaimer

WYG provides general educational information from mental health professionals, but you should not substitute information on the What’s Your Grief website for professional advice. Please check out terms and conditions here

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

National Suicide Prevention Hotline - 1-800-273-8255

PhotoGrief

Share Your Snapshot

Grief In 6 Words

Submit a Story to Us

What's Your Grief Podcast

Listen to our podcast

top
X