I may be betraying my trade as a mental health professional to admit that, personally, I’m not much for counseling and support groups. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an avid believer in the potential efficacy of these types of experiences. I’m the first to recommend them to anyone who needs a little extra objective and confidential support. Also, I’ve gone whenever the proverbial ‘you-know-what’ has hit the fan in my life, so I hope this is a testament to my faith in the process.
All I mean to say is that talk-focused support isn’t my personal preference. Outside of my closest family and friends, I generally don’t want to talk about ‘it’. ‘It’ being things like grief, personal woes, existential dread…you get the picture. I’m an introvert, I hate having the floor, meeting new people makes me anxious, and I always feel like I’ve said too much too awkwardly. For all these reasons (and more), I gravitate towards coping that allows me to process my experiences without having to say much.
I’m definitely not alone in this. Many people prefer outlets that allow them to remain taciturn about their grief. What I’m here to say, is this is A-OK! Although it seems like talk-type-coping is commonly recommended for grief, it is by no means the right way or the only way. It’s important to remember, there are many healthy ways to cope with grief. Though people may assume otherwise, silent or independent coping is not synonymous with bottling things up, withdrawing, or isolating. Actually, many times the opposite is true, as outlets like writing and art allow people to express themselves, connect, and share in different ways.
Below we are going to discuss a few ways a person can cope without talking-it-out. This is only a start, we could spend all day trying to make an exhaustive list and still not be done, so whenever possible we’ll link to further articles and resources. Also, if you would like to share your go-to coping tools in the comments below, please do!
Journaling and Writing:
In our work, we often connect with grieving people who are struggling to get a handle on certain grief-related emotions and experiences. When a person feels stuck, overwhelmed, or confused, we often suggest journaling (or other forms of writing).
Research has shown that journaling has benefits related to physical health, mental health, sleep, grief-coping, etc. Anecdotally we know this practice helps to…
- combat avoidance
- process experiences and emotions
- connect with positive memories
- organize thoughts
- calm down and de-stress
- shift perspective
- relieve anxiety
Best of all, journaling is a low barrier coping option; it’s private, confidential (if you keep it that way), cost-effective, and accessible. Though people will often create a barrier for themselves by saying “I’d like to journal, but I’m not a good writer” the truth is that one need not be a good writer to journal.
In case you need the reminder, journaling is for your eyes only. Journal entries don’t have to be a certain length, they don’t have to follow rules related to structure, spelling or grammar, and, unless you’re writing your memoirs, the end product is irrelevant. It’s the doing of the thing that matters.
Aside from the general benefits of reading and connecting with stories, I can think of three ways that reading helps people cope with grief. (1) Reading informative and educational blogs, books, and articles can help a person to learn, conceptualize, and intellectualize their experiences. (2) Reading other people’s experiences through memoirs and fictional stories helps to normalize grief, put experiences into perspective, creates a sense of universality (i.e. I’m not the only one), and instills hope. (3) Reading offers escape and respite.
Photography, Drawing, and Other Artistic Expression:
It’s no secret that we love photography as a tool for coping with grief. We’ve created photo challenges, e-course, articles, and an entire website dedicated to sharing photography around grief. As we said in our very first article about Exploring Grief Through Photography,
“If you have a camera, you can photograph symbols, abstract images, and literal interpretations of people, places, and things regardless of your skill level. The process of creating the images will force you to spend time reflecting on your emotions and will allow you to feel closer to your loved one. The results may not be perfect, but they will tell the world something about how you’re feeling.”
If you have other creative talents, we’re jealous. Use them! Though, it isn’t really necessary to be “good” or “talented” to use a certain art form in a therapeutic way. As an example, I love drawing as a way to get my thoughts out on paper, but I’m terrible at it. Mostly what I wind up doing is a journal/doodle hybrid and it’s a mess, but it still feels good!
Many people find rituals and reminders that maintain an ongoing connection with the person who died to be extremely healing in their grief. Though connecting with others can certainly be a part of honoring and remembering a loved one, people often find their most meaningful rituals to be those that are personal and private.
Coping that falls under this heading, whether directly or indirectly connected to grief, helps to promote a person’s sense of well-being and may provide a brief respite from grief. We love the PERMA model of well-being described by postive psychologist, Martin Seligman. This model encourages people to choose behaviors and activities that increase positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. For more on well-being coping and how it relates to grief coping, head here.
Share your go-to coping tools in the comments below. Also, subscribe.