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Grief support: How to decide what you need right now

September 15, 2021 - 9 min read

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What is grief?

How grief impacts physical and emotional health

Practices to support your grief journey

Grief coaching, grief therapy, or support group. When to seek help

Resources for supporting others

Ready to get started?

Grief comes to all of us, over the course of life. We can take comfort from knowing that so many others share this experience, and get through it.

At the same time, we each experience grief very personally, in a way that is particular to us at a moment in time.

We can't know how exactly grief will affect our work, health, and relationships or how their own grief will affect the work, health, and relationships of our team members. That makes it hard, despite myriad books on the topic, to know how best to support ourselves and others through grief.

And while there seem to be more options for those seeking support, it can be hard to know what is best or predict what we might need. There are days when we need to share, compare notes, and find community. There are days we need direct help processing our experience.

Grief coaching, grief therapy, support groups are some of the primary options for support. This article will help you understand what each offers, the differences, and how to decide what you need right now.

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What is grief?

Grief is the natural reaction to loss. It can be triggered by the loss of anything that helped form your identity including loss of job, social connection, divorce, one’s own diagnosis or that of a loved one, or the death of a loved one.

Grief is both universal and personal. All humans experience grief and everyone experiences grief in a way that is unique to them. There is no loss that is bigger or smaller than another. There is no right way or wrong way to grieve, only your way.

How grief impacts physical and emotional health

Grief impacts our physical and emotional health in many ways. Sometimes the impacts are surprising, and we don't make the connection between cause and effect.

Here are some examples of ways that grief may show up:

Physical reactions:

  • Lethargy and lack of energy — motivation and interest may be hard to find 
  • Changes to sleep patterns – sleep disruption, difficulty getting to sleep, sleeping more, insomnia
  • Weight gain or loss – changes in eating habits, cravings, or hormone-related changes due to high levels of cortisol related to sleep disruption
  • Increased susceptibility to illness – from less attention to healthful behaviors and an immune system working less effectively 
  • Surfacing of old injuries – when your brain is working to deal with grief, it has less energy to focus on keeping your body healthy, especially if there are underlying or old injuries

Emotional reactions:

  • Loss of interest in things that used to bring joy
  • Numbness, shock, sadness, despair, fear
  • Decreased confidence
  • Increased or new onset of anxiety
  • Sense of loss of control
  • Changes in capacity and ability to deal with stress
  • Changes in interpersonal relationships

Some of these ways feel similar to everyday stress and anxiety that employees feel throughout their busy days, contributing to their inability to recognize it as grief.

Practices to support your grief journey

Joy Ufema, the first nurse-thanatologist in the United States said you only need to answer three things when you are grieving:  “What do you need? When do you need it? Who do you need it from?” As with many things in life, this is a simple formula, but not always easy to follow.

Yet there are some simple practices you can adopt that will help you through this time:

  • Get in touch with what you need right now, from whom and when. Do this however works for you, whether it’s journaling, spending time outside, exercising, talking with a friend. For example, do you need mindfulness? Try a mindful walk, yoga or meditation. Do you need mindlessness? That might indicate a binge-watching day under your favorite blanket. Do you need to feel a sense of achievement? That might point to getting your to do list done at home. Do you need to be with people, or do you need to be alone right now?
  • Make time to do what you need right now. Just identifying what you need is not enough. Block time in your calendar, make a date with a friend, schedule time by yourself.  Otherwise, it might not happen.
  • Acknowledge you are different now and might need different things. After a loss, your needs may have shifted. Take some time to ask what’s important to you right now.  Focus on right now, not what used to be important, what should be important, or what’s always been important. What’s important right now.
  • Practice self-care and habits to support your health. Avoid alcohol and other substances, take time away when you need it, do things that bring you joy.
  • Ask for what you need. Most people simply don’t know what to say or do when someone they love is grieving. By being clear on what would help right now, you give them the gift of clarity so that they can be helpful.

Grief coaching, grief therapy, or support group and when to seek help

Grief practitioners describe a continuum of mental health that helps guide when professional help may be needed.

If you are experiencing declining impacts to your mental health over a period of time (>4 weeks) you may benefit from seeking help from a Grief Therapist to regain footing back to your healthy baseline.

Grief Coaches come into play for those who feel “stuck”, are experiencing mild to moderate changes in their stress and confidence, or may simply seek some clarity on how to move forward.

Support groups play an important role in supporting grievers. They are a place where you can connect with others who are experiencing loss, share your struggles and let out your emotions in a safe space.  Generally, they are led by trained bereavement specialists, but it is not a place to seek therapy or coaching.

diagram of grief therapy, grief coaching, and support groups overlap

Grief coaching, grief therapy, and support groups can co-exist, providing complementary approaches to support you as you work through your grief.

Resources for supporting others

Ready to get started?

Grief is both universal and deeply and personally experienced. While grief can follow patterns, it doesn't fit into predictable timelines. It can crash down around significant events or holidays or sneak up over time.

The impact grief has on you as a leader or on one of your team members can be significant. And also hard to predict day-to-day or month-to-month. People will have different needs for different forms of grief support.

Today many organizations are starting to rethink how they support overall mental health in the workforce. With personalized support that meets people where they are and a long-term focus on building skills for mental fitness, we can reduce suffering, in the moment and overall

Learn more about how BetterUp Care™ can help you find the support that fits your needs.

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Published September 15, 2021

Nikki Moberly, PCC, CBC

Better Up Premier Fellow Coach

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