There are several ways to help you persevere through hard times and cope with a tragedy. Remember it may take some time, but life does get easier!
The Grieving Process
At some point in your life, you’ll probably experience the loss of a loved one, which can be one of the hardest challenges you’ll face. Certain times of the year, such as holidays, can be especially difficult. Many people overcoming tragedies go through a series of emotional steps that may last several months to a year, but each person reacts differently to the process of grieving.
1. Shock, Numbness, and Disbelief
Your initial reaction to hardship, such as the loss of a loved one, could be one of confusion, numbness, disbelief, or shock. Tragic situations can take awhile to sink in, especially when you’re busy with the hustle and bustle of planning a funeral.
The way you’ll react initially after tragedy often depends on how a loved one died. Whether or not death was anticipated or happened unexpectedly, and how old your loved one was, often affects how well you'll cope when grieving. If you were a caretaker for a loved one suffering from a terminal medical condition, relief may be part of your initial reaction.
2. Sadness Sets In
After the initial stages of shock and disbelief end, you’ll likely experience feelings of deep sadness, especially when you realize how losing a loved one affects your life. If you’ve lost a spouse (due to death or divorce) and now live alone, coping with loneliness can be extremely challenging. You’ll probably think of lost loved ones often, and miss them tremendously.
In addition to feeling pain and loneliness, you might experience feelings of anger, uncertainty, or being in denial. Guilt is another emotion you may have, especially if your relationship with a lost loved one was strained.
Extreme sadness and depression are common in people who are grieving. You may withdraw socially from others, cry often, feel disorganized, have trouble concentrating, have sleeping problems, feel weak or extremely tired, or dwell on past mistakes and missed opportunities.
Emotions you’ll experience while grieving may come and go, and can last for several months to a year. Each person grieves differently. Take as much time as you need to cope the way you want and need to. A good personal or professional support network helps you persevere through challenging times.
3. Accepting a Loss
While you’ll never forget the memories you once shared with a loved one, coping with a loss often becomes easier over time. Feelings of sadness decrease eventually, and you’ll begin accepting the loss of a loved one (or other forms of tragedy). You’ll eventually find ways to pick yourself up and move on with your life.
There is no one-size-fits-all time frame for grieving, as each person overcomes a loss of a loved one or other tragic situation differently. It may take you several years (or longer) before you fully recover from a traumatic life event.
Your Health and Mental Well Being are Important
Taking care of yourself (physically and mentally) may seem like an impossible feat when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one or another tragic situation. But doing so is important for your long-term mental health and well being. Several coping strategies help maximize your emotional health and the way you function during times of hardship.
1. Turn to Family and Friends for Support
Having friends and family by your side (physically and mentally) helps you persevere through difficult times. Enlist social support to have someone to chat with about your feelings, and assist with physical needs (such as cooking meals for you, taking care of your children, helping you with laundry or housecleaning, etc.) when getting out of bed each morning is a struggle.
Even having a friend or family member chat on the phone with you regularly is a healthy coping strategy.
2. Seek Professional Support
While withdrawing from people may be your first instinct after tragedy strikes, talking about feelings helps many people persevere through difficult situations.
There’s no shame in seeking professional help when you just can’t shake feelings of depression. If the hardship you’re suffering from is extremely traumatic, professional counseling helps keeps a piece of mind and provides additional coping strategies. Ask your doctor about recommending certain medications to help with depression, if necessary.
3. Join a Support Group
While enlisting family, friends, and professional support is an excellent way to help you endure the grieving process, joining support groups offers unique benefits other forms of support may not. Members of support groups know what you’re going through, maybe a similar situation, and offer encouraging advice about how they dealt with tragedy. It’s inspiring to know you’re not alone and witness other people’s success stories after overcoming hardships.
4. Choose a Health Program that Provides Mental Health Coaching
You may have already joined a healthy weight management program before tragedy struck, but continuing on with your program or finding a new one that includes mental health benefits is helpful. Your health coach guides you through the grieving process and keeps you accountable for maintaining healthy habits.
A Fit Father for Life (FF4L) membership helps you meet physical and mental health goals, even while enduring a hardship. This program provides ongoing physical, spiritual, and mental health support. In fact, your spirituality may be one of the best ways to overcome tragic life events.
When signing up for FF4L, you’ll have access to advanced motivation & discipline bible training, and the Fit Father Beat Stress Program to help reduce stress and anxiety related to trauma. While you don’t have to meet health coaches face to face in the FF4L program, you’ll still have the support needed to get you through difficult days and take care of your physical health.
Overcoming Hardship: Tips for Staying on Top
Going through a tragic situation makes taking care of yourself a challenge, but doing so is more important than ever for your overall health and wellness. Following a few simple tips and tricks help you safely overcome grieving, move on with your life, and find peace and happiness.
1. Know It’s Okay to Feel Angry and Sad
Take as much time as you need to feel angry, sad, emotionally drained — and miss a loved one. Know that these feelings are normal, but do the best you can to resume normal day-to-day activities. Take some days off from work as needed, but get back to your normal routine when you can.
2. Maintain a Workout Schedule
Working out may be the last thing on your mind when tragedy strikes, but skipping exercise can further decrease your mood. A 2018 review published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that people with depression have higher risks of being sedentary.
At the same time, a 2015 review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine says avoiding physical activity boosts your risk for depression. This vicious cycle makes it hard to pick up the pieces, take care of yourself, and rebuild your life after a traumatic life event.
Aim to keep a regular workout routine, even when you’re grieving. Sign up for a structured program, such as FF30X, to take the guesswork out of staying fit and trim (meal plans and detailed exercise programs). That way you can focus on healing and get on with your life after a hardship.
3. Sleep, Sleep, Sleep!
Sleep is often difficult when you’re going through a rough time in life, but not sleeping can lead to certain health complications — such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and even early death. Aim to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep nightly, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Do what you can to get a good night’s sleep. This may include avoiding alcohol near bedtime, avoiding tobacco products altogether, getting a comfortable pillow and mattress, keeping your bedroom cool and dark, using a white noise (sound) machine, setting a regular bedtime, avoiding late afternoon naps, and steering clear of screen time right before bed.
4. Maintain a Healthy Diet
Your appetite may diminish during times of loss other tragedies, or you might eat extra calories when dealing with stressful life events. Make sure you’re getting a variety of healthy foods in your diet daily — but avoid processed foods (especially process meats), sugary drinks, sweet treats, and fried foods.
Aim to fill half your plate with veggies (plus some fruits), one-fourth of your plate with healthy protein foods — such as dried beans, peas, lentils, fish, seafood, grilled chicken, tofu, seitan, nuts, or seeds. The other fourth of your plate should contain whole grains (such as quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, oatmeal, or whole-grain pasta).
Be sure to include two to three servings of low-fat dairy foods (such as low-fat milk, Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese, for example) or plant-based milk alternatives. Examples include soy milk, soy yogurt, or protein-fortified almond milk.
5. Try Relaxation Techniques
Going through a traumatic experience is stressful, and finding ways to unwind can help you cope. Consider using relaxation techniques — such as massage, breathing exercises, muscle relaxation techniques, yoga, going for a relaxing walk, meditation, swimming at the beach, stretching, listening to music, taking a hot bath, or laying in a hammock to reduce stress and ease emotional pain.
6. Spend Time Outdoors
Spend time outside when you’re going through a difficult time in life. Participating in outdoor activities lowers your risk for depression, says Stanford University.
A 2014 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that being near nature (such as grass, trees, or bodies or water, for example) is associated with lower levels of stress, reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, better cognition in people with depression, and improvements in mental health.
Take on an outdoor hobby (if you don’t already have one) to help clear your mind and distract you when going through a hardship. It’s important to take time to grieve, but staying busy helps reduce pain associated with the loss of a loved one.
Consider an outdoor hobby that’s good for your physical and mental health — such as outdoor yoga, skiing, swimming, cycling, walking outside, rollerblading, marathon training, playing in an outdoor sports league, canoeing, kayaking, camping, gardening, or fishing to clear your head and improve symptoms of depression.
7. Pets can Help!
Being around pets appears to help ease depression and anxiety associated with going through a hardship or loss. A 2018 review published in BMC Psychiatry found that dog ownership in people with post-traumatic stress disorder increased feelings of calmness — and reduced depression, loneliness, irritability, and worry. If you don’t own a pet, spend time with a friend or family member’s pet, or volunteer at a local animal shelter.
8. Turn to Your Faith
Relying on your faith appears to be an effective coping strategy, and a way to improve mental health (including depression) when you’ve suffered from a loss or other tragedy. In fact, trusting your faith can be the most beneficial way to recover from traumatic life events.
A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine found that after one month and one year’s time, six (1-hour) weekly prayer sessions with study subjects helped significantly lower anxiety and depression, and increase feelings of optimism.
The Road to Recovery
It’s okay to feel lonely, angry, and down in the dumps when you’ve suffered from a loss or other tragedy. In fact, grieving is a normal and important part of the healing process. The amount of time it takes to overcome a hardship varies from person to person.
While you can’t magically make sadness or loneliness go away, getting the support you need and taking care of your physical and mental health is a step in the right direction. Remember, feelings of sadness do improve over time! Don’t give up, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel!
Writer, The Fit Father Project
A 15-year freelance writing veteran, Erin is registered dietitian and health educator who is passionate about health, fitness and disease prevention. Her published work appears on hundreds of health and fitness websites, and she’s working on publishing her first book! Erin is a wife and mom of two beautiful children.