How to deal with the emotions of grief

The storm of emotions produced by the grief process includes many feelings labelled as negative: anger, guilt, depression, anxiety and fear. You can use some overall strategies to deal with them and targeted strategies to deal with specific emotions.


The one positive emotion is relief. At the end of a relationship it may be relief that the arguing is over, release from an abusive relationship or relief that a burden has lifted. Many people feel guilty if they feel relief and therefore don’t talk about it, producing more guilt.

Some general ways of dealing with the negative emotions are:

  • Journaling link
  • Speaking to someone either informally in friendship or formally in counselling
  • Forgiveness
  • Having specific strategies to manage one aspect of your grief



Forgiveness is necessary for healing the negative emotions. You may need to:

  • Forgive yourself for what you did or didn’t do in the relationship
  • Forgive friends and family who haven’t supported you like you needed
  • Forgive the people you blame for your circumstances
  • Forgive the people who directly caused the circumstances
  • Forgive God (not theologically correct as He is good) but any anger you hold towards God will be a barrier in your relationship with Him

To learn more about forgiveness click here

You may need to find strategies to deal with specific emotions. Here are some suggestions:

Strategies to deal with anger

 Anger has to be expressed. You can’t just tell it to go away! It leeches out and can grow into depression and bitterness if held inside.

You can:

  • Talk to an imaginary version of the person you are angry with. Tell them everything you feel hurt, resentful and angry about
  • Write a letter to the person you are angry with but don’t post it. This includes writing a letter to a person who has died, or even writing to God
  • Write an ‘anger list’ (I am angry because…..)
  • Then rip up what you have written

Strategies to deal with overwhelming sadness/depression

 Depression is a normal part of the grief process. It is a spectrum of feelings from overwhelming sadness to suicidal thoughts. It affects your ability to function in all areas of your life. Dealing with depression includes managing triggers, changing your mindset and releasing the feelings. You can:

  • Make a list of strategies to lift your mood and use it next time depression hits
  • Have regular exercise
  • Have adequate nutrition
  • Practise relaxation
  • Work out what some of the triggers are: a place, a song, and find a strategy to deal with the trigger. A short term measure may be avoidance
  • Create your own ‘time out’ and practise it regularly. This could be listening to music, walking, doing a craft – anything you enjoy that refreshes your soul
  • Acknowledge you are grieving
  • Learn new skills

If your depression remains and cannot be lightened or if you feel suicidal, seek professional help/ talk to your doctor. Call Life Line Phone 13 11 14 or in an emergency call 000. Lifeline

 Strategies to deal with Fear/Worry/Anxiety

Fear, worry and anxiety can paralyse you and will negatively impact your health. To deal with them you can:

  • Admit the feelings exist (you cannot do something about them if you deny you experience them)
  • Write a fear list and work out how likely it is these fears will become a reality and what can be done about it (this can be called cognitive therapy)
  • Watch your thought life and how you speak – don’t say ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I should…’,‘This is too hard’

Strategies to deal with guilt

You may feel guilty for what has been said and done, or not said and done.  You can:

  • Write a guilt list and say, ‘I forgive myself for…’
  • Swap sadness for guilt
  • Forgive others and ask for forgiveness if required
  • Encourage those you have hurt (e.g. children) to grow rather than become bitter (get them help if needed)
  • Learn from your mistakes
  • Let go of the past
  • To offset dwelling on the negative, focus on the good things
  • Replace the ‘if only…’ thoughts with ‘I could have…’

Complicated grief

Healing from grief is two-fold: the pain decreases and ability to function increases. When the ‘feelings of loss are debilitating and don’t improve even after time passes,’1 you may be stuck in your grief, or more technically have ‘complicated grief’.

Get support

If you need help to process, or you think you are stuck in complicated grief, accessing specialist grief support services can help. You can talk to your GP, a counsellor or mental health professional for recommendations in your local area. Or look through the list in the Referral and Resources lists below (note these are Australian resources).

Putting legs on it

Choose an emotion you are having difficulty with and try a strategy to deal with it.


Better Health Channel: Grief- support services (based in Victoria)

Grief Link (based in South Australian Services and some national)

Anglicare: Loss and grief counselling (South Australia only)

The Australian centre for Grief and Bereavement (Victoria only)

Coping with loss and grief resources Coping with grief and loss

Beyond Blue: Grief and loss, Section: what can you do to help yourself

Fact sheets @ My Grief Assist


Photo credit Marc Wieland unsplash .com






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