After a major loss it’s normal to find it hard to function for at least a short amount of time afterward. But even the most devastating loss can be an occasion for growth. For some people, the path towards resilience comes easily—usually people who both already had an optimistic mindset and who don’t see their loved one’s death as something that could have been prevented.
Even if you’re not naturally inclined towards optimism—and if you’re struggling with guilt and “what ifs” over your loved one’s death—the good news is that strength and resilience post-loss can be consciously cultivated.
Here are some strategies to build your own resilience.
Look for opportunities to grow. Losing a loved one usually puts us in a number of uncomfortable situations—from having to comfort our children or our parent to having to take on tasks a deceased spouse/sibling/parent had always managed. Seeing these situations as a chance to grow and learn rather than as a burden or an additional loss will help you develop a resilient mindset.
Make achievable goals and work towards them. Working towards something naturally helps us feel good about ourselves and our ability to successfully manage life. Focus on steps you can take immediately that will move you in the right direction. Celebrate your successes, even small ones.
Be kind and positive towards yourself. One of the most reliable indicators of resilience is how positively the griever feels towards him or herself. Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes and focus on building your confidence.
Make connections. It’s tempting for many people who are deep in grief to slip into social isolation. It’s important to resist this urge and look for ways to connect with others socially. An active social life is crucial for mental health, even in the best of circumstances—and even more so when you’re going through grief.
Accept change. We understand intellectually that things change throughout our lives, but losing a loved one is a type of change we all hope to avoid. Recognizing and accepting that loss is one of the many types of changes in our life will help you cope better and build a more resilient outlook.
Take care of yourself physically. Simple things like eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep go a long way towards building a stronger mental outlook.
Engage with the world. There’s a tendency to detach from our environment during grief, but resisting that urge can help you build a more resilient way of handling your grief. This means taking action when necessary, making decisions and making the choice to work towards a new life.
Resilience isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Even the most resilient grievers find themselves laid low by waves of grief at some point. Resilience and strength is something that can be actively cultivated, just like you can build physical strength. Being kind to yourself, getting out of the “what if” cycle and engaging with the world will set you down the right path towards a more resilient life.