When grief feels like too much

5 min read

If you are overwhelmed with pain and grief

  • What does grief feel like? Sometimes it may seem as if you feel too much—like you are overwhelmed with emotion.

  • No matter how often we experience grief, our emotions are always unpredictable.

  • The pain of losing a loved one can be expressed in different ways (sadness, anger, guilt, numbness, anxiety, etc.) for different people, and therefore it is important to give time and space to any emotion you may be feeling.

  • The people you interact with will either meet you where you are in your grief or have unreasonable expectations; only you can decide how you want to grieve.

  • It is always OK to seek either professional help to guide you through your grief or the help of those closest to you.

Grief—it’s a place no one wants to find themselves, and it’s often more lonely and dark than you imagine. If you’re coping with the loss of a loved one, it’s a hard road ahead, but you’re not as alone in your emotions as you might feel right now.

Your grief can feel all-encompassing or overwhelming, and it’s extremely difficult to see through it to the other side. While there is no one universal secret to getting through this time in your life, know that you will find a way through this unique and winding path of emotional obstacles, and we are here on this journey with you.

Everyone has expectations about how and what we’re supposed to feel in grief. Part of the challenge is coming to accept that our emotions never quite manifest how we think they should. 

There is no way to prepare for the thoughts and feelings that are going to come up in your grieving process—but making space for them can help. 

In moments like these, remember that the person you are grieving for loved you as you were when they were still with you. They would want you to keep being that self and living a version of that life, one where you honor their memory with joy. Even in these deeply difficult moments, try to remind yourself that that joy will return.  

What does grief feel like?

Whether it’s your first experience with the death of a loved one or you’ve been through it before, your emotions will most likely not follow a neat and easily navigable path. It’s impossible to know what to expect, which is why our relationship with grief is so complex. 

Yes, you can look up what experts have said about how we grieve. It might help to familiarize yourself with the explanations of grief pioneered by experts like Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler, and to watch online lectures or read books on the topic. But you might still feel lost—and that’s OK. 

One way you might find comfort even in the hardest moments is to reflect on ways to honor your loved one. It might be something as simple as starting a small herb garden or as large as developing a charity in their memory. No matter how you choose to do it, looking ahead is exactly what our departed loved ones want for us.

Make space for your emotions

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, daily responsibilities and routines can seem like too much, and it might be your immediate response to shut all those everyday things and people out. Kessler recommends allowing yourself the time and energy to feel and process every emotion that comes. 

Allow yourself the time and energy to feel and process every emotion that comes.

If you can, delegate responsibilities (be they at work or at home) so that you have time to establish routines and coping strategies to make it through. If you can’t take time off, look for pockets of your day or small moments that you can set aside to dedicate to your emotional health. You’re making a healthier future possible by processing your grief now.

Why is grief so hard?

Part of what makes it so difficult for us is how we thought we would react to loss before we experienced it. You might believe you’re strong enough to power through it only to find yourself crumpled. Or you might expect to be completely overcome by it and then simply be numb instead. When our actual emotions defy our expectations, it makes what we’re feeling that much harder. 

In these complicated tangles of emotions, try not to force yourself to feel one way or the other. Focus on the things you are feeling. If you feel anger, be angry. If you’re sad, allow yourself permission to feel the sadness. Your pain is hard enough to deal with without adding pressure from within. 

If you need to, set up a daily affirmation to remind yourself of this simple fact: There is no right way to grieve. 

Reckoning with those around you

While we’re grieving, people often act and react to us in a way that feels at odds with what we need. They might be overly concerned, which can feel patronizing. Or they might be distant and hostile, which is alienating. And there are a million possibilities in between. 

This is so common because grief is confusing for everyone involved—it’s difficult to know the exact right thing to say to someone who is grieving. Try to be patient with the people around you and assume best intentions. Most of the time they’re doing their best, just like you. 

Depending on your relationship, you might want to be open, vulnerable, and honest with some people about your grief—how you’ve been experiencing it, how you’re coping with it, and how it is surprising you. With others, particularly professional relations or more distant acquaintances, it can be helpful to set boundaries and clear expectations about the time you’ll be able to dedicate to those relationships while you grieve.

Either way, do not let other people dictate how you should be handling your own grief. Ultimately, you can only control so much of your emotions. Trying to meet expectations from outside sources can add to your stressed state. 

Seeking help

Therapy might be totally normal for some people who feel overwhelmed by grief, while it feels like a scarlet letter to others. To be clear: There is never any shame in seeking help from a professional. Friends, family, and our communities are there to help us through this time as well, and you can seek out peer mentors, grief circles, or local organizations with missions aligned to your personal experiences. 

If you are feeling anxiety about the idea of professional therapy, or are unable to figure out how to find it, please confide in a loved one who can help you get the help you need.

Try to be present in this moment. You are currently living in the midst of a conversation with your past and future selves. 

When you’re feeling that shadow of overwhelming grief, look back on the person you were before and the memories you shared with your loved one. Honor those by looking to your future self and asking who that person will be. Then try to imagine your future life through the eyes of the person you’re grieving. Chances are, they’ll be proud ●