What to Do When Grief Overwhelms You

Unexpected waves of grief overwhelm you at unexpected, sometimes awkward times. Coping with setbacks in the grieving process when you’re home alone is one thing — but what do you do in the grocery store or at your kids’ school? Nothing prepares you for this part of the grieving process.

You are not alone. They say grief is different for different people, but the truth is that every griever struggles with the same questions: “What do you do when grief overwhelms you? How do you face setbacks in the grieving process?”

“Now that the leaves have fallen from the trees and the cold of winter is setting in, the emptiness and grief in my heart is overwhelming,” writes Beth on How to Get Through the Day When You’re a Grieving Widow. “I’m so tired of dealing with all the stuff of my husband’s death. Life insurance, taxes, family, coroners, doctors, forms, paperwork, checking the widow box. I’m so very tired – just when I think I get over one hurdle, I’m thrown into another. Every piece of mail is like a reminder I’m doing this alone.

The Blossom Tip: Expect to be overwhelmed by grief at the most awkward and unexpected times. Have a plan for overcoming setbacks in the grieving process, so you aren’t left scrambling for tissues and sunglasses to hide your pain.

Beth adds that she struggled with grief during the spring and summer months, but she stayed busy and had the warmth of the sun and beauty of the season. She had fewer setbacks in the grieving process, and always knew what to do when grief overwhelmed her: something pleasant out in the sunshine!

But the seasons changed, and so has her grieving process.

“Although I struggled with grief, I was able to stay busy,” she said. “I’m trying to keep my calendar full of activities with friends and family so I can stay ahead of the tears. At times, I find it is hard to reach out to people because I don’t want to bring them down. I’m so thankful for ‘She Blossoms’ and a place to share with other women who are going through such a painful grieving process too…. we are blessed to have one another!”

3 Ways to Cope With Setbacks in the Grieving Process

These tips are simple and practical, because the last thing you need is a complicated description of what to do when grief is overwhelming! Remember that the definition of “feeling overwhelmed” means you won’t be thinking clearly. You need quick, easy ideas for coping with setbacks in the grieving process.

1. Let grief overwhelm you

After my grandma died, I was sure I’d die from grief. I thought my heart would literally break and I wouldn’t be able to keep breathing. I didn’t just feel like I was experiencing “grief setbacks”… I thought I was dying. That was the most overwhelming grief I’ve ever experienced — and I’ve been through foster homes, a schizophrenic mother, pet deaths, infertility, a home invasion, and the loss of my sister. Some griefs are just worse than others.

Grief is scary, but I learned that in order to get though those setbacks of grief, I had to let it overwhelm me. I had to surrender to the heartwrenching, heartbreaking horror of facing my loneliness, sadness, guilt and loss. The feelings of anxiety, fear, heartbreak and loss are absolutely terrifying.

Moving through the grieving process is one of those things you know “should” do…but it is so painful. So, what do you do when grief is overwhelming? You let it have its way.

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Safe places to be overwhelmed by grief:

  • In your shower at home.
  • In a friend or family member’s arms.
  • In an empty church.
  • In a car by yourself, in a deserted parking lot.
  • On the shore, with breaking waves muffling your sobs.

What have I missed — where else can you go when grief is overwhelming you? What do you do when you’re facing a setback in the grieving process?

2. Trust that you won’t go insane

I avoided feeling grief and pain because I thought I’d lose my mind. I honestly thought I was going crazy. It didn’t help to have a schizophrenic mother, because I know what true insanity looks, feels, sounds, and tastes like. I held back my grief because I didn’t want to lose my grip on sanity. It took awhile to learn that the only way through those overwhelming feelings of grief is to allow them to wash over me.

Do you feel like your grieving setbacks might be the end of you? Trust that you’ll find your way back to yourself. You’ll come through the overwhelming feelings of grief — if you sit back and allow them to overcome you. Be overwhelmed. Your body, mind, and spirit knows what to do.

3. Take care of your grief before it overwhelms you

Once upon a time, a guy broke into my apartment and tried to rape me. For months after, I experienced overwhelming feelings of terror, anxiety, fear and grief. They were uncontrollable, and they reared up at unexpected times. Episodes of panic, anxiety, and fear aren’t pleasant to cope with in the grocery store, and I had no idea what to do with the overwhelming feelings.

What to Do When Grief Overwhelms You

What to Do When Grief Overwhelms You

So I put my second tip for what to do when you’re overwhelmed by grief into action: I parked my car in a deserted parking lot, and I screamed. And cried. And pounded the steering wheel. And sobbed. That was one of those times I thought I was going crazy — it wasn’t just a setback in the grieving process. I thought I was losing my mind.

But you know what? That’s how I found my sanity! Ironically. I had to let those overwhelming feelings of grief, fear, anxiety and panic work their way through me, so I could be free. Only when I got those overwhelming feelings out did I finally find long-lasting peace from grief.

The Blossom Tip: Expect to be overwhelmed by grief at the most awkward and unexpected times. Have a plan for overcoming setbacks in the grieving process, so you aren’t left scrambling for tissues and sunglasses to hide your pain.

What have I missed? I welcome your thoughts on these quick, simple tips on what to do when you’re overwhelmed by grief, or coping with a setback in the grieving process…

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Laurie's "She Blossoms" Books

Growing Forward When You Can't Go Back She Blossoms Laurie Pawlik
Growing Forward When You Can't Go Back - to help you walk through loss into a new season of life. I share glimpses into my life with a schizophrenic mother, living in foster homes, teaching in Africa, and coping with infertility. Woven through the book are practical, encouraging Blossom Tips to help you grow and flourish!

How to Let Go of Someone You Love She Blossoms Laurie Pawlik

How to Let Go of Someone You Love - Powerful Secrets (and Practical Tips!) for Healing Your Heart After a Breakup. Do you feel like you'll never get over your broken heart? This ebook - available immediately - will help you heal. It's time to let go of what was, and embrace what will be.

When You Miss Him Like Crazy She Blossoms Laurie Pawlik

When You Miss Him Like Crazy - 25 Lessons to Move You From Broken to Blossoming After a Breakup! You miss him desperately right now, but you won't always feel this way. This warm, comforting ebook will give you the tools, encouragement and strength you need to move through the pain and start blossoming - today!

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2 thoughts on “What to Do When Grief Overwhelms You

  • Amanda

    My husband found his “birth” Mother and family 7 years ago, after a 42 year separation. They lived a long distance away- thousand+ miles, so we could only manage a few visits. I am glad he went to see her for a week during Mother’s Day. She passed suddenly last Saturday. This was such a shock. I lost my first Mother in Law( his adoptive Mom)28 years ago. I never really got to know either one, nor attend their memorial services. I am surprised by the amount of grief I am dealing with. I wish it would pass.

  • Angela

    Thank you for the reassurance that I will get through this. Right now is the middle of the night. I woke up briefly and couldn’t fall asleep because of the sadness. Knowing that you have done the exact same things that I have done and that you made it through without losing your sanity really helps.