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  • Writer's pictureLeslie

Coping skills for grief

When I ask new clients about their goals, most clients say they want to learn coping skills. Coping skills are not a magic fix, BUT they can be valuable tools to help ease the pain of grief. Here is what I have learned both personally and professionally about coping skills.

coping with grief


coping skill tips


“Coping skills are not a magic fix.”

- It takes ENERGY to figure out which coping skills work best for you. What works for one person does not work for another person. And what works for you some of the time will not work at other times.


- It takes REPETITION for the coping skills to become habit and make a noticeable difference in your life. Only using coping skills when your in the depths of grief is not enough. You have to use them multiple times throughout the day during both the good times and the bad. Repetition retrains the brain and creates new neural pathways for healing.


“Every counselor will tell you to focus on your breathing, but why?”

Top 3 Coping skills


1. BREATHE – Every counselor will tell you to focus on your breathing, but why? Unlike our heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, etc. the breath is our body’s only autonomic system that we can easily control. The important part of breathing is to focus on the out breath and make it longer than the in breath. The out breath activates the rest/digest portion of our nervous system. So try breathing in for 4 counts and out for 6. Practice breathing in this way for a couple of minutes several times a day.


2. 54321 GROUNDING – This technique engages each of your senses and forces you to focus on the present moment. Say out loud and slowly:

  • 5 things you can SEE: Look for details, not just quickly naming items around you.

  • 4 things you can FEEL with your body: Such as the ground beneath you or tension in your shoulders.

  • 3 things you can HEAR: Listen for things inside the room, then outside the room, then even further.

  • 2 things you can SMELL: This is where it starts to get hard. Take your time and really notice the different scents.

  • 1 thing you can TASTE: Again, take your time. Touch your teeth and cheeks with your tongue until you notice a taste.


3. EXERCISE – Sometimes we have too many stress hormones racing through our body to be able to catch our breath or slow down enough for a grounding exercise. In this case, do 10 jumping jacks, push ups, or other movement that forces you to deepen your breath. Putting those stress hormones to work in your body helps allow the fight/flight portion of your nervous system to stabilize so that your rest/digest portion of your nervous system can come back online.


I often practice these skills and more with my clients during session. If you need help integrating these skills into your daily life, click here.

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