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Grief, Loss and Trauma

The death of someone that we know, whether that person is a family member or a friend, is a difficult challenge that we all must unfortunately face at some point in our lives. How each of us will go about coping with that loss may be very different, as we work through our emotional reactions and thoughts about the person and the situation. The goal is to allow yourself to experience and adjust to the change that comes from the grieving process. Some of the emotions that you may experience include:

  • Shock: you may initially feel numb or surprised, which can serve to protect you
  • Denial: you may ignore or suppress your feelings entirely, because they are too intense to deal with
  • Anger: over time, you may find yourself growing angry at the person who died, or at others around you, as you seek someone or something to blame for his or her death
  • Guilt: you may think about what you did or did not do and how that could have saved the person
  • Fear: this may be fear of the grieving process itself, or of the unknown
  • Sadness: you may experience an overwhelming sense of loss, and sometimes this can be debilitating
  • Anxiety: you may become sensitive to situations around you, which can result in an increased inability to focus or manage stress
  • Relief: in some cases, a person may have suffered for a period of time, and we may feel some relief in the fact that that suffering has ended

Contrary to what some people may tell you, there is no “order” to how you should grieve. Each person will move through such feelings in their own time and in their own order. It is the grieving process that allows us to move forward and learn to accept the reality of the loss.

In addition to the emotional impact of losing someone, you may experience physical symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, gastrointestinal problems, tightness in the chest or throat, or a “feeling of numbness.”  You may also find yourself preoccupied with thoughts of the person, resulting in a loss of concentration or motivation. These experiences may not happen to every person who is grieving, but if they do they can usually be considered a normal part of the process.

What You Can Do When You Are Grieving

One of the most often asked questions is, “What can I do to get over this?” We have a few suggestions for what you can do to help you through the process:

  • Feel your feelings

    Emotions are normal and healthy. They can seem frightening when they occur unexpectedly, and that’s understandable. Everyone experiences emotions when grieving, and it’s okay to let them show. While this may sometimes be especially hard, we encourage you to find someone you trust to express those feelings with, whether a friend, family member, or counselor.
  • Allow yourself to get angry

    Anger is an intense emotion, but if you allow it to build up it can contribute to many problems. Learn how to direct your anger in healthy ways, no matter how silly. Scream into the air, punch a pillow, go for a jog, or get involved in an outdoor activity. Try your best not to take it out on your friends or family, or on yourself.
  • Allow yourself to cry

    It’s okay to cry, even for men. You may find yourself crying when alone, but we encourage you to find someone you trust to cry with; it may even make you feel better. Sometimes, a hug can make all the difference!
  • Pay attention to yourself

    Listen to yourself! You will often know what you need. If you are uncertain, then listen to a trusted family member or friend who will help you keep reality in focus.
  • Set limits

    Don’t be afraid to say “no” to yourself or to others. Remember to be forgiving of yourself, and don’t expect too much of yourself right now.
  • Write a letter

    Some people will find it helpful to write a letter to the person who has passed. In it you can write down your feelings about that person, about what you will miss, and have a chance to say goodbye to him or her. You can share this with someone you trust, or keep it to yourself.
  • Remember to laugh

    As difficult as it may seem, there are still good things happening in your life, and we encourage you to pay attention to those times that you feel happy or something makes you laugh.
  • Reflection

    Take some time to reflect on your friend’s life and the good times you shared together. You can also do this with other people who spent time with your friend and share the experience as a group.
  • Find comfort in your faith

    If faith is something that is important to you, you may wish to turn to your belief system for comfort. Speak with a minister, rabbi, or clergyperson. Visit your church or honor your friend in your own way.
  • Take care of yourself physically

    When grieving, it is very important to keep up your strength. Make sure you’re going to bed at a reasonable time. Eat regularly and keep those meals healthy and balanced. Give your body the energy it needs to heal.
  • Plan activities

    When you think you are ready, make plans for things that you enjoy, such as spending time with friends or taking a small vacation. Give yourself something to look forward to, and do your best to get back to living your life.
  • Focus on survival and hope

    Initially, you may believe you are doing everything you can just to survive the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing. Things may not be the same again in the future, but remember that, in time, you WILL feel better. Some days may be harder than others, but you will slowly (at your own pace) feel stronger and able to manage the loss.
  • Ask for help

    Don’t be afraid to turn to others to help you through. Think about how good it feels for you to be there for the people you care about, and let them return the favor. Talk with your family. Check in with your friends. Or seek out a professional counselor.

When to See a Counselor

Sometimes the grieving process becomes too much to manage on your own. You may find yourself experiencing severe changes in behavior, or intense physical reactions such as sleep and appetite disturbances. In extreme cases, our own feelings of loss may result in a preoccupation with death and contemplation of suicide. If you are experiencing these types of problems, you may want to seek out a professional counselor who can help you manage your symptoms and refer you to the appropriate resources.

Regardless of the severity, however, if your grieving is interfering with your life in any way, don’t be afraid to get in touch with someone who can help. As a Drexel student, you can contact the Counseling Center at 215.895.1415 or to schedule an appointment.

Grief and Loss as a College Student


During our lives it is possible that we may experience some sort of traumatic event. In these instances it can be difficult to predict how we might react during the event and afterwards. Each of us has a unique perspective on the world which will result in a unique response; however, one common characteristic that we all share is that having a stress reaction to a trauma is NORMAL.

Normal reactions to traumatic events can include:

  • Frequent, recurrent thoughts about the event
  • Difficulty sleeping, including having nightmares
  • Changes in appetite
  • Increased anxiety when in situations similar to the trauma
  • Increased sensitivity or alertness
  • Worrying about death or the safety of others
  • Feelings of depression, including sadness, lethargy, or spontaneous crying spells
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches or nausea
  • Decreased ability to concentrate in classes or other regular activities
  • Increased irritability or anger
  • Feeling “numb” or detached from others
  • Preoccupation with asking “What if?” questions
  • Denial about the event and its impact on you

In many cases, the reactions to trauma may be temporary and diminish on their own, as we distance ourselves from the event and attempt to continue to live our lives. However, sometimes these reactions may persist and significantly interfere with your ability to function. In those cases, we encourage you to contact the Counseling Center at 215.895.1415 or to schedule an appointment or consult with a professional.

Online Resources

The content provided here is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended for self-diagnosis or self-treatment, nor should it replace the consultation of a trained medical or mental health professional. Please note that outside links are not under our control, and we cannot guarantee the content contained on them.