Bereavement Overload: How to Cope When You’re Grieving Multiple Losses 

Does it seem like one bad thing keeps having after another? Have you experienced multiple losses in quick succession? Are you perpetually angry, sad, or tired- and do these feelings trigger an overarching sense of stuckness?

Bereavement overload can happen after enduring several losses. The “overload” effect may compromise your physical and emotional well-being.

And while grieving a loss certainly isn’t easy, there are some small steps you can take that may improve how you feel.

What Is Bereavement Overload?

Bereavement overload refers to the complicated and challenging feeling associated with experiencing multiple losses. Of course, all loss can be excruciating, but the effects of compounding grief may exacerbate even more distress.

You may be experiencing bereavement overload if you:

  • have endured multiple losses.
  • have seemingly experienced one bad thing after another.
  • feel detachment or numbness over what happened.
  • often believe that life is completely falling apart.
  • feel increasingly depressed, helpless, or hopeless.

What Causes Bereavement Overload?

There isn’t a single cause for bereavement overload. Instead, a combination of risk factors may increase the risk for this phenomenon.

Some potential risk factors include:

  • having a preexisting history of mental health conditions.
  • lacking support in the aftermath of grief.
  • experiencing massive life changes or upheaval after experiencing a loss.
  • having difficulties with emotional expression.

It’s important to note that there isn’t a specific timeline for bereavement overload, and the type of loss can vary. Some people experience numerous losses quite closely to one another. But any sense of loss can add up over time.

In some cases, people haven’t really allowed themselves to grieve a particular loss. Instead, many of us try to quickly “move on” and avoid the hurt- we want to protect ourselves and go on with our lives. This pattern can be either conscious or subconscious, and it’s typically a means of survival. But this strategy doesn’t mean the feelings disappear.

Furthermore, it’s also important to understand that the loss itself doesn’t need to be a death. For example, losing your home, job, and relationship all at the same time may result in bereavement overload.

How Long Does Bereavement Overload Last?

There is no official timeline for grief. So despite what people may claim, you shouldn’t force yourself to try to “move on” after, say, six months or a year.

The overload effect can dissipate if you start taking proactive steps towards ensuring your well-being. Bereavement overload can be an extreme stress response- your mind and body have recognized the losses and feel overwhelmed by them.

While bereavement overload isn’t a specific mental health diagnosis, the DSM-5 does list specific criteria for persistent complex bereavement disorder. This diagnosis consists of intense grief that occurs over a prolonged period. The grief is often so severe that it affects various areas of functioning.

Additionally, the American Psychological Association has proposed official criteria for prolonged grief disorder. This diagnosis consists of intense preoccupation or yearning coupled with disruptive emotions that occur at least twelve months after losing a loved one.

Can Collective Grief Cause Bereavement Overload?

Collective grief happens when a specific community or group of people collectively experience a sense of loss. This kind of grief can occur in the aftermath of severe issues like natural disasters or shootings.

For instance, in the COVID-19 pandemic, many people experienced a sense of collective grief. It often felt like bad news continued to accumulate each day. And with so many deaths and bad news occurring all around the same time, people began feeling increasingly angry, sad, or detached altogether.

Collective grief can trigger bereavement overload because it often creates a sense of helplessness and fear. For example, you might feel afraid that things will never improve. Or, you might start feeling apathetic- it’s as if the world is falling apart, and you no longer seem to care.

How Do You Cope With Bereavement Overload?

Coping with any loss can be challenging. It often requires accepting uncomfortable emotions and making decisions outside of your normal comfort zone. But, no matter how long it takes, learning to find a sense of acceptance with grief can make a tremendous difference in how you feel.

Start Identifying Your Feelings

What emotions are you experiencing right now? What are the sensations in your body? When you start thinking about the loss- even if it feels scary- what comes up for you?

These are your feelings, and familiarizing yourself with them is a paramount step towards healing. The goal isn’t to eliminate intense emotions. The goal is to become more accepting and embracing of them- feeling sad, angry, or confused are often part of the process. The more you try to suppress them, the stronger they often become.

It can be helpful to remind yourself that you are entirely human. We cannot know joy without sadness or love without loss. That said, you are meant to have thoughts and feelings.

Find Safe Support

Unfortunately, many people isolate themselves when grieving. They often don’t want to burden or upset others. But isolation often triggers even more sadness or anger, and it can stunt your healing.

You need people who can understand and validate your losses. Even if they haven’t had the same experiences as you, you can find people who recognize the pain associated with grief.

There are many resources for finding support. Some people find it through their family or peer groups. Others turn to their spiritual or religious communities. Some find it via professional support or support groups. In addition, many social media platforms have private groups devoted to specific loss topics.

You may need to find several outlets for support. Different people will be able to help you in different ways. And remember, good-natured people want to be there for you. It’s your job to try your best to let them into your world.

Try to Maintain a Routine

Routines are beneficial for your health, and they can support a sense of safety and structure when it feels like things are falling apart. Following a schedule keeps you task-oriented and accountable, which can reduce those intense feelings of despair or helplessness.

A good routine doesn’t need to be overly rigid. It can be as simple as committing to brushing your teeth, taking a shower, and meditating for five minutes after waking up.

Of course, it’s important to remember that perfection isn’t the goal. It may just feel impossible to get out of bed on some days, and that’s okay. But the more you can dedicate yourself to following a few tasks each day, the better you will likely feel.

Avoid Excess Numbing

While the occasional glass of wine, midnight Amazon haul, or Netflix binge may feel good for the soul, escaping too frequently can cause more harm than good.

Escapism often happens when we don’t want to deal with the depths of reality. This is a normal human desire, but overdoing it tends to create more problems because it can trigger shame, guilt, anxiety, and depression.

Instead of numbing yourself, try to focus on being more present. Commit to implementing more mindfulness throughout your day. When the urge strikes to ‘numb out,’ consider alternative forms of self-care that will inspire you to feel more rejuvenated and healthy- rather than sluggish and disconnected.

Choose How You Want to Honor the Losses

Many people worry about forgetting about their loved one. But honoring grief can help you maintain a sense of connection with the people or things you lost. Doing so can also foster a sense of meaning and fulfillment.

There are many ways you can honor loss. Some strategies include:

  • writing letters or poetry to your loved one.
  • creating a photo album or scrapbook in their honor.
  • committing to doing things/making decisions that would have made them happy.
  • creating a special honored space in your home.
  • making a donation or setting up a small foundation in their name.
  • starting traditions that honor their spirit.
  • hosting get-togethers where loved ones can meet and share stories about their loved one.
  • planting a garden or tree in their honor.

Practice More Self-Compassion

Some people experience a sense of guilt or responsibility for their losses. If you believe you had a role in what happened, you may struggle with ruminating about the sequence of events that unfolded. You might obsess over the what-ifs and the what-could-have-beens.

Some of this reflection is typical. It’s often known as the bargaining process associated with grief.

But, regardless of how you feel, you cannot undo or change the past. This is your reality, and beating up on yourself often makes healing more difficult.

Try to focus on what is in your control right now. Practice being kind, loving, and tolerant of your emotions. Get familiar with your negative self-talk and try to find ways to challenge it. While some pain may be non-negotiable, you shouldn’t torture yourself into a mental place of complete suffering.

Final Thoughts

Bereavement overload isn’t just something you need to endure. Without support, this grief can feel downright consuming.

Therapy can provide a safe and comfortable environment to process your feelings without judgment. While there is no “right way” to grieve, we can work together to honor your losses and move towards a path of healing.

You deserve a sense of safety and unconditional support. I will be here for you throughout this vulnerable time. Contact me today to schedule your consultation.


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Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

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