How to Cope With Grief and Loss as a Highly Sensitive Introvert

Since highly sensitive introverts feel more deeply, loss affects us more deeply, too — so we need a different way to deal with grief.

Content warning: This article includes a reference to violence. 

Let’s be honest — it’s no secret that we will never fully get over the loss of a loved one who has passed away. Instead, we move forward with the wound and empty space they leave while we also try to heal ourselves and keep our head above water.

I went to the Baltic Sea the other day to say goodbye to my best friend, whose life ended way too early in a tragic homicide. And not only was he my best friend, but he also happened to be my very first love and former life partner of 13 years.

I recently emigrated to Estonia and, because of Covid-19, I wasn’t able to attend his funeral back in my home country of Switzerland.

As a normal phase of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief, I asked myself a countless number of times: “How could I have saved him?” and “Is there anything I could have done to prevent this?“

But, over time, I realized that the blunt truth is, absolutely nothing could have prevented this from happening. 

So while I was walking along Pirita Beach, I saw a seagull uncommonly close to me — it looked like the bird stopped just in front of me, giving me a wink.

Needless to say that after losing a loved one, we are desperate for seeing signs everywhere and want to conceive signals that might not even be there at all. And if you’re a highly sensitive introvert like I am, the emotions seem heightened since we feel things more deeply than non-sensitive people. 

Introverts May Grieve Differently Than Extroverts

While I was strolling along the coast, I started to wonder if introverts grieve differently than extroverts. 

Some research has found that, yes, this may be the case since introverts gain energy through solitude. And whereas an extrovert may benefit from participating in an in-person grief recovery support group, for example, introverts may prefer to grieve privately instead.

As a highly sensitive introvert, I want to share some things that have helped me cope with the loss of my friend.

10 Ways to Cope With Loss as a Highly Sensitive Introvert

1. Join online grief groups, such as GriefShare and Grief in Common.

I’ve found that joining online grief groups, like GriefShare and Grief in Common, have been very helpful in mourning. 

With GriefShare, for instance, you receive a daily email for a year — yes, for 365 days — to provide encouragement and reminders during your recovery process. Sometimes grief can feel very lonely or you might not want to talk to anyone about it. But these emails let you know that you are not alone in this, and you will make it through. Plus, being online is perfect for an introvert!

I’ve also found Grief in Common to be especially helpful because you’re able to set up your own profile that outlines who you are, whom you’ve lost, and the circumstances surrounding that loss. The site will then match you with other people who have experienced a similar loss.

2. Write down your feelings — try writing a letter to the one you lost.

Research shows that writing is one of the most therapeutic things you can do when grieving — it can help you process your feelings and emotions. 

After my friend’s death, I wrote letters to him. I asked questions; other times, I was angry and wanted to let him know. Each time, I found immense relief in putting my feelings on paper. 

After the death of a loved one, we often think, “I wish I could have said this and that,” so I wrote down all the things that were left unsaid, what I wish I could have said when he was still alive. 

Whenever I finished a letter, I was able to focus much better on any tasks of the day.

3. Talk to a professional, like a psychologist or religious leader.

One trait we highly sensitive types share is feeling others’ emotions as though they’re our own. So as I grieved, I became concerned about being a burden on others. After the first couple of weeks, I almost felt guilty talking to friends and family; I didn’t want them to absorb my pain and suffer with me. 

They tried to reassure me that they’ll always be there for me, but I thought it would be best to talk to a professional, too.

I started talking to a therapist and it’s been one of the best decisions of my life. In my opinion, the neutral position of a therapist can be refreshing and alleviating, especially when feelings of guilt occur.

4. Exercise. Even taking a walk in the park can help you feel more at peace.

I am a runner, but am currently giving my knees some well-deserved rest. Instead, I go for walks in my favorite park. Like other highly sensitive people, being surrounded by nature makes me happy and helps me reconnect with my emotions. 

Plus, exercise is also good for us, from boosting our mood to helping us sleep better at night.

Deeply connected with music, I also created a “mourning” playlist on my phone (songs that me and my friend both loved or some that I just connect to him). Even though they sometimes make me cry, I then feel re-energized. 

5. Meditate with apps like Headspace and UCLA’s Mindful.

I’ve found meditating to be very helpful when it comes to processing my grief.

Apps like Headspace provide a grief course, which is a bit more specific than a regular meditation, and you can track your process. UCLA Mindful  provides very detailed meditations (the kindness one is my favorite).

Just like with writing, after finishing a grief or meditation session, I feel empowered and ready to face the day ahead.

6. Make use of your natural empathy and idealism by volunteering or helping others.

We highly sensitive introverts are naturally empathetic and idealistic. 

I’ve found that volunteering and being there for others helps. In my case, this is talking to family members and friends of homicide victims. As an empath, I am aware of my abilities, which include listening and feeling compassion for others.

Whatever you choose to do, volunteering has been proven to be beneficial, from increasing your mental and physical well-being to decreasing depression.

7. Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel, whenever you feel it. 

There are no rules for grieving; it is a highly individual process. You may be angry about the loss one moment and calm the next. 

In an odd way, realizing that you will not fully get over it may be a relief, because you’ll start to see it from a whole new perspective: You’ll learn to live with the loss instead of moving on and trying to forget about it.

The most powerful realization to me was practicing gratitude and developing a ritual of writing down all the things I am grateful for every weekend.

I remember one specific situation where I was running on the treadmill, listening to 

Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. Suddenly, without notice, tears started running down my face. This time, though, they were not out of sadness, but gratitude: I was overwhelmed with such pure gratefulness about life, which brought me to my first boyfriend and all the good times he and I’d had.

It was a moment of great enlightenment, and I smiled for the first time since he passed away.

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8. Eat your favorite comfort snack or food.

When all else fails, snack on your favorite comfort snack or food. In my case, this meant having a fruit Suckie, fruit pouches for toddlers — yes, you read that right — that provided me with vitamins and minerals when I didn’t feel like eating much else.

In the first few days after my loss, I was simply too weak to eat or even think about preparing a meal. My husband was the one making sure I did not forget about eating altogether, and fruit Suckies were perfect while I was lost in my thoughts. 

And, as a nutritionist, after checking the ingredient list, I was pleasantly surprised to not find any additional sugar or preservatives in them. (Just make sure the Suckies, or whatever snack you choose, are not the only thing you eat.) 

9. Accept that your world will be forever changed, but you are in control of how to live now.

As a chronic overthinker, the loss of my friend changed my whole outlook on the world. 

My first love/best friend always told me to stop worrying so much about everything, and how everyone needs to live more in the present moment. Holding onto these words, here I was, newly emigrated to a country where I don’t speak the native language, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, losing my best friend of my already very small circle of friends. (You know how we introverts prefer an inner circle of a few friends versus many casual acquaintances.) 

After reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson, I came to the conclusion that I needed to reevaluate my values. As he says in the book: “It is the act of choosing your values and living by them that makes you great, not any outcome or accomplishment.”

10. Remember: Grieving takes time; there is no timetable.

In my experience, moving forward starts with actively wanting to do so. But, that said, grieving takes time, and you should only make the choice to actively move on when you’re ready. 

My loved ones, like my mom, have been my biggest motivation for wanting to heal. My husband, too, has been exceptionally supportive throughout the whole process, which has been difficult for him, too, seeing me very sad (and about an ex-boyfriend, no less!).

Practicing mindfulness and appreciating what I have now, rather than getting too lost in sadness, has been extremely helpful, as well. I’ve also found comfort in old hobbies of mine, like drawing, writing, and playing the violin again. 

As a highly sensitive introvert, it is a blessing to feel everything so deeply, but I am very familiar with its downsides as well. The slightest thing can bring back memories of the person you lost, from hearing a certain song to finding a specific food in the fridge.

We both loved a certain plant-based version of feta cheese, and I had to hide this item in the back of my fridge. I also had to remove the picture of him that I had on my shelf.

I felt guilty and ashamed for doing these things, but as I learned in grief therapy, I had to prioritize nurturing myself at the moment — which meant hiding the cheese and picture (at least for now).

Introvert, have you experienced a deep loss recently? How are you dealing with it? Let me know in the comments below.

I help highly sensitive people rebuild their lives after a major life change like a loss, breakup, or emigration. Let’s talk: KimBenker.com.

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Hi, I’m Kim. Life coach for highly sensitive people, kindness activist, rescue cat Mom, writer, nutritionist and mindfulness advocate. In my free time, I love to read thrillers, try to convince my husband to build an animal sanctuary with me, paint, laugh, and train for my next marathon. You can find out more about me at KimBenker.com.