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How Men Handle Grief Differently Compared to Women

No two people will grieve in the same way. Even people facing a similar experience—like siblings grieving the loss of their parent—will process their emotions and reactions differently. One person might be angry at the parent for leaving them, while the other might be so bereft they can barely get out of bed.

But gender and culture affect the ways people grieve. “How we are raised can play a role in the development of how a person processes their emotions,” said Jerimya Fox, a behavioral health specialist with Banner Health. “You could say that men and women have different grief responses.”

Of course, these differences aren’t universally true. There’s not a set way men grieve, and women grieve. But you’ll typically see some ways men are more likely to experience grief and loss.

Men may keep their feelings inside

Men may perceive that they need to keep their feelings bottled up. They may feel pressure to avoid feelings that make them emotionally vulnerable. They may think that putting on a brave front protects their family and friends.

“Men are more likely to keep their emotions inside rather than express them to others. They may even completely avoid talking about the loss,” Dr. Fox said. “But expressing grief is one of the most important parts of the grieving process.”

What to do: Talk about grief—that can help people process it. Men may have difficulty expressing their grief-related emotions. It can help to participate in family activities. “Simply by engaging with other family members, they can recognize that they have a supportive environment around them when dealing with their grief,” Dr. Fox said.

Men may also find comfort in journaling since that can help them process their emotions privately.

Men may not recognize the signs of grief

Men may expect to feel sad or lonely when they are grieving. But they might not expect to feel other emotions, such as guilt, anger, fear or anxiety. They may also not associate physical symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, weight changes, pain or insomnia with grief.

What to do: Educate yourself about grief and the grieving process, so you have a better idea of what many people typically experience. Of course, if you have physical or mental health symptoms that concern you, talk to your doctor.

Men may not be prepared for the changes in grief over time

Grief doesn’t progress in a straight line, with each day being a little easier than the day before. And emotions can be complicated. Initially, grief may feel overwhelming. And then, when a day comes when feelings aren’t as intense, you might feel guilty about not feeling so sad. 

Or you might start to feel at peace with your loss, then find strong feelings resurfacing around a birthday, anniversary, holiday or the anniversary of the death. You may also feel the loss more intensely at events like weddings and graduations, where you realize your loved one is missing out on these experiences.

What to do: If you think an upcoming date might be hard for you, consider whether participating in activities might be helpful. You might want to throw yourself into celebrating, or you might want to replace some traditions with new ones that don’t carry so many memories. You may also want to skip activities that you think will be too challenging to face.

Men may try to distract themselves

“Many men may use distraction techniques to avoid thinking about or processing the loss,” Dr. Fox said. Sometimes, that can be helpful. But in other cases, it can postpone grieving and make it more complicated. It can be a way of ignoring the grief, which makes it worse over time.

What to do: Evaluate what you’re spending your time doing and thinking about and try to recognize whether it’s helping you. A good form of distraction for many men is exercise. In the earliest days after the loss, you may just be able to manage a short walk. But getting out into nature can help. As you start to deal with your grief, getting more intense exercise can release feel-good emotions called endorphins. 

How to support men who are grieving

Men might not realize that support can help. “Everyone needs support in some way with grief in their lives, regardless of gender,” Dr. Fox said. Encourage a man in your life who is grieving to talk to you, a family member or a close friend. They may benefit from a support group, since they may feel more comfortable opening up to people in a similar situation. Or they may benefit from talking to a therapist or psychologist.

“It is helpful to recognize that men and women often do process grief differently,” Dr. Fox said. “Understanding those differences can help family and friends provide support.” When a man in your life is grieving, you may want to help, but you might not be sure what you can do. “You want to encourage them to process their grief, but to give them space,” he said. 

Gently offer support, but back off if you feel it may not be helping. And keep in mind that support can take different forms. If a man in your life isn’t comfortable talking about grief, simply spending time together may be helpful.

The bottom line

Men may be culturally conditioned not to express the emotions they feel when they are grieving. Understanding grief and learning strategies to process it can help. 

If you or a man in your life could use some support during the grieving process:

Call the Banner Behavioral Health Appointment Line at (800) 254-4357.

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