Managing the Grief Process: a Deep Dive into STUGs

4 minute read


When it comes to grieving, there is no singular journey, or steps that a person can follow to process loss faster. There is no simple solution that will help move the pain along. In fact, while there are widespread beliefs about the stages of grief, it’s not the most effective way that we should, as a society, be looking at the complex, ever-changing emotion.

And even when you have moved forward and feel that you have gone through your process in the most effective way, sometimes moments will surface where you suddenly feel a wave or a surge of emotions that brings you back to that place of hurt, sadness and pain. These triggers can come out of nowhere, and can derail you, when you least expect it.

We’re here today to tell you that it’s okay. This is normal and in fact, still a part of your grieving process as a whole. Let’s break it down a bit more, learn about what they are and talk about how to manage these triggers when they surface.



A STUG, or a Sudden Temporary Upsurge of Grief, is a term defined by grief expert Dr. Therese Rando in the early 1990s. It is characterized by an intense, unexpected surge of emotionality that arrives on occasion to those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, sometimes even long after the person’s death.

These “triggers” are definitely not fun when they happen. There are STUGs that come up on days we expect. These include special moments: birthdays, anniversaries, family celebrations, but the toughest part is when they arrive at moments when you’re the most unprepared. It can happen when you least expect it: you may be at the grocery store, you may be out with friends, or even just at work.

Innocuous memories, moments in time or even sensory experiences, from a taste, smell or even a sound, can bring about a crushing wave of emotion. These STUGs can ambush you and cause an upsurge of grief emotions, happening at any time and sometimes many years after, even when you think you’re fine and have moved on.


The worst part of this is that they occur after a substantial time has passed since your loss, and while the overall grief may have subsided, moments brought on by a STUG can be both alarming and frightening. The important thing to remember is that these are very common, very normal and all part of the overall grieving process.

Yes, they can catch you off guard, but here are some of our best tips on how to manage and “protect” yourself for when these STUGs come around:

  • Attempt to label and identify your experience for what it is. Naming it and understanding that you are in fact experiencing a STUG can help you feel more in control.
  • Keep in mind that this is only a temporary experience. It will pass, and keeping that in mind will help you feel in charge and help the emotion pass.
  • Research shows that riding out a STUG is the most effective strategy to getting through it. Providing yourself with a safe, private place to collect yourself is paramount. Attempt to keep your breathing steady, breathe deeply and allow the feelings to come. Leaning into it and allowing yourself to feel the pain until it passes is important.
  • Similar to a panic or anxiety attack, STUGs can put your body on hyper-alert. This means that your body may be rushing with endorphins and you may be feeling a “fight-or-flight” response to the stimulus. With this in mind, once the STUG passes, your body may need time to adjust, and return to normal. Be kind to yourself and make sure you take the time and care you need during this time. Sleep, rest and relaxation are great things to do following a STUG.

Everyone’s grieving process is different, and truthfully, the concept of “closure” isn’t applicable at all when it comes to loss. Grief is a complex, ever-evolving emotion and while we may manage our emotions as time goes on, moments that bring on a STUG are absolutely normal.

Take time to process your feelings and understand why you are feeling this way; by responding kindly to yourself and being mindful of why you are experiencing these moments, you’ll be better prepared to handle them in the future.


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