8 Tips to Cope When Saying Goodbye to Friends

By Dr. Julia Li, July 5, 2022

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Every year, as the summer holidays approach, many people within the international community leave Shanghai, moving on to other adventures.

This means that many of us are saying goodbye to close friends. If you are having a hard time saying goodbye, you're not alone.

Here are some useful tips to cope with goodbyes shared by psychiatrist Dr. Julia Li from Jiahui Health.

1. Acknowledge that change is coming

The process of saying goodbye often starts long before you actually say the final goodbye. Many of us spend a great deal of effort trying to avoid change and minimize uncertainty.

This means that when a change does come about, our internal stress response systems kick into gear, making us perceive the situation as frightening or overwhelming. By acknowledging and accepting the change that is coming, it can relieve anxiety and help you to mentally prepare.

2. Make the most of the time left

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You’ve enjoyed each other's company up until this point, so why change that now? In the time you have left, make as many memories as you can and try not to leave any unfinished business. Saying goodbye is hard as it is, and you don’t want to make it worse by having regrets too. 

When parting ways, it is common for one or both parties to ‘move on’ before the final goodbye, as it may seem easier to get used to a new life without the other person. But this can result in a good thing being spoilt forever.

Rather let your friend know that they have your support going forward, continue to be there for them, and make special memories up until the final goodbye.

3. Plan a farewell

Saying goodbye is not typically a happy activity, but you can alleviate some of the pain by throwing a goodbye party or doing something together that you both enjoy.

4. Acknowledge your feelings

Many of us hope that by refusing to acknowledge the pain we are feeling, it might go away. But this typically makes things worse and can actually prevent us from moving on. It's important to acknowledge these feelings and even put them into words, either by speaking to someone or by journaling. Voicing your feelings can make them feel less overwhelming and all-encompassing, and will allow you to process them.

In some situations, saying goodbye can sometimes feel like you are losing the person, which can generate the same emotion as grief. In this case, it can be helpful to understand the process of grief so that you can more easily navigate your way through it.

5. Plan how you will stay in touch

Before saying goodbye, it can be helpful to agree on how you will stay in touch (and how frequently). This can help to reduce the sense of loss as well as provide you with a sense of control.

It’s also important to be realistic and manage your expectations, as life tends to get in the way. Managing these expectations up front is particularly important if you have kids.

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6. Take care of your well-being

Research shows that getting a good night's sleep and eating a few balanced, nourishing meals can help to improve your mood. While this may not make the pain any less, it will make you feel more equipped to deal with it.

7. Give yourself time to adjust

Any type of loss can be painful and can take time to ease. Give yourself grace and always remember that this too shall pass.

8. Don’t get too sentimental

It’s important to remember that both of you are moving on and will go on to do new and exciting things. Don’t let yourself constantly look back on your time together, feeling that ‘it will never be that good again.’ It’s important to move on and make new friends and new memories.

Dr. Julia Li

Psychiatrist, Mental Health, Jiahui Health

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Julia Li obtained her medical degree at Shanghai Medical University (now Fudan University Shanghai Medical College). She was a faculty member and an assistant professor at Shanghai Medical University before moving to the US.

She received her psychiatric residency training at St. Elizabeth Medical Center of Boston between 1998-2002. She joined The Permanente Medical Group (TPMG) in Northern California after graduating from the psychiatric residency program, and she had been an attending psychiatrist at Kaiser-Permanente in Northern California between 2002-2022.

She has a medical license as a Physician and Surgeon in the state of California, is a diplomate in the specialty of psychiatry certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and is a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

In her 20 years of clinical experience in the mental health field, she developed a particular interest in a holistic approach to promoting mind and body wellness. She left Kaiser-Permanente in 2022 to move back to her hometown, joining Jiahui Health in Shanghai.


[All images courtesy of Jiahui Health]

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