Grief is a natural part of life and loss, which can affect many aspects of life. Understanding grief and the grieving process can help you cope with grief in a healthy and sustainable way.
What Is Grief?
Grief is your natural response to loss and trauma. Many situations, no matter big or small, can lead to grief. Here are some of the most common triggers that may result in grief:
- Divorce or breakup
- Health decline
- Health decline of a loved one
- Job loss and financial instability
- Large change in life, i.e., graduating from college or changing careers
- Loss of a friendship
- Loss of an important dream
- Death of a friend or family member
- Traumatic death
- Death of a pet
The pain associated with grief can feel overwhelming, resulting in a lot of unexpected emotions and may cause physical side effects. Without healthy coping mechanisms, grief can strongly interfere with your physical health. You might find it difficult to eat, sleep, and even think.
Although grief is a normal part of life, it can evolve into a recognized mental health disorder, otherwise known as prolonged grief disorder (the official psychiatric name for the disorder) or complicated grief disorder. It happens whenever feelings of grief do not subside for months or years after the event.
Symptoms of Grief
Grief is accompanied by a wide range of emotions and symptoms. In many cases, intense feelings of sadness overcome the individual, but other feelings crop up too. Unresolved grief can also lead to physical symptoms, including chest pains, sore muscles, and headaches.
Experiencing these symptoms is a part of normal grief. However, being able to recognize them will help you to better handle them and develop ways to cope.
Emotional Symptoms of Grief
Emotional symptoms of grief often include periods of sadness, intense sadness, painful memories, and the inability to experience moments of joy. For many individuals, these symptoms are the most notable and difficult to get through while grieving. Emotional symptoms of grief include:
- Feelings of emptiness
- Inability to show and/or experience joy
- Increased irritability
- Intense emotions
- Emotional numbness
- Periods of sadness
- Profound sadness
- Preoccupation with loss
Physical Symptoms of Grief
Grief does more than just disrupt your emotional well-being. Physical symptoms can pop up as well alongside emotional pain. Some of the most common physical symptoms of grief include headaches and fatigue, but many other symptoms can arise as well, such as:
- Changes in weight
- Chest pain
- Digestive problems
- Inability to sleep or sleeping too much
- Sore muscles
The 5 Stages of Grief
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross theorized that grief involves 5 stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
- Denial: Denial involves minimizing the overwhelming feelings of loss you may feel. It involves disbelief of the loss so that you can understand what is happening and survive the situation. The denial phase often involves memories where you are reflecting on past experiences with the person you have lost.
- Anger: Adjusting to the loss of a loved one often results in extreme anger. Anger is often an outlet to get your emotions out. It allows you to express your emotions with less rejection or judgment.
- Bargaining: Extreme feelings of loss make most individuals willing to do anything to get rid of the pain. There are many ways that the bargaining phase plays out, but many involve a variety of promises, many of them addressed to a divinity. During this phase, feelings of helplessness often come to the forefront as you are protesting to a higher power.
- Depression: Eventually, processing grief takes a dark turn and results in depression. This often happens when denial, anger, and bargaining are not working.
- Acceptance: Acceptance does not involve the absence of pain. Instead, acceptance is when you do not resist reality and recognize that life has changed. Intense feelings may still be there, but you are not trying to alter your reality.
It’s important to note that these different stages don’t always happen linearly. You might feel denial one day and bargaining the next, and you might go through a series of weeks before acceptance.
Coping with Grief and Loss
Experiencing grief and loss is one of the most difficult challenges in life, and it never gets easier. It’s okay to feel sad and lost, this is normal. Although you cannot make feelings of loss go away, there are healthy ways to cope with grief. It’s important to learn healthy coping mechanisms so that you can continue living a healthy life, despite the loss.
Don’t let the pain of loss lead to isolation. Isolation is a common occurrence when experiencing grief. It’s imperative to fight the urge to isolate oneself and find ways to cope with grief and loss with the help of your friends, family members, and health care professionals.
Maintain relationships with friends and family members. Keep involving your friends and family members who are supportive of you in your life. Although it might feel awkward or embarrassing to confide in them, they will be there for you through thick and thin. Rely on their acceptance and ask for help when needed.
Lean on your faith. If you have faith, embrace the comfort that comes from your higher power. Whether you prefer meditating or going to church, faith can help you ground yourself during the grieving process.
Find comfort in routines. Create a healthy and normal routine. Incorporating healthy habits in your usual activities can help create a reliable and stable sense of reality. Incorporate exercise and healthy food into your daily routine. This stability can help you cope with your grief without disrupting your future life too much.
Contact counseling professionals. If you feel your grief is overwhelming, contact a therapist or grief counselor. A mental health professional and grief counseling can help you navigate your feelings when you find it difficult to control them on your own. This can include individual counseling, family counseling, and group counseling.
If you need a grief counselor to help you through this difficult time and get back to daily life, get in touch. Our grief counseling is addressed to individuals experiencing emotional and psychological trauma from loss and grief.
Additionally for grief group counseling we highly recommend Our House Grief Support Center.