What is grief?
Grief (also called bereavement) is the experience of loss. Loss is a natural part of life, but we can still be overcome by shock and confusion leading to prolonged periods of sadness or depression. Many people associate grief with the death of an important person. However, people experience grief after any important loss that affects their life, such as the loss of a job, relationship or a family pet. Grief after diagnosis of an illness or other health problem is also common.
The Canadian Mental Health Association notes, “People experience grief in many different ways – and experience many different thoughts or feelings during the journey. People may feel shocked, sad, angry, scared or anxious. Some feel numb or have a hard time feeling emotions at all. At times, many people even feel relief or peace after a loss.”
What does grief feel like?
Normal grief reactions may include any of the following. While these symptoms are normal in the days and weeks after a significant loss, they can be indicators of a more serious disorder if they do not fade over time.
- Feeling discouraged, worthless, empty, hopeless
- Increased irritability (bitterness, detachment)
- Loss of pleasure from activities
- Guilt and confusion
- Fatigue and change in sleeping patterns
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Headaches, chest pain, digestive problems
- Withdrawal from family and social interactions
- Increased use of mood-altering substances (e.g., alcohol, recreational drugs)
Changes in Thoughts
- Inability to make decisions, trouble concentrating
- Over-focus on work or inability to focus on work
What can I do to help cope with grief?
Coping with the loss of a close friend or family member may be one of the hardest challenges that we face. When we lose a spouse, sibling or parent, our grief can be particularly intense. Additionally, the availability of supportive relationships can also amplify the impact of grief.
The degree and extent of grief’s impact depends on a number of factors, including whether the loss was sudden or unexpected, the result of an accident, disaster or crime, or if the relationship with the deceased was difficult or smooth.
There is no “normal” time period for someone to grieve. The sadness characteristic of grief typically diminishes in intensity as time passes, but grieving is a personal process and it may take months or years to come to terms with a loss.
The following strategies suggested by the American Psychological Association may help a grieving person come to terms with their loss:
- Talk about the death of your loved one with friends and colleagues in order to understand what happened and remember your friend or family member.
- Accept your feelings. People experience all kinds of emotions after the death of someone close. Sadness, anger, frustration and even exhaustion are all normal.
- Take care of yourself and your family. Eating well, exercising and getting plenty of rest help us get through each day and move forward.v
- Reach out and help others dealing with the loss. Helping others has the added benefit of making you feel better as well. Sharing stories of the deceased can help everyone cope.
- Remember and celebrate the lives of your loved ones. What you choose to do is up to you, as long as it allows you to honour the relationship in a way that feels right.
If you feel stuck or overwhelmed by your emotions, it may be helpful to talk with a psychologist or other mental health professional who can help you cope with your feelings and help you find ways to get back on track.
What are the stages of grief?
Grief is a complex experience because the feelings, thoughts, reactions and challenges related to grief are personal and unique to each situation. To h elp better understand a grieving process someone you or someone may be going through, it may help to think about grief in terms of five stages or phases. Not every grieving person moves experiences each stage as they grieve, but the qualities and characteristics of these stages may appear in some form or another during a person’s grieving process.
- Denial-Numbness. Feeling numb or without emotion is a defense mechanism that allows a grieving person to survive emotionally.
- Searching and yearning. Many emotions are expressed during this time and may include weeping, anger, anxiety and confusion.
- Bargaining. The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain
- Control. Secretly, the grieving person may make a deal with a higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable and to protect themselves from the painful reality.
- Disorganization and despair. Feelings of pining and yearning become less intense while periods of apathy (an absence of emotion) and despair increase.
- Reorganization and recovery. The grieving person begins to return to a new state of “normal.” Energy levels increase and an interest to return to enjoyable activities returns. Grief never ends but thoughts of sadness and despair are diminished while positive memories of the deceased take over.
Remember that grieving is a personal process, therefore the way and pace of the mourning may vary depending on the culture, circumstances of loss (whether it is sudden or expected) and pace of the mourning may vary depending on the culture, circumstances of loss (whether it is sudden or expected).
When should I get more help?
Many people use unhealthy ways to cope with grief such as ignoring their feelings, isolating themselves, numbing feelings with alcohol and mood-altering substances or whatever is easiest and accessible. If more help is needed, grief counselling is a good option to support a person through the most challenging periods of their grief with the goal being to gain closure or to foster a continuing bond with the deceased person through remembering good times, setting up an internal dialogue with the lost loved one and continuing to think of that person on a regular basis.
Navigating grief takes work and it is a process that takes times. Give yourself the space to feel your feelings, the effort to practice self-care and seek support and the time to it takes to come to a new kind of appreciation for the deceased.
Dealing with grief and loss. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/dealing-with-grief-and-loss/
What Is Normal Grieving, and What Are the Stages of Grief? https://www.webmd.com/balance/normal-grieving-and-stages-of-grief
Coping with Loss: Bereavement and Grief. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/coping-loss-bereavement-and-grief
The contents on Avail such as text, graphics, images, and information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this or any other website.