Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. Often, the pain of loss can feel overwhelming. You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. The pain of grief can also disrupt your physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or even think straight. These are normal reactions to loss—and the more significant the loss, the more intense your grief will be.
While loss affects people in different ways, many of us experience the following symptoms when we’re grieving. Just remember that almost anything that you experience in the early stages of grief is normal—including feeling like you’re going crazy, feeling like you’re in a bad dream, or questioning your religious or spiritual beliefs.
▪︎ Emotional symptoms of grief
• Shock and disbelief.
Right after a loss, it can be hard to accept what happened. You may feel numb, have trouble believing that the loss really happened, or even deny the truth. If a pet or someone you love has died, for example, you may keep expecting them to show up, even though you know they’re gone.
Profound sadness is probably the most universally experienced symptom of grief. You may have feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning, or deep loneliness. You may also cry a lot or feel emotionally unstable.
You may regret or feel guilty about things you did or didn’t say or do. You may also feel guilty about certain feelings (feeling relieved when a person died after a long, difficult illness, for example). You may even feel guilty for not doing more to prevent your loss, even if it was completely out of your hands.
A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears. If you’ve lost your partner, your job, or your home, for example, you may feel anxious, helpless, or insecure about the future. You may even have panic attacks. The death of a loved one can trigger fears about your own mortality, of facing life without that person, or the responsibilities you now face alone.
Even if the loss was nobody’s fault, you may feel angry and resentful. If you lost a loved one, you may be angry with yourself, God, the doctors, or even the person who died for abandoning you. You may feel the need to blame someone for the injustice that was done to you.
▪︎ Physical symptoms of grief
We often think of grief as a strictly emotional process, but grief often involves physical problems, including:
• Lowered immunity
• Weight loss or weight gain
• Aches and pains
Your feelings may happen in phases as you come to terms with your loss. You can’t control the process, but it’s helpful to know the reasons behind your feelings. All people experience grief differently. Though it no longer considered the ideal way to think about grief, you may have heard of the stages of grief:
When you first learn of a loss, it’s normal to think, “This isn’t happening.” You may feel shocked or numb. This is a temporary way to deal with the rush of overwhelming emotion. It’s a defense mechanism.
As reality sets in, you’re faced with the pain of your loss. You may feel frustrated and helpless. These feelings later turn into anger. You might direct it toward other people, a higher power, or life in general. To be angry with a loved one who died and left you alone is natural, too.
During this stage, you dwell on what you could’ve done to prevent the loss. Common thoughts are “If only…” and “What if…” You may also try to strike a deal with a higher power.
Sadness sets in as you begin to understand the loss and its effect on your life. Signs of depression include crying, sleep issues, and a decreased appetite. You may feel overwhelmed, regretful, and lonely.
In this final stage of grief, you accept the reality of your loss. It can’t be changed. Although you still feel sad, you’re able to start moving forward with your life.
Every person goes through these phases in their own way. You may go back and forth between them, or skip one or more stages altogether. Reminders of your loss, like the anniversary of a death or a familiar song, can trigger the return of grief.
Since the experience of grieving following the loss of someone or something important to you tends to be unique to you, it’s difficult to label any type of grief as either “normal” or “abnormal”. However, there are types of grief that fall outside the expected symptoms and reactions described above. These include:
▪︎ Anticipatory grief
As the name suggests, anticipatory grief develops before a significant loss occurs rather than after. If a loved one is terminally ill, for example, you have an aging pet, or you know that your retirement or job loss is imminent you may start grieving your loss before it has fully unfolded.
Like conventional grief, anticipatory grief can involve a mix of confusing emotions, particularly anger. However, anticipatory grief can also give you chance to prepare for your loss, resolve any unfinished business, or say your goodbyes, for example.
▪︎ Disenfranchised grief
Disenfranchised grief can occur when your loss is devalued, stigmatized, or cannot be openly mourned. Some people may minimize the loss of a job, a pet, or a friendship, for example, as something that’s not worth grieving over. You may feel stigmatized if you suffered a miscarriage or lost a loved one to suicide.
▪︎ Complicated grief
The pain at a significant loss may never completely disappear, but it should ease up over time. When it doesn’t—and it keeps you from resuming your daily life and relationships—it may be a sign of complicated grief.
Complicated grief usually arises from the death of a loved one, where the loss has left you stuck in a state of bereavement. You may be unable to accept your loved one has gone, search for them in familiar places, experience intense longing, or even feel that life isn’t worth living.
If you’re experiencing complicated grief and the pain from your loss remains unresolved, it’s important to reach out for support and take the steps that will enable you to heal.
How to deal with grieving process?
Because grief obeys its own trajectory, there is no timetable for feelings of pain after loss; nor is it possible to avoid suffering altogether. In fact, attempts to suppress or deny grief are just as likely to prolong the process, while also demanding additional emotional effort.
While grieving a loss is an inevitable part of life, there are ways to help cope with the pain, come to terms with your grief, and eventually, find a way to pick up the pieces and move on with your life.
Try these things to help you come to terms with your loss and begin to heal:
• Face your feelings. You can try to suppress your grief, but you can’t avoid it forever. In order to heal, you have to acknowledge the pain. Trying to avoid feelings of sadness and loss only prolongs the grieving process. Unresolved grief can also lead to complications such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and health problems.
• Take care of yourself. The mind and body are connected. When you feel healthy physically, you’ll be better able to cope emotionally. Combat stress and fatigue by getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising. Don’t use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief or lift your mood artificially.
• Return to your hobbies. There’s comfort in routine and getting back to the activities that bring you joy and connect you closer to others can help you come to terms with your loss and aid the grieving process.
• Express your feelings in a tangible or creative way. Even if you’re not able to talk about your loss with others, it can help to write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal, for example. Or you could release your emotions by making a scrapbook or volunteering for a cause related to your loss.
• Talk to others. Spend time with friends and family. Don’t isolate yourself.
• Join a support group. Speak with others who are also grieving. It can help you feel more connected.
• Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to yell at the heavens, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.
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