What is grief?
When a person meaningful in your life dies, you may experience grief. Grief is the natural response to your loss. It can be expressed physically, emotionally and/or psychologically.
Everyone is affected by grief, even if it is rarely talked about in some cultures. Ignoring your feelings of grief may seem helpful at first, but it can cause physical or emotional pain in the long-term.
Reactions to Grief
Reactions to a loved one’s death can vary based on your relationship with the individual, as well as how the person dies.
If a loved one dies in a way that you perceive as traumatic (this often includes – but is not limited to – acts of violence, natural disasters, deaths that are seemingly preventable), you may feel like the world is unsafe and unpredictable. It also may leave you feeling powerless in your ability to protect yourself and your loved ones and lead you to question your faith.
If the person dies after a long illness, you may have the chance to prepare for their death and have conversations with them that you may not have had otherwise. This does not mean that you will not experience grief when the person dies. In fact, it often means that you begin grieving before the person dies, which is called “anticipatory grief”.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there is no time limit on grief. People may cycle in and out of phases of grief as they process their feelings and adjust their lives to cope and accept the new reality.
Physical reactions to grief include:
- Exhaustion / feeling tired all the time
- Aches and pain
- Tightness in your chest / shortness of breath (usually related to anxiety)
- Inability to focus (trouble thinking/concentrating)
- Loss of or increase in appetite (along with weight loss / gain)
- Digestive issues (nausea)
- Changes in sleep (increase or decrease)
- Getting sick more often Emotional reactions to grief include:
- Becoming preoccupied with death or the events surrounding your loved one’s death
- Dwelling on mistakes (real or imagined) that you made with your loved one
- Avoiding reminders of your loved one
- Feelings of guilt or relief
- Sadness or Anger
- Feeling all alone / isolating yourself
- Envy at seeing others with their loved ones
- Feeling fearful
Many people seek additional support to help their grieving process. If after six months you are feeling “stuck” due to intense, persistent feelings of grief, you may be experiencing “complicated grief”. This is particularly true if cannot resume your daily life or see a hopeful future. Fortunately, there are effective treatments.
If you think you might be experiencing complicated grief, consider taking this brief screening tool, which you can discuss with your doctor:
Types of grief support include:
- Support groups – People experiencing grief get together on a regular basis to talk about their feelings and reactions associated with grief. These groups work on the understanding that the people best qualified to help with grief are other grieving people.
- Psychotherapy (talk therapy) - The grieving individual meets one-on-one with a mental health professional (a psychiatrist, social worker, psychologist, bereavement counselor) to help sort through the painful emotions and reactions associated with the grieving process.
- Medications - Anti-anxiety or antidepressants can be used in conjunction with the other forms of support, when deemed medically appropriate.