Many of us will face loss at one point in our lives. Grief is a response to any loss. Bereavement refers to grief that involves the loss of a close friend or family member.
Many emotions can be associated with grief and loss, including deep sadness and anger. Every person processes grief differently. Their way of processing grief may depend on their culture, background, belief system, and relationship with their loss.
Grieving Behaviors and Thoughts
Grief can include many feelings such as sadness, guilt, regret, and anger. However, sometimes a person may also experience mild emotions or emotions that bring them strength. Grieving feelings can also be confusing for an individual; for example, there may be a person grieving the death of a loved one due to cancer but is also feeling a sense of relief because their loved one is no longer suffering.
As they try to make sense of loss, people in grief may switch between several thoughts. It’s possible to have a range of thoughts from soothing to troubling, such as: “he had a full and great life” or “it wasn’t his time; he was taken too soon.” Moreover, people may also experience varying levels of responsibility or guilt from “I couldn’t have done anything more” to “it’s my fault.”
There is also a wide range of grieving behaviors. Some may find comfort in sharing their emotions with others. At the same time, others may prefer seclusion and private time to process their feelings.
Most people experience a combination of two main types of grief: intuitive and instrumental.
- Instrumental grief – The primary focus of instrumental grief is to problem-solve. It includes fixing situations while regulating or minimizing emotions.
- Intuitive grief – The primary focus of intuitive grief centers on the emotional experience. It includes thoughts on mortality, sharing feelings, and remembering the relationship.
There is no one right way to grieve. Some individuals are more emotional and can deeply explore and express their emotions. Others may be more stoic and might seek distractions from the emotionality. Each person has their own needs in coping with loss.
Models of Grief
Each individuals’ grief can be different. Nonetheless, there are general trends of grief that can be applied to how people deal with loss. Researchers and psychologists have developed a variety of models for grief. The Five Stages of Grief and the Four Tasks of Mourning are some of the most well-known models.
Five Stages of Grief
Elisabeth Kubler–Ross identified five stages of grief
Kubler-Ross created this model in 1969 to show the bereavement and grieving process. She eventually modified the model to accommodate all types of grief. Kubler-Ross stated that every person experiences at least two of these five stages. These stages can also happen more than once and do not have to occur linearly.
Four tasks of mourning
- W. Worden, a Psychologist, also formed a stage-based approach to dealing with the loss of a loved one. He separated the grief process into four parts:
- Accept the Reality of the Loss
- Process the Grief and Pain
- Adjust to Life After the Loss
- Maintain a Connection with the Deceased While Embracing the Future
The Grief Process
Everybody grieves differently and at their own pace. Some people feel better after six months, while others may only begin to feel better after a year. Some people may even grieve for many years and not find any relief. Grief can lead to other mental health conditions such as depression.
Greif typically involves many challenging emotions. However, positive emotions do not have to be absent. Self-care, social support, and recreational activities can be essential to the recovery of an individual.
It can be difficult to grieve the death of a loved one, regardless of the loss was a result of death, separation, or any other circumstances. One of the most challenging things we encounter is adjusting to a new reality without the person we love. A person may need to adapt to the new reality by creating a new routine or rethinking their future plans; it may even become a rediscovery process.
We may never fully and completely recover from the experiences associated with grief, but the intensity of its feelings is lessened with time. Life becomes easier with time. Nonetheless, 15% of people will experience complicated grief. Complicated grief refers to a persistent type of bereavement that lasts for one year or longer.
Complicated grief entails severe symptoms which can take over a person’s daily life and interfere with their ability to function.
Complicated Grief Symptoms Could Include:
- Feelings of hopelessness and emptiness
- Emotional pain and intense sadness
- Maintained focus on the dead or circumstances of the death
- A diminished sense of identity
- Avoiding reminders of the deceased
- Separating, detaching, and isolating from surviving family members and friends
- Wishing to be reunited with the deceased
- Inability and lack of interest to pursue personal interests and plans
- Difficult to engage in happy memories of the deceased
Broken Heart Syndrome
There have been cases where the death of a loved one has caused severe stress, which caused damage to a person’s heart.
An intense emotional or physical event, like the death of a loved one, often precedes broken heart syndrome.
The specific cause of broken heart syndrome is not known. However, it’s believed a rush of stress hormones, like adrenaline, may momentarily cause damage in the hearts of some individuals.
A momentary constriction of the small or large arteries is suspected of playing a role. People with broken heart syndrome might also exhibit a difference in the heart muscle structure.
Grief & Depression
Bereavement is not a disorder according to the DSM-5. However, common signs of grief, such as sadness, loss of interest, and social withdrawal, can mimic symptoms of depression.
How can you tell the difference between depression or grief?
- Timing – There is a direct correlation between grief and loss, but depression can occur at any moment.
- The loss or death is often the cause of sadness in grief. Depression can be a general sense of sadness, low energy, loss of interest, hopelessness, etc.
- Symptoms of grief generally improve over time. However, depression will require treatment.
Grief and depression, despite their differences, are not mutually exclusive. Someone susceptible to depression may experience a depressive episode if they are grieving. This could make the grieving process more difficult. A therapist can help someone in mourning to recognize and manage their depression symptoms.
Grief and Bereavement Therapy
Every person’s experience with grief is different grief can be caused by the loss of a loved person or a significant life event such as a divorce or job change. The grieving process can be affected by your personality, culture, or experience. Seeking treatment for grief or bereavement will provide you with tools to help manage this challenging time.
Therapy may be able to help you transition the relationship with the person you lost. Speaking to a professional about your loved one can also be very healing and cathartic. Reminiscing on positive memories can help strengthen your relationship with the person you have lost. Reaffirming your connection can help you feel less hurt by your loss.
Therapy can help you adapt to the loss of your loved one and strengthen your relationships with surviving family members and friends. It can help you process unresolved events or feelings. Therapy provides a safe space to express your thoughts, concerns, feelings, and emotions.
Grief and Self-Care
It can be difficult to grieve, and it can cause a lot of pain and vulnerability. The emotional wounds caused by loss can take time to heal, just like a physical injury. It is essential to take care of your health and focus on your self-care if you are grieving.
Self-care comes in many forms. When a person is grieving, it may be beneficial to focus on these aspects of self-care:
- Physical Self-Care for Grief and Loss:
Stress caused by grief can lead to changes in your body. People may experience unexplained aches, sleep problems, and fatigue. Do not be surprised if your body needs more rest than usual.
Establishing a routine may help you feel a sense of stability. Focusing on the three pillars of physical and mental health are key: Nutrition, Exercise, and Sleep.
Be gentle with yourself. Comfort can be as simple as a nap or snack.
- Cognitive Self-Care for Grief and Loss:
Bereavement can compromise your mental health. It is possible to have difficulty focusing and making decisions – Be kind to yourself and give yourself time to heal.
While a person is grieving, it may be beneficial to limit or stop alcohol consumption. While alcohol can temporarily make you feel better, it will cause more problems and is a poor coping strategy for grief.
- Emotional Self-Care for Grief and Loss:
Some may feel overwhelmed by emotion or completely numb. Grieving takes on many forms – Be patient with yourself and show self-compassion.
People sometimes can process feelings and emotions with the use of music. Music can bring comfort, and your preference for music may change at various times during the grieving process.
Try to schedule activities that bring you contentment or joy – it may give you something to look forward to; this could be a meal with friends, a movie, or a relaxing soak in the tub.
- Spiritual Self-Care for Grief and Loss:
It is common to have questions about death and the afterlife when a loved one passes away. Talking to your religious leaders can be a comfort for those with strong spiritual beliefs. People who have lost loved ones can find validation in rituals of mourning.
While some people don’t have a defined belief system, they can still seek meaning and clarity in their relationships with death. Others may choose to join a support group for existential issues. Other people may be able to find the answers they seek through meditation. Self-care consisting of nurturing one’s spiritual self is vital.
- Social Self-Care for Grief and Loss:
You do not have to go through this process alone. Recovery can be made easier with the help of social support. As you recover, your family and friends can assist you in daily tasks. They can also provide emotional support.
The dynamics between loved ones can change when a person passes away – Some people may become closer to you. Different people may be able to fill various needs — A friend might be there to offer support and a listening ear, another friend may be better suited to cheer you up on those days. It is essential to be honest about your feelings and needs to avoid misunderstandings.
Surviving family members cannot replace the loved one who has died. They can, however, help you to recover from the loss.
Therapy can be an integral part of self-care for Grief and Loss. A licensed clinical psychologist can help you through this difficult time.
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*All the information published in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Any information provided here is offered in generic form. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.