Grief and loss can sometimes come with complicated feelings of pain, sadness, and anger. In some cases, grief can feel overwhelming, or as though you will never feel joy again. Other times, you might feel guilty or angry with yourself for feeling joy. Our emotional responses to death or loss are challenging to navigate. Still, if we avoid feelings associated with loss — we may lose the opportunity to heal and mourn. This article will break down physical and emotional experiences of grief, including the causes, common types, when to seek support and more.
What is grief?
Grief is a natural reaction to loss, which may include the death of a loved one, endings to various types of relationships, job loss, or other types of loss related to theft or independence through disability. The emotions associated with grief are often intense and, at times, overwhelming. A period of mourning can last for months or years. However, as time passes, the emotions and experiences associated with grief often change and may feel less intense or less constant.
What causes grief?
Loss of many kinds can impact grief and cause you or someone you know deep pain and suffering. It’s important to understand that everyone experiences a loss differently depending on the type of loss and how much they valued what was lost.
- Death of a loved one
- Job loss
- Loss of social connections and community
- Loss of academia
- Financial or career loss
- Relationship breakup
- Illness and loss of health
- Death of a pet
- Serious illness of family member
- Leaving the family home
- Loss of routine
- Loss of mental health support
Common types of grief
There are several different types of grief, including prolonged grief disorder, anticipatory grief, and normal grief. Prolonged Grief Disorder (formerly Complicated Grief) was recently added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a mental health disorder. It is defined by intense longing and preoccupation with a loss most of the day, nearly every day for at least a month. Symptoms appear within six months after the traumatic events in adolescents and within 12 months for adults. It is described as the lingering raw feelings associated with traumatic loss (suicide or accident) and doesn’t fade away. Common reactions may include:
- Intrusive thoughts
- Intense emotions
- Distressing longing for a loved one
- Avoid reminders of the deceased or death
- Lose interest in personal activities
What are the five stages of grief?
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed the Five Stages of Grief in 1969 to help people understand the emotional process of grieving. However, these stages do not need to occur sequentially, and you or someone you know may experience one of the five more than once (sometimes in the same day or minute). Not everyone will go through these stages, but it can be helpful to know that they exist to assure you that you’re not alone.
- Denial and/or Isolation: a defence mechanism to manage emotions such as shock and pain.
- Anger: emotional pain may cause anger toward anyone or anything
- Bargaining: questioning if you should have done something differently to manage loss, often after feeling helpless, vulnerable and lonely.
- Depression: linked to feelings of sadness, worry, loneliness or regret
- Acceptance: recognizing and accepting that the new normal/reality is the permanent one
Learn more about understanding and finding support for depression.
Physical symptoms of grief
Broken hearts and heartache are real when it comes to grief and mourning. Dr. Laurie Santos says that the body tries to accommodate the amount of pain and suffering linked to loss, which is likely why individuals may experience the following physical reactions:
- Weakness or numbness
- Body aches
- Chest pains
- Food aversion
Emotional symptoms of grief
Grief emotions show up differently for everyone and at different times. If you or someone you know has experienced the following, know that support is available, and it’s OK to talk about it.
- Guilt and helplessness
- Fear, anxiety, and depression
Learn more about understanding and finding support for anxiety
Diagnosis and treatments
While grief is a very normal and healthy response to loss, there are some cases, often related to a prolonged grief disorder, where intervention may be necessary. If you feel that your grief is getting in the way of your ability to function, even long after a loss, a trained practitioner can explore symptoms with you or someone you know to determine diagnosis and treatment options. Diagnosis usually occurs after 12 months and treatment options may include:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- Bereavement and grief therapy
- Coping and Support Strategies
Get support for grief and other mental health concerns
If you or someone you know is overcome with feelings of unrelenting grief and cannot function day-to-day, it is essential to consult with your family doctor and/or explore therapy options. Mourning and coping with loss is often most challenging in the first year, and if feelings are prolonged, it may be time to consider support options. Room For Her exists to help remove the barriers women face in accessing therapy, including not knowing how to find a therapist, long wait times, and the costs, inconvenience, and time spent travelling to and from traditional in-person therapy.
Find the care that’s right for you by choosing from one of our complimentary therapy options.