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Managing Grief: The Causes, Stages, and Symptoms of Grief
Grief is a normal reaction to the loss of someone or something significant to you. Grief reaction symptoms can vary between a range of feelings over time — no two people have the same grieving process.
Each of the emotional symptoms of grief can be due to a variety of reasons. The recent loss of a loved one and the end of a significant relationship are common causes. Grief can also arise from losing our material possessions, especially if we’ve lost something we worked very hard to get; likewise, grief can arise from the loss of employment and career opportunities.
We all approach grief and its stages differently. Is empathy a stage of grief? No, but it can be a healthy way for you to cope with the feelings of denial, anger, doubt, and depression that so often prevent us from coming to terms with our losses. To heal, we must learn to mourn our losses with an understanding of our emotions, openness to support, and a focus on self-care.
Stages of Grief
When Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first studied the emotional reactions to loss, instead of applying her model to the grieving process in general, she intended it to serve as milestones to assist terminally-ill patients with coming to terms with their mortality.
So, instead of grief, “stages of death” was Dr. Kübler-Ross’ original moniker for these emotional milestones. She adapted them to apply to other kinds of loss, giving us the five stages of grief we have today.
Thus, to know how best to cope with the powerful emotions involved in the grieving process, we need a better understanding of the stages of grief. How many stages of grief are there? There are five stages of grief —loss of spouse, wealth, career, and dreams all have these five stages in common:
It’s natural to think, “This isn’t happening,” or to feel numb when you first learn of a loss. Denial is often a knee-jerk reaction in an attempt to resolve the surge of intense emotion and the very first of the signs of grief.
Denial is a psychological self-defense mechanism for surviving loss. It may be accompanied by overpowering feelings of meaninglessness, resignation, disbelief, and horror. In response, denial helps us feel numb, so we confront only as much of the pain as we can handle.
Denial assists us in coping by allowing us to manage our pain more effectively. Moving past denial is the first step of the healing process; as you acknowledge the reality of the loss, you can begin to ask yourself questions and grow stronger.
Once the reality of loss is apparent, the most common reaction to the feeling of helplessness is anger. You might direct your anger toward other people in your life —whether or not they have any responsibility for your loss, a higher power, or even towards the person lost for having died and leaving you alone.
Anger is an important part of the recovery process. The more you experience it, the more quickly it will dissipate. Anger is a front for your pain, yet violent expressions of anger are frowned upon. This is why it can be much more natural for us to suppress anger instead of resolving it.
Without lashing out or harming others, we can use anger as a powerful emotional anchor to find structure after loss. It’s something to cling to, and a bond forged in the heat of anger is preferable to nothing. Anger can be seen as a manifestation of love’s intensity.
Bargaining is when you consider what you might have done differently to avoid the loss. “If only…” and “What if…” are common ideas. You may even try to make a deal with a higher power. We want life to be the same as it was before; we want our loved ones back. In the bargaining stage, we feel as though we’d go to any length to avoid feeling the anguish of this loss.
As you come to terms with the loss and its impact on your life, depression sets in. Anxiety, sleep problems, and a loss of appetite are all symptoms of depression. You could feel helpless, remorseful, and lonely. It’s critical to recognize that this depression isn’t a symptom of mental disease. It is the proper response to a significant loss.
Acceptance is sometimes misconstrued as being “fine” or “OK” with what loss. This isn’t the case at all. The majority of individuals never feel OK after losing a loved one. This stage of grief involves embracing the truth of your loss. Even if you’re still heartbroken, only then can you begin to go on with your life.
What Is a Normal Grief Period?
Each person must go through these stages in their own unique way. One can travel back and forth between stages of grief timeline. A regression in the grief timeline might be triggered by reminders of your loss, such as the anniversary of a death or a familiar song.
There is no such thing as a “normal” period of grief. Forms of grief are influenced by the nature of your loss, as well as your personality, age, religious views, and support network. The loss of a loved one is likely to cause you to feel stronger symptoms of grief and loss than the end of a romantic engagement or the loss of your job.
It’s critical to seek assistance and support if you or someone you care about is having trouble coping with loss. It’s easy to attempt to numb your feelings with drugs and alcohol or by burying yourself in work when you’re grieving. However, these are distractions that will not help you recover or feel better in the long run. Indeed, they have the potential to cause addiction, sadness, anxiety, and even emotional breakdowns.
Instead, reach out to a qualified grief therapist and follow these strategies to help you cope with your loss and start to heal:
- Don’t rush the grieving process. Accept your emotions and remember that grief is a journey.
- Spend time with loved ones. Don’t shut yourself off from the rest of the world.
- Make sure you look after yourself. To keep healthy and energized, exercise often, eat healthily, and get enough sleep.
- Return to the activities that make you happy.
- Find a support group. Speaking with others who are going through the same thing can give you new perspectives for handling your own grief.
At All American Hospice, we have bereavement support specialists to help family members cope with loss and grief before, during, and after the death of a loved one. If you are in need of support, please reach out today.