The Toll of Grief and How to Cope with It
Many of us think pain or mourning that accompanies the loss of a loved one, but there are other forms of grief.
What is “Normal” Grief?
What defines grief is loss, so if you have experienced a loss, it is not only understandable but natural to experience grief. Many fear grief because of the enormity and intensity of emotions that feel endless and all-consuming, but the truth is, grief lives with us.
It is not a one-off experience, a box to be checked that we can then “move on from.” Loss is permanent, so the grief that accompanies that loss is often long-lasting as well. The grieving process is less about “curing” grief and more about learning to adapt to the loss so grief doesn’t interfere with your ability to function.
Grief, also known as bereavement, is best understood as an intense feeling of melancholy and sadness triggered by loss. “Normal” grief (also called uncomplicated grief) refers to the period of acute grieving that takes place in the weeks and months following a loss, often marked by an intense roller coaster of emotions like anxiety, regret, shock, loneliness, anger, anguish, and overwhelm. Generally, the “normal” grieving process can last anywhere from six months to two years.1
Timeline For The Grieving Process
A study by WebMD in 2019 found that 780 of 1,084 respondents said they had experienced in the past three years. Of those 780, almost half (48%) reported that their most intense feelings faded over the first six months, with roughly two-thirds (67%) of people feeling they had made it through the depths of their grief within twelve months.2
Looking more closely at the data, these timelines change depending on numerous factors, from the type of loss to support systems for coping to the emotional and physical impact of grief. Some types of losses may experience where the loss is not understood or validated by others, which can limit our ability to grieve and lengthen the process.
It is important to stress that there is no “normal” amount of time to grieve. Grief takes the time it takes, and no matter the type of loss, your feelings are valid.
Other Types of Grief
grief that has not lessened over time and persists at least fourteen months beyond the initial loss.3
If you have experienced any three of the following seven symptoms at a level of intensity that interferes with your ability to function, you may be experiencing complicated
- Intrusive memories or fantasies regarding the lost relationship
- Strong waves of intense emotion relating to the loss
- Distressingly strong desires or wishes that the deceased was there
- The experience of feeling personally empty and incredibly lonely
- Distancing oneself excessively from people, places, or activities that remind of the loss
- Abnormal amounts of sleep interference
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities (work, hobbies, meeting with friends, caretaking) to a maladaptive degree
While for many years grief was viewed as a personal state, complicated grief is now viewed as a medical state which often requires external support and guidance.
refers to grief that begins before a loss occurs, such as with the diagnosis of a terminal illness or progressive cognitive illness like Alzheimer’s. Anticipatory grief is just as normal as uncomplicated grief and is a natural way our minds and bodies try to protect and prepare us for the loss of a loved one.
This type of refers to losses that are not understood or sympathized with by those around us, often leaving us with less space to process our grief. Anticipatory grief of a loved one with a terminal illness is often also considered disenfranchised grief, as those experiencing it may feel less social support and recognition of their loss.
A Further Look at Disenfranchised Grief
Grief can become disenfranchised when we experience a loss, but others don’t acknowledge the loss’s significance to us. Even with losses that people readily understand, many people in bereavement find they feel pressure or expectations to “be healed” within three months, whether that was from the loss of a loved one, loss of a friendship, or loss of a pet.
Many losses (loss of an ex, loss of a job, family with terminal illness) can be hard for people to resonate with, often leaving those experiencing the loss feeling like they are on their own.
Disenfranchised bereavement can include:
- Loss of a pet
- Loss of an ex or a partner from an affair
- Loss of someone you had a strained relationship with
- Loss of a job or home
- Child adoption that does not go through
- Terminal Illness
- Progressive cognitive impairments (e.g., Alzheimer’s, dementia)
When we love something or someone, it does not matter if others love them the same way – grief takes the time it takes. Be patient with yourself and have hope.
Stages of Grief
As we experience loss, denial serves to help protect us from the all-too-intense questions of wondering why this happened, how we can go on, and whether we even want to. Denial gives us time to cope and helps make survival possible by giving us time to acclimate to our new reality.
Anger is a vital next step to the bereavement and healing process. Anger is an active emotion; it helps us feel in control and gives us a structure for understanding loss which often defies reason and logic. Where grief can leave us feeling like we’re on an island of our pain, anger, guided by pain, gives us the ability to connect with others.
After we experience a loss, many of us enter a stage of bargaining, where every cell in our bodies is so desperate for the loss to be a nightmare that we wake up from that we can lose ourselves in a maze of “what ifs” and “if only.”
As we enter the final stages of grieving, we may experience depression as our new reality takes hold of us. In this stage, many may feel empty and withdrawn from life. Depression is a part of the healing process that comes with the understanding of the finality of the loss.
Many often believe that with acceptance comes relief and the feeling of being “OK.” Ultimately, most people do not ever feel fully healed from the loss of a loved one. Acceptance is learning to function and live in understanding that even though we do not like it, this is our new reality.
Symptoms of Grief
we often experience a host of Emotional symptoms that can impact our wellbeing, including:
- Feelings of detachment and hollowness
- Nervousness and Anxiety
- Low energy
- Overwhelm and stress
- Self-harm behavior
- Suicidal thoughts
The grieving process can also lead to numerous physical symptoms that often relate both to physical interpretations of our stress response. These symptoms can include:
- Weight loss
- Heart problems
Grief may even play a part in the development of a disorder called “broken heart syndrome,” which is a temporary heart condition that can be triggered by extreme emotions and stressful experiences. Heroin addiction is serious and can negatively affect someone’s life in many ways. With proper treatment and support, heroin addiction can be overcome.
Ways of Self-Coping with Grief
There is no one right way to process your grief, so be patient and kind to yourself.
Face Your Feelings
While it might feel counterintuitive, facing our feelings helps us move through them and let them go, instead of keeping them on simmer, suppressed inside us.
Society does not make it easy, but you should try not to hold back in expressing yourself. Express your feelings and don’t worry about whether it makes others uncomfortable – your pain matters and is valid, so let it out instead of allowing it to consume you from within.
Develop Interest In Hobbies
The grieving process tends to drain our energy and enjoyment of activities you once loved but try to get back into those hobbies. Over time, these activities will help you regain a sense of structure in your life.
Avoid and Prepare for Triggers
It can feel downright impossible, but seeking closure can be incredibly impactful in dealing with bereavement. Whether that looks like writing a letter to your loved one or having an event to commemorate them, closure can help us face reality and cope with grieving.
How to Deal with the Grieving Process
If you find yourself struggling, one of the most impactful ways of coping with grief is through strong support systems.
Seek Support of Family and Friends
Reconnect with family and friends, express yourself, and share your feelings. Having a strong system of family and friends you trust can help remind us that even though you might feel adrift in the world at this moment, there are people who are there for you.
Seek Professional Help
Working with a therapist or psychologist in grieving counseling can also provide support for people struggling with the grieving process. Behavioral therapy can often help people gain more awareness and control over their thoughts and emotions to help lessen grief’s impact on their life.
Comfort from Faith
Faith and belief in a higher power often tend to provide solace for those in the midst of loss by providing a strong structure of support, as well as cocaine withdrawal comfort and peace of mind from a greater understanding of loss.
Join a Support Group
A support group of people who understand and have been through your experience can be life-changing and can help provide hope for the possibility of relief from bereavement alongside mentors and a support system to help guide you through.