Coping with Grief and Loss and How It Affects our Mind and Bodies
As you process your feelings, be mindful of the many myths that you may have encountered
Grief can occur from a variety of losses, not just the loss of a loved one. Other losses might include: moving away from your home town or city, changing or losing a job, a relationship break-up, separation or divorce, loss of a close friendship, your parents divorcing, the death of a pet, a miscarriage or abortion, a major change in your health.
There are a number of variables which will influence your experience of grief. Some of these include: how connected you were to the person, how healthy the relationship was with the deceased, whether you had unresolved issues in the relationship, whether the death was sudden or progressive, the exact nature of the death (i.e., illness, accident, suicide, homicide), the age of the person who died, the support system you have, your personality, cultural practices related to grieving, the number and type of previous deaths you have experienced, other stressors you are experiencing at the time of the death, your emotional stability prior to the death
Since there are so many factors which influence the grieving process, you can see why your response to the death will be completely unique to you, and no one else will fully understand it.
Grief is often conceptualized as occurring in stages, as was first described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. The stages she outlined included: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Since then, many other stage models have been developed with as many as ten stages. However, more recent literature questions the usefulness of the stage model of grieving, since not all people go through these stages, not everyone goes through them in the same order, and many people cycle back through these stages over time.
It might be more helpful to instead describe grieving as having common feelings, reactions and symptoms. These include:
Emotional Reactions: shock, fear, disbelief, denial, sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, numbness, apathy, emptiness, resentment, helplessness, relief.
Psychological Reactions: confusion, memory problems, difficulty concentrating, irrational thinking, hyperactivity, sense of unreality, obsession with the deceased, sense of loss of purpose, dreams or nightmares relating to the death, the illusion of your loved one’s presence.
Physical Reactions: insomnia/oversleeping, tightness in the throat, shaking, loss of appetite/overeating, pain in different body parts, nausea, fatigue, panic attacks.
Social Reactions: loneliness, sense of detachment from others, feeling abandoned, need to be alone, easily irritated by others, loss of interest in daily social activities, not wanting to return to work or school.
Spiritual Reactions: anger at God, loss of faith, greater connection with God or religion, negotiating with God.
Remember, all of these feelings, symptoms and reactions are normal and common when we experience a loss. Remind yourself that even if these changes are intense, you are not going “crazy” and that they are appropriate under the circumstances.
As you process your feelings, be mindful of the many myths that you may have encountered:
Fact: We move fastest through the pain of loss by acknowledging and experiencing it.
Fact: Time doesn’t necessarily move us through the grieving process. It is what we do in this time that matters.
Fact: Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and in touch with our emotions allows us to move through the grief process.
Fact: The support of others can greatly facilitate the grieving process.
Myth: If you lose something or someone, just replace the loss and everything will be fine.
Fact: Many losses can’t simply be replaced, especially when it comes to relationships or people.
Fact: It is most helpful to give yourself time to grieve, even if this means scheduling a time on a daily or weekly basis.
Fact: There are many factors that affect the grieving process, and the time frame varies significantly.
Fact: There are many responses to a loss and crying is only one of these
Fact: New models of grief challenge the stage model, and see grief as involving numerous feelings and reactions that come and go like waves on an ocean.
Fact: Healthy grieving is more about how to stay connected to the person who has died and to learn how to integrate the loss into one’s life so you can move forward.
Fact: Tears are a healthy expression of your loss and serve the function of releasing our body’s tension and emotion.
Lastly, consider seeing a professional if symptoms of grief are so severe that:
- You are having trouble functioning at home, work or school
- It is affecting your relationships
- Symptoms are not getting better despite several weeks or months.
This is a translation of an article that was written by Dr. Kim Maertz for Counselling & Clinical Services, University of Alberta