Loss can devastate your world. Feelings of loss can come from many experiences. Sadness and loneliness may change into anger. These feelings are common. To adjust, there are healthy ways to process grief and cope with loss.
What is Grief?
The most common grief occurs with the loss of a loved one, however many different experiences can result in feelings of grief. It is the feelings, actions, and thoughts that come from the loss that defines grief. There are no right or wrong reactions regarding grief. Culture and family traditions can affect how people grieve.
Stages of Grief
In 1969, Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote the book on grief, called On Death and Dying. The five stages of grief are defined as:
A common reaction to learning about the death of a loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. Disbelief is a coping mechanism designed to rationalize the overwhelming emotions that come from coping with death.
As denial fades and reality sets in, the pain of loss comes through. To deflect the pain, anger may develop as a way to redirect the pain, thus lessening it. The targets of anger can be objects, friends, family, strangers or the person who passed away. Despite knowing the deceased person isn’t to blame, resentment towards the person can develop for the pain caused.
“If only…” statements can develop. If only the person took better care of him/herself is one example. “If only” is an attempt to bargain. Making a deal with God in order to avoid pain is common. This is a defense to protect against the agonizing reality.
Once reality sets in that bargaining is fruitless, depression can set in. The first type of depression comes from sadness and loneliness. The second type comes from having to prepare to permanently separate from a loved one.
This phase comes with calm and detachment. It’s a time to make peace with the loss of a loved one. Not everyone makes it through to this stage. Unfortunately, some live for long periods of time without accepting what has happened.
People who are grieving do not have to experience the stages in the order listed. They also may not deal with all of them. Grief also comes along with physical and mental symptoms.
Physical Symptoms of Grief
Digestive Problems: Loss of appetite, nausea or an upset stomach
Energy Loss: Feeling exhausted all the time
Weakened Immune System: Exhaustion and not eating properly can lead to a weakened immune system.
Impaired Motor Skills: Feeling off-balance emotionally can affect motor skills.
Pain: Aches and pain are common when grief manifests physically.
Too Much/Too Little Sleep: Sleeping too much can help people escape the pain. Sleeping too little can happen from emotional upset.
Weight Gain/Loss: Changes in appetite can cause weight gain or loss
Mental Symptoms of Grief
Anxiety: Anxious feelings can develop from the stress and strain of the grief process.
Irritability: Short tempers can emerge from grief-related angry feelings.
Depression and Loneliness: Feeling sad or alone can appear from missing a deceased loved one.
Grief and Addiction
Some people may turn to drugs or alcohol to help push their painful emotions aside. They self-medicate in attempts to wash away feelings of depression, loneliness, anger and pain.
Others may take drugs or alcohol in an attempt to counteract physical grief symptoms. If they sleep too little, they may self-medicate just to get some sleep. Others may overeat and then take drugs that curb their appetite.
When grief is not dealt with fully and substances take the place of processing grief, addiction can develop.
How To Cope With Grief
Journaling: Writing down your feelings is a healthy way to move the grief process along.
Routine: Going about daily activities and routines can help take your mind off mourning. Even small breaks can be helpful.
Eat healthy: A balanced diet that keeps you healthy helps you heal from loss.
Counseling: Talking with a mental health counselor who can help you work through the grief process can be tremendously helpful for dealing with death and loss.
The grief process is emotionally painful, but it is necessary for helping you heal. If you feel stuck at any point, help yourself by seeing a counselor to complete the process.