Understanding Grief

Grief Signs, Symptoms, Types and Treatment

Grief is a common reason that people reach out to us at BetterHelp for services. As stated before, grief is a natural response to loss. It is how we feel when we perceive that something that we loved or cared about, something that was meaningful, is taken from us. The greater we perceive the intensity of the loss, the more intense our grief typically is. This is a guide to tell you about grief symptoms and signs, the various types of grief, and some grief treatment options you may find useful. It will also tell you who is likely to suffer from grief in an unhealthy way, medical implications of grief, and answer some frequently asked questions.

Understanding Grief

According to the Helpguide.org, "Grief is a natural, yet painful response to loss. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but there are healthy ways to cope with the pain and express your emotions in ways that allow you to heal." Most people associate grief with the death of a loved one, but grief can be any loss the person deems significant. This can include the perceived loss of your health, the loss of a long-term relationship, the loss of a career you had been working for, or finding out that an important goal will not be possible. Each person has a different response to grief, such as depression, anger, denial, shock, or guilt. While there are healthy ways to cope with guilt, it becomes a problem when it becomes impairing and interferes with functions of our everyday life.

Who suffers from grief?

  • Someone who has lost a loved one
  • Someone who has lost their job
  • Someone going through a divorce or significant break up
  • Someone who has a major change in the state of their health
  • Someone who has lost a pet
  • Someone who has suffered a miscarriage
  • Someone who has had a major change in their finances, such as retirement
  • Someone who has lost an important friendship

Grief Symptoms and Signs

According to WebMD, grief is expressed physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. You may notice the following symptoms and signs in yourself or in others:

Physical symptoms

  • Crying: anything from minor tearfulness to major episodes.
  • Headaches: anything from minor pains to migraines.
  • Loss of appetite: struggling to eat anything for extended periods of time.
  • Difficulty sleeping: sleeping too much, too little, or have disrupted sleep.
  • Weakness: feeling a lack of ability and energy to carry out tasks.
  • Fatigue: tiredness that lasts all day, a sense of never feeling rested.
  • Feelings of heaviness: feeling like your limbs are heavy and you have difficulty moving around freely.
  • Aches and pains: unexplained aches and pains of the muscles, joints and bones.

Emotional symptoms

  • Sadness and yearning: overall sorrow and wanting for what you cannot have.
  • Worry: feelings of concern for the safety of yourself and those close to you.
  • Anxiety: anxiousness and concern that something bad will happen.
  • Frustration: feelings of frustration that you could not stop something from happening.
  • Anger: being angry that you could not do more for the person, or to prevent the loss.
  • Guilt: feeling guilt that you have survived and are well, while the other person is gone.
  • Depression: sadness at the loss, and that nothing can be done to change the situation.
  • Suicidal thoughts and actions: when you get truly depressed and feel lost, you may resort to these types of thoughts and actions.
  • PTSD:when the loss is so severe that you are actually traumatized.

Social symptoms

  • Feeling detached from others: feeling a lack of connection to the people in your life, whether they are close to you or acquaintances.
  • Isolating yourself from social contact: Cutting yourself off from friends and family, typically due to depression.
  • Behaving in ways that are not normal for you: isolating, having mood issues, being emotional at random times, and being overwhelmed with feelings of sadness.

Spiritual symptoms

  • Questioning the reason for your loss: trying to find meaning and a reason for the loss.
  • The purpose of pain and suffering: trying to understand why you and why the person or thing you have lost was chosen for such pain.
  • The purpose of life: questioning the purpose of life, which is likely to result in depression and suicidal thoughts.
  • The meaning of death: questioning the deep meaning of things.

Medical Implications of Grief

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Increased risk of physical illness, such as heart disease, cancer or high blood pressure
  • Significant sleep disturbances
  • Long-term difficulty with daily living, relationships or work activities
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Alcohol or substance misuse
  • Nicotine use, such as smoking

Types of Grief

Abbreviated Grief and Mourning

This is typically the shortest lived of all 8 types of grief. The person feels that they do not have much time to grieve, and typically the loss is seen as more minor than in other situations. Moving to a new town and away from what you know can be a perceived minor grief. It is often when things have moved quickly with little time to react and process.

Anticipated Grief and Mourning

This is the type of grief when you know that the change or loss is coming. You may feel that you would rather avoid the situation or pretend that it is not going to happen. There is a feeling that this denial will keep the grief from occurring. In this type of grief, we often see people try and shut down their emotions as a means of coping.

Ambiguous Grief and Mourning

In this type of grieving, the loss is hard to explain or pinpoint. This makes it very hard to grieve the loss, as it is not clearly understood. However, if these losses build upon each other people are known to burst out crying, have uncontrollable fits, or simply shut down emotionally.

Delayed Grief and Mourning

This is the type of grief where a person tells themselves that they do not have time to grieve, that they have more important things to do, and that they do not have the time to grieve now. The grief will not come out until a short time later when they finally have time to stop what they are doing, and they will grieve as they are able. They may feel that verge of tears feeling while they are at work.

Exaggerated Grief and Mourning

This is when you have had multiple griefs that have built upon each other such as the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, and the loss of a pet. It happens when people suffer many losses and never process the grief. With this type of grief, it suddenly comes in with overwhelming feelings of depression and sadness. The individual suddenly struggles to complete tasks of everyday living.

Inhibited Grief and Mourning

This happens when the grief is not processed for so long, when it has been shoved down and ignored. It comes out as physical symptoms such as nausea and frequent headaches. The longer the grief is not dealt with, the worse the physical ailments.

Normal Grief and Mourning

The process of fully grieving can take anywhere from 3-24 months. This is because we all process grief differently, and we all perceive grief differently. What one person's perceives as a minor loss, the other may perceive as a major devastation.

Unresolved Grief and Mourning

This often happens when children were moved around a lot when they were little. When they did not have time to process each loss of leaving after getting settled each time. These individuals have difficulties forming lasting relationships, feelings of rootlessness, underlying anger and resentment.

Grief Treatments

When the support of friends and family is not enough, an individual may want to consider seeing a counselor for grief. It helps the person grieving work through the normal tasks of grieving. What are some others ways that we can work to manage our grief?

  • Face your feelings by getting self help and personal development books to read.
  • Structure your time to keep yourself busy and distracted.
  • Volunteer with others. Often times, giving back heals yourself as well.
  • Join a peer support group, so that you might get comfort and advice from those who understand your unique thoughts and feelings.
  • Express your grief in a creative way. Is there a special way that you can honor your loved one?
  • Start addressing and focusing on your physical health, as this often balances out our emotional well being.

Grief counseling can help the individual:

  • Accept the loss by talking about it.
  • Identify and express feelings related to the loss they are suffering.
  • Learn to live without the person who died and to make decisions alone.
  • Learn to separate emotionally from the person who died and to consider the huge step of starting new relationships.
  • Give the person support and time to focus on grieving at notable time such as birthdays and anniversaries.
  • Discuss what is normal grieving and how different individuals grieve.
  • Provide continuous support to the individual as they navigate the process.
  • Help the individual to understand their personal methods of coping.
  • Learn to see that anger, guilt, or other negative or uncomfortable feelings can exist at the same time as more positive feelings about the person who died.
  • Learn to deal with the strong bonds of attachment with others.

According to Medicine.net, in grief therapy, 6 tasks may be used to help a mourner work through grief:

  1. Develop the ability to experience, express, and adjust to painful grief-related changes.
  2. Find effective ways to cope with painful changes.
  3. Establish a continuing relationship with the person who died.
  4. Stay healthy and keep functioning.
  5. Re-establish relationships and understand that others may have difficulty empathizing with the grief they experience.
  6. Develop a healthy image of oneself and the world.

Frequently Asked Questions About Grief

What is grief?

Grief can have a significant impact on people's health and well-being. This can mean physically, emotionally, spiritually, or socially. It can make you feel out of control, and that you do not know how to handle your emotions. It can impact your work, social, family, and romantic relationships. Many people feel that they will never be able to accomplish the things they would like, as their grief gets in their way. It feels hopeless, and that things can't change, and that they will never move past the loss. Help is possible, available and effective.

What are the different types of grief?

Please see "Types of Grief"

What are the common signs and symptoms of grief?

Please see "Grief Symptoms and Signs" for complete descriptions

How Is grief diagnosed?

Grief is diagnosed when symptoms show no improvement over time. The standard is usually when a deep level of grief that impairs daily functioning has continued for more than 6 months.

How can I prevent grief from becoming impairing?

Grief cannot be prevented; however, there are some things you can do to control or lessen symptoms:

  • Ask for help early in the process.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about aids for severe sleep, depression or anxiety issues.
  • Seek counseling and support if you start to regularly feel tearful with no apparent cause.
  • Exercise daily and eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Relaxation techniques, such as meditation and breathing techniques, can be very helpful in managing symptom of grief. Practices such as yoga and tai chi have also been shown to be very helpful in managing anxiety symptoms.

What are the most effective grief treatments?

Fortunately, much progress has been made in the last two decades in the treatment of people with mental illnesses, including grief. Although the exact treatment approach depends on the severity of grief a person is experiencing, one or a combination of the following therapies may be used for most anxiety disorders:

  • Medication:Certain antidepressant drugs and anti-anxiety medications are used to treat anxiety and depressive disorders associated with grief. Each individual should discuss with his or her doctor whether medications are recommended for his or her particular symptoms, and if so, which ones would be most suitable.
  • Psychotherapy:Psychotherapy (a type of counseling) addresses the emotional response to mental health struggles. It is a process in which trained mental health professionals help people by talking through strategies for understanding and dealing with their grief.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy and grief therapy:People suffering from grief often participate in this type of psychotherapy in which the person learns to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that lead to depressed and overwhelmed feelings. Therapy also aims to identify possible triggers for grief episodes.

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