Understanding Grief and Loss
The concept of Grief sums up our emotional reactions to a loss. The most prominent example of Grief is the Grief we experience following a death. We also grieve the loss of a job or the end of a friendship, and we can share those emotions in response to any other significant change in our lives.
At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, people dealing with lockdowns grieved for their usual freedoms. Standard actions like socializing in bars and restaurants or meeting friends and family members were suddenly impossible. Mourning for a lifestyle became a normal and expected reaction.
In and of itself, Grief is not necessarily considered a behavioral or mental illness. However, without the proper support, Grief can spiral out of control and cause mental health conditions. People experience Grief very differently. Despite that, mental health experts believe that most individuals experience several stages of Grief.
The concept of stages of Grief is credited to the Swiss American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. In 1969, Kübler-Ross published her book “On Death and Dying,” describing five stages of Grief. Her model of Grief features these stages:
Kübler-Ross realized that not everyone experiences all five stages. She also clarified that Grief is not linear and does not necessarily follow an order.
For most people, Grief does not last forever. They may experience a variety of the Stages of Grief in varying intensities but will eventually move on and return to their everyday life. Grief can last for days, weeks, or months and vary widely between individuals. Most mourners feel the detrimental effects of Grief on their mental health while grieving. For some, those effects can turn into lasting mental health conditions, including stress and anxiety.
Symptoms of Grief and Loss
For most mourners, Grief is temporary. They may never forget the loss of their loved one or a different version of their life. But they manage to return to a regular, balanced routine.
Other mourners develop chronic Grief. Chronic forms of Grief can lead to severe mental health conditions. All or some of these symptoms characterize those:
- Neglecting daily routines and chores, often because of depression
- Extensive periods of sadness on most days
- Obsessive focus on the loss to the exclusion of other commitments and interests
- Distancing from family and friends
- Refusal to attend social events or interact with others
- Continuous strong emotions toward the event, including anger and pain
- Problems accepting the loss as permanent, even after a relatively long period
Feeling sad after a loss is average, including sensations of emptiness or deep loneliness. Many mourners also report feeling mentally unstable and on the brink of tears. Others struggle to cry at all and feel numb. Then there is guilt and anger.
Whenever we experience loss, we often feel like we did not get a chance to say everything we wanted to share. Alternatively, if the last encounter with a person ended in anger, many people feel guilty about having left things like that.
Fear can be another symptom of Grief. Having to face life without a spouse or parents can be a scary prospect for those left behind after a loved one’s death.
Grieving can feel like a long, slow process. Most mourners initially find it hard to accept that the person is gone, often expecting them to enter a room or return home after work. But Grief can also cause physical symptoms.
Some of the most common physical issues of mourning include:
- Weight changes
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Excessive fatigue
- Other sleeping problems, including sleeplessness or sleeping excessively
Grief has been linked to increased inflammatory responses. Scientists believe that Grief triggers a similar physical reaction to stress, leading to the release of hormones including cortisol and adrenaline. Those can increase inflammatory responses and limit the body’s immune response.
It is not uncommon to experience some symptoms, physical and emotional, temporarily. However, if these symptoms are taking over more and more of a person’s life, they could indicate chronic Grief. It is also essential to consider the intensity of the emotion.
Types of Grief and Loss
Grief is highly personal. Two individuals rarely experience the same stages of grief in the same manner. They may skip steps or experience some settings for much longer than others. Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross’ sets continue to be one of the leading concepts in grief therapy. For that reason, it is worth understanding them in greater detail.
Denial of grief can buy a person time to adapt to the changes in life. It is essentially a coping mechanism. Denying a specific emotional response allows the grieving person to process the changes gradually. Denial helps numb some of the most intense reactions of grief.
Anger masks grief, resentment, or bitterness by hiding those emotions and pain under another feeling. Grieving persons may be angry at their colleagues, friends, or family members, often seemingly without reason.
Grief can make people feel out of control, and bargaining is one way to regain control over the lost aspects of their life. It is typical for this stage to think in terms of “what if” or “if only.” Religious people may make a promise to God or another higher power.
Bargaining, denial, and anger tend to mask emotions. In the later stages of grief, as depression takes hold, mourners may start to face their feelings and deal with them rather than push them away. Still, the depression stage of grief can become overwhelming for an individual to deal with.
Acceptance may sound positive, but this stage is not the equivalent of a happy ending. There is not necessarily an uplifting stage to grief at all. Acceptance means understanding that a person now needs to live with their loss. According to some medical experts, mourners may experience more good days than bad days at this later stage of grief.
Since Elizabeth Kübler-Ross published her model of grief, other scientists have added to the theory. This development culminated in the seven stages of grief.
Some of them follow the example of Kubler-Ross, adding guilt and pain but also working with emotions.
Causes of Grief and Loss
Death is the most apparent cause of grief. Losing a spouse, a parent, or a child is devastating. Losing friends and other family members can feel just as significant, depending on their role in an individual’s life. Aside from death, there are other losses that we may experience equally intensely.
Losing one’s health to a chronic illness or cancer can trigger symptoms of grief. Following an initial diagnosis, someone with diabetes, for example, may feel cheated out of the life they have led to date. They may deny that they are now a patient and have to make profound lifestyle changes. They may be angry and become depressed through their grief.
Even though most people will complain about their work-life from time to time, most benefit from the structure work adds to the day. We also thrive thanks to recognition and appreciation of our professional skills and knowledge. Losing a job because of employment cuts or retirement can be traumatic. Especially for someone who is highly invested in their career and values their position, losing a job can be life-changing.
When the coronavirus pandemic swept across the world in 2020, countless Western countries and others reacted with harsh lockdowns. From one day to the next, families and friends could not see each other in person. Video call technology made up for some of that but could not fully replace face-to-face encounters.
Those in hospitals, care homes, and other facilities suffered more than others from the lack of contact. Others lost their livelihood as businesses needed to close. No matter how much or how little individuals were affected, most people experienced some grief for the life they were used to before the pandemic.
There are no right or wrong causes of grief. Each person experiences significant life events differently, and it is customary to grieve for some time. Only when grief becomes debilitating over a more extended period is it cause for concern.
Prevention of Grief and Loss
It is not possible to prevent loss. Especially as people age, they may find more of their peers suffering from failing health and dying. Attending funerals of people from the same generation may remind them of their mortality and trigger strong emotional responses.
Moreover, even with the strictest, most precise amount of planning, it is almost impossible to prevent career roadblocks entirely. As a consequence, it is not realistic to prevent grief. Grieving a loss, whether a person, a stage in a person’s life, or a career, is expected.
Healthy grief is part of processing the loss effectively and eventually moving on to acceptance. Chronic grief, on the other hand, is preventable with early support and intervention. For some people, talking to family and friends may be enough to process their loss. Others benefit more from targeted, professional help. Mental health professionals can also treat chronic grief once it has developed.
Treatment of Grief and Loss
Experiencing physical and emotional symptoms of grief is normal. Every person reacts differently to a person’s loss, position in life, health, or anything else that meant a lot to that individual.
When grief becomes prolonged, there is a danger of this condition becoming chronic. Chronic grief is a severe mental or behavioral health condition. It has the potential of taking over the mourner’s life and preventing them not only from accepting the loss but also from continuing to live their life. At that stage, it is worth considering professional support.
Mental and behavioral health professionals can help prevent grief from becoming overwhelming and chronic. They can also intervene if a person’s grief has crossed the threshold toward chronic grief.
Mental and behavioral health counseling is one of the most effective approaches to treating and managing grief. Counseling for most other mental health concerns starts by looking for underlying causes and triggers of the issues. When it comes to grief counseling, the cause of the problem is usually apparent.
Grief counseling starts by looking at an individual’s symptoms and how they influence their quality of life. Based on that, counselors work with their clients to create pathways back to an enjoyable life.
The process can vary widely depending on a person’s symptoms. For those struggling to sleep, counselors may work on developing better sleep hygiene and a bedtime routine that supports healthy, restful sleep. If someone has limited their social contacts excessively, the counselor might suggest different strategies to encourage communication gradually.
Counseling is equally effective for those who are struggling to grieve. For them, it is essential to find a way of releasing their emotions to help process the loss. Ignoring grief or pushing feelings to one side may work temporarily, but it is rarely a sustainable coping mechanism.
Most counseling sessions are based on a one-on-one scenario. Counseling is accessible online, in-person at a mental health professional’s office, or in the client’s home. Online counseling benefits those with limited mobility or anyone living in a remote location. It is also one of the most convenient forms of counseling that can easily fit into a busy schedule. Accessing counseling via a computer removes the need for traveling to see a counselor, for example.
Just as grief is highly individual, so is its treatment. Finding a qualified and experienced counselor near you does not need to be complicated. Platforms like TrueCare have curated a nationwide network of knowledgeable, empathetic mental health professionals ready to help you work through your grief productively.