Grief is a common emotional response to loss or drastic changes during or after a traumatic event or disaster. You can feel grief in response to losing someone close to you, a death of a pet or even drastic changes in your life such as seeing a loved one deal with a serious illness, loss of friendships, breakups, or anything that differs from our daily routine and that used to bring us comfort.
Some very common grief reactions include:
- Disbelief, or denial
- Anxiety attacks (a response to a certain trigger/threat)
- Panic attacks (often more intense and can occur with/without a trigger)
- Periods of sadness
- Lack of motivation
- Change of eating or sleeping patterns
- Lowered immunity
Even subtle changes such as moving to a new house or graduating from college can cause grief. This emotion is quite personal to everyone, so never feel ashamed of your feelings. If the person, animal, relationship, or situation was significant to you, it’s normal to grieve the loss you’re experiencing.
The grieving process
Every individual will experience different emotions and levels of grief depending on the significance of the loss, coping ability and personality; therefore, this process is highly individual and personal. This process will take time. For some, it may be a few weeks, while it may be a few months or longer for others.
Stages of grief:
- Denial: “This can’t be happening to me; I hope it’s just a bad dream.”
- Anger: “Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong? Who is to blame?”
- Bargaining: “Please don’t let this happen. I will do anything in return such as____.”
- Depression/ Extreme sadness: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
- Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened and will finally move forward with life.”
It is essential to understand that these above stages are very normal and may look slightly different for everyone. It doesn’t always happen in this order, and some people might even skip some stages or revisit certain stages, which is normal.
Myths and facts about grief:
Myth: If you don’t cry, it means this loss doesn’t affect you or you aren’t sorry about it
Fact: Everyone has different ways of coping with loss. Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may have other ways of showing it, such as isolating themselves, being angry at themselves and those around them or letting out their emotions through exercise.
Myth: The pain will disappear faster if you try ignoring it
Fact: The first step of healing is letting yourself feel the pain and all the emotions to actively deal with it. Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only worsen it in the long run. When you bottle up your emotions for too long, one small trigger can result in all those emotions exploding, like a volcano.
Myth: Moving on in life shows that you don’t care about the loss enough.
Fact: Once individuals accept the loss and take measures to actively deal with their emotions, they can move forward with life. You can move forward with your life, while learning to live with those memories, and remember the loss you have faced. It becomes a part of you.
Ways to cope with the grieving process:
- Acknowledge the event or change that took place as well as your feelings
- Accept that this loss might trigger unexpected emotions and might change regularly depending on your experience (it is very personal)
- Seek out support from people that you love or someone who understands you well
- Learn and understand how to emotionally support yourself and take care of your physical health. You might also decide to seek professional help during this time if needed
- Differentiate between grief and depression
Ways to support yourself during these times:
As mentioned previously, everyone has a unique experience when grieving, and no one rule can make someone feel better. Below are some ways to help move on:
- Face your feelings
Suppressing how you feel won’t help in the long term as you can’t avoid those emotions forever. To heal, you must acknowledge what happened and the pain that came along with it. Ignoring your feelings makes it harder to move on. Unresolved grief can also lead to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and health problems.
- Express how you feel
Everyone will have a different way to deal with emotions, such as talking to friends and families, doodling, writing in their diary or through a creative medium. If you’re not able to speak to someone about how you feel, try releasing those emotions or understanding them in other ways.
- Don’t give up on your hobbies and interests
Try to maintain your hobbies and interests. Although you might not have the energy to do things every day, try motivating yourself to get back into a routine as it might help bring some comfort to yourself. Some activities might also help distract you from your feelings.
- Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel
Your grief is your own and personalized to you, so no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” You have the right to feel whatever you feel without any embarrassment or judgment. You don’t always have to cry or yell; it is also okay to laugh or smile at something between those bad moments.
- Look after your physical health.
It is important to look after your body, as that will better help you cope emotionally. Try sleeping regularly, eating right, exercising, and satisfying your body’s needs. However, don’t use any temporary or artificial ways to overcome your grief, such as alcohol or drugs.
- Ask for help
Some people might struggle more than others, and that is okay. If you find it challenging to deal with so many emotions that affect your daily life, try reaching out to professionals and talking to them.