Grieving and Coping with Significant Loss
Understanding Grief and Loss
Grief and loss are a normal part of everyday life and everyone has their own way of handling them as they occur. While loss can mean death, in different situations, loss can mean the end of a relationship or friendship, losing a job or anything else that has to do with a significant change.
Grieving during times of loss is a natural human reaction to emotional pain. As there are many different types of people on the planet, so will there be expressions of grief, which is why trained support is available to help navigate the difficult times.
The Types of Grief
Disenfranchised Grief. Experiencing grief that may not be deemed as significant or ‘worthy’ of grief by others. A person may experience disenfranchised grief when they lose a pet or after losing a loved one to substance use.
Absent Grief. A person experiences absent grief when they don’t express their grieving and keep their emotions inside. They may be suppressing their feelings or processing them privately.
Traumatic Grief. Commonly occurs when trauma and loss are being processed all at once. When a death or change is unexpected and difficult to understand, this is considered traumatic grieving. This may also entail post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Ambiguous Loss. Ambiguous loss may look like not knowing if a loved one has truly passed away but is presumed dead. The loss may feel unreal or confusing, which makes it hard to find closure and begin properly grieving.
Complicated Grief. Complicated grief is a heightened level of sadness and mourning that doesn’t evolve or get better with time. People may experience complicated grief after the sudden death of a family member or suffering trauma. This kind of grief can stop a person from healing at a normal pace.
What Dealing with Grief and Loss May Look Like
There are several personal and external factors that may affect people who are grieving.
The following situations commonly cause individuals to experience grief:
- Death of a loved one
- Divorce or marital separation
- Health issues (personal or loved ones)
- Losing a job
- Financial issues
- Children leaving home
- Marital issues
- Familial issues
- Beginning or end of school
- Changes in living conditions
- Significant change in routine
- Betrayal of trust
- Loss of friendships
- Changes in sleep habits
- Changes in eating habits
- Death of a pet
- Physical or bodily changes
The Stages of Grief
Grief can follow a pattern that looks like the stages below:
Denial → Anger → Bargaining → Depression → Acceptance
Denial. Loss may be difficult to grasp, causing shock and denial of the reality of a situation. Because loss can be extremely overwhelming and confusing, it’s common for people to deny, which allows them to slowly absorb and process what has happened.
Anger. In a time of loss, a person may become angry or emotionally explosive. This is typically a defense mechanism to help mask their true emotions about the situation. Anger is especially common or more likely to occur if a person feels blindsided or shocked.
Bargaining. Grief can often trigger feelings of vulnerability or loss of control. For many people, feeling out of control is stressful, so they try to find ways that allow them to regain their power. The bargaining stage of grief often causes someone to imagine the different possibilities or ways the situation could have gone.
Depression. As the stages of grief progress, things may begin to calm down and invoke stillness. This stillness may be filled with feelings of sadness, exhaustion and isolation from social activities or things a person usually likes to do. Learn more about depression.
Acceptance. The last stage of grief may sound easy or final, but accepting a situation may still be really hard to do. In the stage of acceptance, a person has likely exhausted their imagination of all possibilities and may begin to see the situation as it truly is. Acceptance may mean a higher level of clarity and can usher in a new chapter after dealing with significant change or loss.
Grief can show up in mental, emotional and physical symptoms such as:
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness or guilt
- Feelings of anger or resentment
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Upset stomach
- Changes in appetite
- Tightness in chest or throat
- Joint pain
- Changes in weight
- Impulsive behavior
- Difficulty concentrating
Grief may last anywhere from six months to over two years. If grieving gets progressively worse or doesn’t seem to improve, you don’t have to suffer alone. A licensed mental health professional can help you effectively process the change or loss. It’s important to seek support and get the help you need.
Treatment and Support
Grieving can often be done with support from family members or friends, but professional help can supplement the process. There are a number of options available for those who are seeking guidance in their journey with grief.
Therapy can be a helpful tool in diagnosing and treating grief and many mental health conditions. Not all therapeutic approaches are the same. Depending on a person’s personal needs, the following may be considered for grief counseling:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – Talk therapy focused on changing negative thoughts and behaviors caused by psychological distress.
- Psychotherapy – General talk therapy for mental or behavioral disorders.
- Exposure therapy or systematic desensitization – Talk therapy that gradually exposes a person to their triggers in a safe environment, which helps to desensitize them and reduce their anxiety or fears.
For some, a proper treatment plan may require taking medication. If a person is diagnosed with a mental health condition before or after grieving, anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications are both commonly used to treat mental health disorders. Side effects of anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication may vary, and finding the right one may take some trial and error.
Implementing healthy habits can be the first step toward a more fulfilling experience for anyone. Although it may require discipline, there are easy, risk-free ways to lessen mental stress and emotional reactivity, all while keeping the immune system strong. Try creating and sticking to a daily routine, staying organized, minimizing excess stimuli when you need to focus and keeping your body active when possible.
Eating nutritious foods, practicing deep breathing techniques, exercising and learning your triggers and reactions can tremendously help cope with reaction to loss and feelings of grief.
There are many kinds of support groups and joining one can have many benefits. Support groups can be a comforting space for those who feel alone in their struggles with grief and loss. Options may include in-person or online support groups, which allows for receiving peer support from anywhere.
Being able to connect with others over a shared experience or emotion can help to lessen the burden and shame. In support group meetings, discussions teach healthy tools and techniques to help people coping with grief.