Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. Often the pain of loss can feel overwhelming. Grief can include all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. The pain of grief can also disrupt your physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or even think straight. These are normal reactions to loss, and the more significant the loss, the more intense grief can be.
Even though grief is such a common experience, the symptoms of grief are often misunderstood by the people going through it and the people around them. By raising awareness about the true nature of grief, individuals in mourning can better understand their own reactions and others can be more effective in supporting them with patience and compassion.
What Is Grief?
Grief is the acute pain that accompanies loss. It is deep and it can feel all-encompassing and can require so much effort that there is no room for other emotions. We most often think of grief following the loss of a loved one, however the experience of grief isn’t limited to the loss of a person we care about. Grief can follow the loss of a pet, the end of a relationship, the loss of a job or some other important role, the loss of a home, and even the loss of sentimental possessions.
Grief is sometimes compounded by feelings of guilt and confusion over a loss, especially if the relationship was difficult. Some individuals experience prolonged grief that can last months or years. Because grief obeys its own timetable, there is no expiration date on feelings of pain after loss. Attempts to suppress or deny grief tend to prolong the pain. The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually. It can’t be forced or hurried
Stages of Grief
In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying was published, introducing the world to her five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While these emotions and experiences are common in grieving a loss, the term “stages” is misleading. There is no timeline. Grief is unpredictable, with good days and bad days. There is no straight path or progression of emotions that mourners follow. Each individual and each loss will have its own unique healing process.
When we stop thinking of grief as a timeline, we can look at the individual physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual reactions individuals may experience. Just knowing that these feelings are normal can help some people as they mourn.
Grief is not a linear process. Mourners may circle back through emotions and feeling several times. There may be a period of time when they feel at peace and then return to sadness. Whatever happens is perfectly normal.
Symptoms of Grief
Many of the symptoms of grief overlap with those of depression. There is sadness, loss of the capacity for pleasure; insomnia; and loss of interest in eating or taking care of oneself. The symptoms of grief do lessen over time, though they may be temporarily reactivated by emotional triggers, thoughts, and memories.
While loss affects people in different ways, there are some common symptoms. Almost anything that is experienced in the early stages of grief is normal, including feelings of going crazy, having a bad dream, or questioning religious or spiritual beliefs.
Emotional Symptoms of Grief
Shock and disbelief. Right after a loss, it can be hard to accept what happened. Feelings of numbness, having trouble believing that the loss really happened, and denying the truth are common experiences.
Sadness. Profound sadness is probably the most universally experienced symptoms of grief. This includes feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning, or deep loneliness, and feeling emotionally unstable.
Guilt. Many people can experience regret or guilt about things that may, or may not have been said or done. Mourners might also feel guilty about having certain feelings, like feeling relieved when the person died after a long, difficult illness.. There can also be feelings of guilt after a death for not doing something to prevent the death, even if there was nothing more that could be done.
Anger. Even if the loss was nobody’s fault, there may be feelings of anger and resentment. People have been angry with themselves, God, the doctors, or even the person who died for abandoning them.
Fear. A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears. Some common experiences are feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and insecurities. There may even be panic attacks, fears about mortality and the changes that will happen as a result of the loss.
Physical Symptoms of Grief
We often think of grief as a strictly emotional process, but grief often involves physical problems. Fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or weight gain, loss of appetite, increased stress, aches and pains, insomnia, and symptoms of stress are some of the most common physical symptoms of stress. The physical symptoms usually resolve as the healing process occurs.
Support for Grief and Loss
The pain of grief can cause those experiencing is to want to withdraw from others and retreat into a shell. Having the face-to-face support of other people is important in the healing process. While sharing about loss can make the burden of grief easier to carry, that doesn’t mean that every time interaction with friends and family needs to include the topic of the loss. Comfort can also come from just being around others who care.
Turn to friends and family members. It is perfectly okay to lean on the people who care about you, even if you take pride in being strong and self-sufficient. Rather than avoiding them, draw friends and loved ones close and spend time together face to face. Sometimes people want to help but don’t know how. If you are experiencing grief, tell them what you need. Maybe it’s a shoulder to cry on, help with funeral arrangements, or just someone to hang out with. If you are someone who wants to be supportive, start by just being there, and listen for cues that your loved one needs help. Ask before you take anything on to be sure that the help is truly needed.
Accept that many people feel awkward when trying to comfort someone who is grieving. Grief can be a confusing and sometimes frightening emotion for many people, especially if they haven’t experienced a similar loss themselves. They may feel unsure about how to offer comfort and end up saying or doing the wrong things.
Draw comfort from your faith. Those that follow a religious tradition may find comfort in the mourning rituals they practice. Spiritual activities, such as praying, meditating, or going to church can offer solace.
Join a support group. Grief can feel very lonely, even when there are loved ones around. Sharing with others who have experienced similar losses can help. To find a bereavement support group in your area, contact local hospitals, hospices, funeral homes, and counseling centers.
Talk to a therapist or grief counselor. If grief feels like too much to bear, find a mental health professional with experience in grief counseling. An experienced therapist can help you work through intense emotions and overcome obstacles to your grieving.
The Role of Hypnosis
Hypnosis is one way of giving yourself the time to find some calm and peace. It can allow the client to process grief at a pace that is right for them. Hypnosis can teach the individual to better manage and navigate their emotions as they continue to heal.
Hypnosis will not make you face things before you are ready. Hypnosis programs can be tailored to each individual, and are designed to meet the client where they are, rather than push them through the process. Hypnotic techniques can be used to let go of unhealthy emotions and baggage while building up resources that help as the client moves through their grieving and back into life.
There is a misconception that hypnosis could make a person lose control of your own thoughts. But in fact, it’s just the opposite. Hypnosis teaches you the methods to take back control of those parts of your life that seemed out of control in the past. You may find that you are then able to clarify your thoughts and decrease stress, guilt, and worry.∎
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Karen Gray is a Certified Hypnotist, Registered Nurse, and Director of Green Mountain Hypnosis. For more information on how you can use hypnosis to change your life,