Grief is an emotion everyone feels at least once in a lifetime. However, people experience grief in different ways, and the intensity determines its effect on their mental health. So, how do you deal with this emotion while protecting your mental state? This article discusses this and more.
What Is Grief?
Grief is a natural response to loss. It is the emotional suffering a person feels when they lose something or someone they love. The pain or sense of loss is overwhelming, and you experience different emotions like anger, shock, disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness.
A large part of the U.S. population grieves yearly. A report stated that about 2.5 million people die in the United States annually, each leaving an average of five grieving people behind. Also, older adults experience grief at a higher rate than younger adults or children.
Spousal loss, death of friends, siblings, and cousins are higher with older people. The report further stated that an estimated 1.5 million children (5% of children in the United States) have lost one or both parents by age 15. Grief affects people irrespective of age, race, or social status.
People often associate grieving with death, but it goes beyond that. Any type of loss can cause someone to grieve. These includes:
- Relationship break-up or divorce
- Loss of health
- Losing a job
- Loss of financial stability
- A miscarriage
- Selling or losing a family home
- End of a long friendship
- Death of a pet
- Loss of a life-long dream
- Loss of safety after a traumatic event
Subtle or unexpected changes in life can also cause you to grieve. For example, moving away from home for school or making a career change may lead to grieving.
Is There a Grieving Process?
There’s no set guideline for grieving, and there’s no wrong or right way. For some, the grieving period lasts six to eight weeks, while it could last four to six years for others. The sense of loss could also continue for a long time.
The period and process depend on several factors like:
- Your personality and coping style
- Life experience
- The significance of the loss
- The state of your mental health
Whether physical or emotional, healing is a gradual process that cannot be forced or timed. So, don’t compare yourself to others as no two persons are the same. Instead, be patient with yourself and let time and intentional self-healing actions help you recover.
Common Myths About Grief and the Grieving Process
There are several misconceptions and half-truths about grief. Below are some of them:
- The Pain Goes Way Faster if You Ignore It: Ignoring the pain or keeping it at the surface makes it worse in the long run. To heal properly, face your grief and deal with it actively.
- It Is Essential to Be Strong in the Face of Loss: It’s normal to feel sad, frightened, or lonely after losing something or someone you loved. Also, crying doesn’t mean you are weak, and you don’t have to act tough.
- Grieving Should Last About a Year: As mentioned earlier, there’s no specific timeframe for grieving. So take as much time as you need.
- Moving on Means Forgetting About Your Loss: This assertion is not true. Moving on means you’ve accepted what happened, but it doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten.
What Are the Stages of Grief?
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler introduced the five stages of grief. The stages came from her studies of the feelings of terminally ill patients. However, the steps are now generalized to other types of saddening life events and losses.
The five stages of grief are:
- Denial: Here, you fail to accept the loss you suffered or process the emotions that come with it. This is because it is hard to accept the loss of the person or thing, and instead, you focus on the memories you have of them.
- Anger: Experiencing anger is common after a painful loss. This is largely because you are trying to adjust to the new reality and are likely going through extreme emotional and mental discomfort.
- Bargaining: When desperation sets in, the bargaining stage of grief begins. At this point, there’s a sense of desperation that makes you willing to do anything to take away the pain. Some people promise to quit a habit in exchange for what they lost. This promise is usually to a supreme being they believe could make a difference.
- Depression: After bargaining and nothing changes, a sudden calm leads to depression. At this point, you know you’re not getting back what you lost and feel a sense of overwhelming sadness. As a result, you start retreating, being less friendly, and don’t speak to others about what you’re going through.
- Acceptance: At this point, you no longer deny the loss but try to make sense of it. However, the pain remains, but now, you’re at peace with what happened.
What Are the Types of Grief?
It is difficult to label grief as “normal” or “abnormal” since people deal with it differently. However, there are different types of grief, namely:
- Anticipatory grief. It develops before a significant loss occurs rather than after.
- Disenfranchised grief. It occurs when a loss is devalued, stigmatized, or cannot be mourned openly.
- Complicated grief. It involves dealing with pain from a significant loss, and it can be overwhelming and seem to have no end. Complicated grief affects 10% to 20% of adult grievers.
There are also emotional and physical symptoms of grief. They include:
- Shock and disbelief
- Lowered immunity
- Weight loss or gain
- Aches and pains
How Does Grief Affect Mental Health?
Dealing with a painful loss can take a toll on your mental health. Chronic grief is an emotional rollercoaster that could turn into a mental health illness. In some cases, grieving results in depression.
During this time, you experience feelings of severe despondency and dejection. However, depression is not the only connection between grief and mental illness. Researchers have documented that grief causes psychosis or the development of psychotic symptoms in some cases. But this assertion is not completely proven as it requires more study.
However, what has been established is that the mental effects of grief negatively impact a person’s actions and behaviors. When people fail to get the help they need, they engage in dangerous behavior. They do anything to distract them from the painful loss.
For some people, this may be self-harm or suicidal actions. Others turn to illicit drugs or medications to help them cope. Over time, this behavior becomes habitual, leading to an addiction.
How To Protect Your Mental Health When Dealing With Grief and Loss
When dealing with grief, time does not always heal the wounds. You have to take proactive steps to deal with it and protect your mental health. Below are ways to do this.
Embrace the Emotions
Feeling different types of emotions is common when grieving, so embrace them. It’s better to deal with them head-on than to avoid them. Putting aside your emotions will only create problems that’ll affect your mental health.
Instead, practice mindfulness. It helps you ground yourself amid powerful, overwhelming emotions that exhaust the body and mind. It involves taking these steps:
- Accepting and embracing your feelings
- Reaching out to people who can help you like your spiritual leader, friends, therapist, or a support group
- Continuously taking care of yourself and others
- Talking about and celebrating the life of the person you lost
Follow a Healthy Sleep Hygiene
Grief is emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausting. It leaves you feeling drained and without strength, but still, you may find it hard to sleep. Some people sleep in bits or too much.
None of the preceding is acceptable, so you need to develop and follow good sleep hygiene. Go to bed at regular hours and avoid caffeine or alcohol at night. While sleeping, your mind gets to rest from all the overwhelming emotions it dealt with during the day.
Staying busy means you have less time to dwell on your emotions. A simple daily walk helps ease grief-related depression, agitation, and sorrow. Get a walking buddy or a dog if you don’t have the energy or willpower to do this alone.
Look for new responsibilities to take on. For example, you can join volunteers at a local charity and help with their events. Taking on a new responsibility keeps your mind focused on a task and distracts you from your grief.
Get Professional Help
No matter the type of grief you’re dealing with, seek help from a professional therapist or grief counselor. Grief counseling helps you work through the various stages of grieving and manage your emotions to avoid depression. Your counselor will help you accept the loss and find constructive ways to move on.
Finally, speak with friends and family members. Share with them what you feel, and lean on their support—having a loved one’s support while grieving is good for your mental health and overall wellbeing.
Protecting your mental health while grieving is essential to avoid depression. So, face your grief head-on, go through every stage of the grieving process, and get professional help. To learn more about mental health conditions, visit our extensive resource page.