By: Justin Hill
Grief according to dictionary.com is “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.” You don't get over grief easily. It takes time. For some, it can keep them trapped in a vicious cycle.
Grief usually occurs from the loss of something or someone important. This leaves the individual feeling empty, unable to move forward. Grief can impact people on different levels depending on various factors, which include:
No matter how you grieve in the face of a loss, what’s important is how you move through that grief, and how you eventually get on with your daily living (your status quo).
Some situations are heavier than others – like the loss of a loved one versus moving away from the town you grew up in.
No matter what happens, and the level of impact it has on you, the most important thing is knowing what to expect when grief hits, and how to engage in strategies to help you return to your usual status quo.
In addition, you want to be able to determine if you can deal with it alone, or if you need professional help. Grief can be perceived as insurmountable. But with the proper help, you can manage it.
No one wants to deal with loss, especially that of a loved one. Knowing what to expect when that event happens is the first step in the grief cycle. It is okay to grieve – it’s actually a natural response. Everyone grieves differently. And according to doctors, there are typical stages of grief.
Typical stages of grief were first identified in Elisabeth Küblerr-Ross’s 1969 book On Death and Dying. These are common-sense stages that individuals move through in their own way when dealing with grief in the face of a loss. You may not understand why you are feeling the way you do, but these stages can help you better grasp what you are dealing with as you grieve loss. The stages are:
The initial reaction following a loss, especially that of a loved one, or even facing your own mortality is to deny it. You turn away from the reality that is facing you, pushing it out of your frame of reference, as if it's not there. It is a defense mechanism designed to protect you from the flood of overwhelming emotions and shock of the situation. It’s only temporary – and like a boat that takes you away from one port, it eventually leads you to face another.
In the stage of denial, you might think or say something to yourself to the effect of:
This isn't happening."
Once the gravity of the situation finally sets in (or hits you like a ton of bricks), the denial turns into anger. It can start with feelings of helplessness or frustration, but eventually it transforms into anger, typically directed at the external world. You may blame others, some form of higher power, or even the person that left you (if it happens to be someone you lost).
This is the stage that includes thoughts that lead into an area of wishful thinking. Thoughts like:
I wish I could've done this."
This stage can come in the form of bargaining with a higher power. For example: You will do 'X' if you get the person or thing you lost back. Or, if it is your own life in jeopardy, then you bargain for yourself.
Since I like logic and helping you think about things in different ways, take our present society. People don’t often pursue their dreams because of odds, or whatever excuse they come up with preventing them from said thing. But if you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that 'X' would happen if you put in 'X' amount of hours each day for 'X' amount of years, then you would pursue said thing, because you would just know. But that isn’t life.
And it also isn’t the answer in the face of loss, whether an external loss or your own life. It’s just not how things work, which moves us into our next stage – depression.
This stage beings with sadness. As the reality of the situation comes to light, you may feel regret as the sadness sets in, and the understanding of the situation finally takes you over.
You may begin to worry about particular things, such as funeral costs and what you will do now that this person or thing is no longer here. This is when depression can hit.
Symptoms of depression can show up in the form of sleep issues, appetite troubles, and crying. Other signs of depression might be:
The final step is acceptance. The irreversible nature of the situation takes over, and you accept it. There’s nothing you can do about it now. And with this step, you finally can begin to get back to the status quo, even though the sadness may linger.
Some may define this stage as a calm. It's a spot where people can make peace with their own death or the loss of something or someone. It is not necessarily a place of happiness, but more of a state of resignation.
Those are the five stages of grief. While you may not experience the stages in the same way as someone else, it can be of use to you – just like a map is useful to get from one place to another. Now that you have a better understanding of each of the stages, you know what to expect when the grief hits, and the stages involved.
This isn’t an overnight fix. And just like your body needs time to heal after sustaining a physical injury, grief takes time to deal with.
In a minute, I’m going to cover six ways to make the transition of the stages of grief a bit easier.
But before we dive into that, you may want to consider how long is too long to grieve, and when should you seek professional help.
Again, everyone grieves differently. And depending on the situation you are faced with, grief can linger – like the difference between losing a loved one, versus having a romantic relationship end. (I’m not here to argue which one has more of an impact, but in general, the loss of a loved one usually has a stronger impact, and hence, will lead to a longer, deeper grieving period.)
The natural order is to move through the stages – most likely in the form of the five stages of grief. Eventually, depending on how hard the loss hit you, the grieving period should subside and you can move on with your daily living – the status quo.
A good rule of thumb is to notice the signs of not getting better, or grieving more than usual. This can be hard, because of emotional-intensity. However, it is important to seek professional help if moving on becomes too much of a struggle or extends into an unreasonable amount of time.
In other words, if the grief begins to interfere with your status quo, then seek professional help.
Not sure if the grief is interfering with your daily living? Well, here’s a couple of things to keep an eye on:
This article isn’t going to be an answer to everything that involves grief. But if you notice the grief turning into an uncontrollable force that interferes with your daily living, then please seek professional advice.
A quick note. Even though a situation, such as the loss of a loved one, can become something that feels unbearable, it is never a good idea to try and numb the pain through the use of drugs and alcohol, food, and even work. These things are quick-fixes. They are temporary; they will not last, and they are definitely not solutions, short-term or otherwise. They may make you feel better in the moment, but they will not lead to an eventual solution. Worse case, they will just compound the feelings of pain and regret, and may even lead to having to deal with another problem – like addiction or alcoholism.
Now it’s time to jump into some healthy, practical, and useful ways to deal with your grief.
1. It’s Okay to Feel Sad
Don’t bottle up your feelings and try to be strong. It will backfire. It’s okay to feel sad, to feel a sense of loss, and to cry. Let those feelings out; let them bathe over you. Let the mourning happen. You lost something important to you, perhaps someone you loved. Expressing the sadness in the form of crying is never a bad thing, unless it becomes a problem, like turning into continual depression.
2. Express yourself
Let others know how you feel. Spend time with those closest to you, and let them know how you're feeling. Express your pain. The worst thing you can do is isolate yourself, shutting out the external world. Even though it is hard to talk to others, isolating yourself from them is not healthy when dealing with loss and grief.
3. It’s a Process
Grieving takes time. Let it take its natural course. Granted, it is always good to keep an eye of awareness on when things become a problem – like sinking into bouts of depression. But don’t delude yourself into thinking that grief is like an ocean wave that just builds up, crashes, and subsides. It’s not that simple. Let the process happen naturally.
4. Exercise and Healthy Eating
Don’t drown your sorrows into buckets of ice cream. Yes, Hollywood movies are cute when they show people eating away their sorrows with junk food like ice cream or chocolate. It’s best to try to keep your eating regimen healthy.
Also, engage in exercise. Take a walk, preferably with a friend. The important thing is to not let the painful emotions that come with grief take you on a crazy ride that often leads to unhealthy actions.
5. Seek Professional Help
Whether you’re going down a dark path, feeling like you are losing yourself, or just grieving normally, seeking professional help is never a bad thing. In fact, I encourage it.
6. Get Back to the Status Quo
The ultimate place you want to be is where you started before the loss happened. While giving yourself ample time to grieve is a good first step, the ultimate goal is to get back on track – that is, get back to your natural way of living life, your status quo.
No matter what situation you encounter when grief hits, it is important to understand that the stages of grief are nothing out of the ordinary – in fact, it is a natural process.
What’s important is to know what to expect when a loss happens. Use the information provided in this article to make the grieving process a bit easier, and seek professional help when appropriate.
No one wants to grieve or deal with the loss of a loved one. However, it is not an "if" but a "when" situation. So, understanding what grief is in the face of a loss is an important piece in the thing we call life (and death).
Phew. That was a long article, and I am glad you stuck with me. Let me know your thoughts below, and I hope that the information provided is helpful.
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