If you have recently lost a loved one, been laid off from your job, or received news that someone close to you is very ill, you might not be feeling quite yourself. Maybe you have lost your appetite, find it hard to sleep, cry for long periods of time, or lash out uncharacteristically. You could be in the early stages of grief.
Grief is a powerful emotion for people and can sometimes be overwhelming. This type of sadness can occur for many reasons: perhaps a loved one has received a medical diagnosis that is terminal, or maybe somebody close to you has died. You may also be grieving because you yourself have received a diagnosis of a terminal illness. It is normal to grieve when you feel the loss of something, whether tangible or intangible.
Grief may also occur after a relationship has ended, you have lost your job, personal possessions have been lost (through theft or fire, for example), or your independence has been taken away because of disability. While grief can be extremely stressful, it is important to understand that grief is a normal reaction to certain major life changes. The process of grieving is twofold: it allows us to adjust to our new life, while letting go of the past.
When you face a loss, it is normal to grieve and feel different things at different times. While the grief can truly feel unbearable, the feelings you are going through are part of the healing process. They might be varied and include shock, numbness, denial, sadness, anger, acceptance, and guilt. Many people feel like they bounce back and forth between all these emotions; this sensation, while confusing, is normal.
There is no proper “order” to these feelings, and the intensity of the emotions can be quite surprising to people. Grief can express itself mentally, physically, socially, and emotionally; all of these expressions are perfectly okay.
Five Stages of Grief
In general, grieving and loss are broken up into five emotional stages. It is important to understand that you may experience each of these stages more than once, and sometimes people go through them in a different order than listed. The best thing to do is to recognize and accept them as opposed to fighting against these emotions.
Stage 1: Denial. Many people tend to deny that the loss has occurred. Rejecting the truth often seems to be easier than accepting the loss. There is usually a feeling that if you just get some sleep and then wake up, everything will be the way it was. Some people also withdraw from their surroundings.
Stage 2: Bargaining. It is not uncommon to try to bargain with yourself, God, or others in an attempt to mitigate a loss or make it go away. You may also think about taking extreme measures if it means that it will make the loss feel less painful.
Stage 3: Anger. While grieving, you may become very angry or resentful towards the person whom has caused you such grief, even if this person has died. You may look for other people to direct your anger, such as caregivers, store clerks, doctors –people that have done nothing wrong but just happen to be “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Stage 4: Despair. It is common to feel overwhelmed by the grieving process and to feel like you cannot sink any lower. You may feel very melancholic and depressed, and like it will never be possible to return to the harmony of your “pre-grieving” life. If, during this phase, you feel especially vulnerable or depressed, do not hesitate to seek professional assistance. Working through feelings of despair can be very challenging and it is okay to ask for help.
Stage 5: Acceptance. Once your feelings of sadness, anger, and despair slowly start to wear off, you are able to begin the stage of acceptance. Acceptance means that you are beginning to come to terms with your loss. It is not uncommon to still occasionally feel the other stages of grieving during this phase.
No matter what stage of grief you are in, it is crucial that you work through it; this will help you return to emotional health as quickly as possible. Also, consider seeking outside counseling during this process; a counselor can often provide a sense of objectivity and perspective that can be very helpful.
One of the most important things to help you recover from loss is to have the support of others. While expressing your feelings may not come easily to you, it is important to not keep everything bottled up inside.
Do not grieve alone. Joining a support group, talking to friends and family, or seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor are all great ways to express your feelings. If you are part of a religious organization, reach out to your community for guidance and support.
Some people find it helpful to keep busy; this might mean joining a charity or expressing yourself creatively through a favorite hobby. Also, remember to not abandon your physical health during the grieving process; eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough rest will help you to feel better.
It is very difficult to assign a timeline to grief and say that in six weeks you will feel just like your old self again. Some people do start to feel better in a matter of weeks, while for others it can take years; the process is different for every individual. It can take some time to accept, understand, and adjust to living with your loss. It is a process with many hills and valleys and should be thought of as a marathon, not a sprint. The duration can also be affected by factors such as a person’s age, mental health, fundamental personality, support network, and spiritual beliefs.
While the process of grief can at times feel never-ending and overwhelming, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Remember to acknowledge your emotions – doing so will help you heal and get through the grieving process. And do not try to do so alone – seek out the comfort of friends, family, or a support group. Their help can go a long way on your path to feeling like yourself again.