What is grief, and how do you deal with it?
Reviewed by our psychologist : Niki Toonen
Grief has a range of causes, and it can be very intense. Although the grieving process is different for everybody, there are a few distinct phases that can be identified. How can you tell if you’re grieving? And what can you do to cope with it? Read on to learn more about grief and get advice from our psychologists.
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What is grief?
Grieving is the act of processing a major loss. It’s a profound, long-term process that affects us in many different ways. When a loved one passes away, we go through a period of grief, but this isn’t the only situation that can cause us to grieve. You might grieve if you:
- Lose your health due to an illness
- Get a divorce or go through a separation, thereby losing your partner
- Lose your job or go out of business
- Discover you can’t have children or experience a miscarriage
- Experience the death of a pet
Fortunately, there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Everybody processes grief and loss in their own way. Are you angry, sad or experiencing a range of different emotions? It’s totally normal to feel this way. However, sometimes we get stuck at a particular point in our grieving process.
The grieving process
Loss – in all its forms – causes a range of painful feelings, such as anger, sadness, longing, relief, numbness and jealousy. Sometimes it also causes symptoms such as worrying about the past, feeling guilty, and struggling to concentrate.
A lot of scientific research has been done into the different stages of grief and the act of processing it. This means that there are very fixed beliefs about the amount of time the process should take and the stages you need to pass through in order to grieve ‘correctly’. Remember: Every loss and grieving process is unique. This means that there’s no ‘standard’ way to grieve and the grieving process can sometimes last a lifetime. However, there are certain things you can do to make grief that bit more bearable.
Four stages of grief – Dr. Manu Keirse
- Facing the reality of your loss
- Experiencing the pain of your loss
- Adapting to your environment following the loss
- Relearning to appreciate everything around you and giving your loss a place
These stages might occur in a random order or even all at the same time. You could be working hard to regain your appreciation for everything around you while still struggling through stage three. That’s perfectly normal.
How does grief feel?
The effect that grief has on your emotional state manifests itself in a variety of ways. You might feel despondent and sad, angry or even relieved. It’s also possible to feel guilty or lonely.
Physical symptoms of grief
The effects of grief on your body and behavior are different for everybody. The most significant symptom is avoiding thinking, feeling or doing things associated with the loss. Symptoms such as heart palpations, headaches, and extreme fatigue, or intense energy (overcompensation) may also occur.
In the DSM-5*, these symptoms are identified under the label of ‘Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder’ (PCBD). There are core symptoms and additional symptoms:
Core symptoms (you must be experiencing at least one of these)
- A tortured longing for the lost loved one
- Feelings of emotional pain
- Struggling to think of anything but the loss (preoccupation)
- Struggling to think of anything but the events that led to the loss
Additional symptoms (you must be experiencing at least six of these)
- Struggling to accept what’s happened
- Feelings of disbelief or numbness
- Difficulty recalling fond or positive memories of the thing or person that has been lost
- Bitterness or anger and resentment
- Blaming yourself for the loss
- Avoiding memories related to the loss, or the desire to die so that you can be with the deceased person again
- Trust issues
- Feeling alone or detached from others
- The feeling that your life is empty and meaningless since the loss
- Not quite knowing what your role is any more or feeling that you lost (a part of) your identity along with the thing or person you lost
- Struggling to muster enthusiasm for or interest in activities
*DSM-5 is a diagnostic and statistical handbook used by psychologists and psychiatrists as a classification system. It is important for health insurance providers when determining whether or not treatments can be reimbursed through your (supplemental) health insurance.
The effects of grief on your behavior
When you’re going through a grieving process, a range of different thoughts and feelings may come up. Below you’ll find some examples that you might recognize:
- Disbelief: I can’t get my head around what’s happened
- Relief: I am pleased that after a long illness and/or period of suffering that it’s finally over
- Regret: Could I have done more or meant more to the deceased
- Pain: There are still old wounds that I need to work through
- Uncertainty: I’m not allowed to enjoy anything or resume my normal life because I have to grieve and be sad
- Depression: Life is meaningless and there’s no point in anything anymore
- Guilt: If only I had said or done things differently…
It’s also very normal to experience intrusive thoughts and flashbacks. For example, of visiting a person while they’re sick or a traumatic encounter related to an accident.
6 tips for processing grief
Loss can be sudden or you might see it coming for a long time. It can cause anger, sadness, or even relief. Either way: Grieving takes time. It’s important to allow yourself the time and space you need to process your grief. Don’t put yourself under any pressure to be “over it” within a certain time period. These six tips might help you with this:
- Keep talking about it. This could be with your partner, a good friend, a family member, or a professional. Allow people to take care of you.
- Find a way to express your emotions. Everybody processes emotions differently. Some people like to talk about it while others prefer to write it down. It also might help to look at photos, do something creative like painting, get out in nature, or cry.
- Take good care of yourself: Get plenty of rest, go to bed at a ‘normal’ time and set your alarm for the morning. Continue to eat well and don’t try to numb your emotions with drugs or alcohol.
- Don’t make life-changing decisions during periods of grief.
- Try to relax and do things you enjoy. Get out and about and meet up with friends, instead of sitting on the couch by yourself.
- Exercise. It helps you to get out of your head for a while. So, keep moving. A gentle hike through the woods or a bit of cycling will do you good.
- Seek professional help if you notice that these tips aren’t sufficiently effective, or that your feelings of sadness are getting worse.
Grief is the other side of love. It’s the price we pay for loving someone or something. A psychologist can help normalize these thoughts and feelings. Are you trying to avoid all pain and emotions? Then know that leaning into these feelings can actually offer relief and help you through the grieving process. Do you need some help processing your grief? Why not make an appointment with one of our psychologists? They offer various therapies to help you process your loss.
Do you have any questions about grief and how to treat it? Call us on +31202143004.