Grief refers to a spectrum of emotions and attitudes we experience as we come to terms with the loss of someone or something important (often referred to as a bereavement).
The death of someone close, the end of a chapter of your life, a relationship break-up – so many things can be considered a bereavement, and each can be extremely difficult to experience, both emotionally and physically.
Coming to terms with a loss can be a long and difficult process, and it’s normal to feel a wide range of emotions. Everyone is affected by bereavement and grief differently.
Causes of bereavement
- the death of a partner, child, relative or friend
- losing a job
- the end of a relationship
- moving house or migrating
- a child leaving the family home
Symptoms of grief
These are some of the most common symptoms of grief (but it is worth noting that grief can effect everyone differently and we may not grieve in the same way every time we suffer a loss):
Shock and numbness
The usual initial reaction to a bereavement is shock and numbness. It’s not unusual to think back to this time in later years and be unable to recall finer details. There may also be a sense of denial as to what has happened.
The realisation of the scale of the loss can lead to great sadness and even depression.
Feeling like you cannot cope with what is happening is common after a bereavement, and people can often be hit with grief fiercely and unexpectedly, causing them to cry uncontrollably in what they describe as “waves” of emotion. In most cases, these unbearable waves get smaller and more manageable with time.
Guilt and regret
Many people feel regret that they didn’t spend more time with a deceased loved one, or feel guilty about something said or unsaid, arguments that weren’t fully resolved or plans with that person that never came to fruition.
It’s not uncommon to panic and try to figure out how to fill the gap in your life left by a change or loss. You may even begin to feel different as a person.
It’s logical that our brains search for someone or something to blame for what has happened, and for how we’re feeling about it, as we try to make sense of it all. This is just one of many outlets for grief.
If the bereavement is the result of something that’s been a long time coming, like a long-term illness leading to death, it’s normal to feel relief that the ordeal has come to an end. You should never feel guilty for occasionally feeling relieved, it’s a normal part of the grieving process.
Stress and exhaustion
Stress begins as an emotional side effect of bereavement, and quickly takes its toll on our physical health, too.
Physical effects of grief
These are some of the physical effects that can be felt whilst grieving:
- Hard to stop crying / feeling distraught
- Headaches and stomach aches
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Weakened immune system
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
How to cope with grief
There are steps that you can take to help with your grief including:
- Developing an understanding of the grief process and its various stages
- Take a day at a time, there will inevitably be good days and bad days
- Develop coping strategies for yourself to help work through difficult feelings and learn coping skills
- Keep a diary of how you feel so you can track you journey through grief
- Let other people know how you are feeling and let them know when you are finding things difficult
- Find constructive outlets for your feelings such as drawing, painting and writing
- Speak with a Counsellor
- Connect with others who are also experiencing grief through support groups.