Losing a loved one is never easy. It can be one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through because of the intense feelings of grief and despair that follow. And unfortunately, grief doesn't follow one path. Healing is unique and can look different to each person.
This article explores the five stages of grief, types of grief, the difference between grief and depression, and how you can start to heal.
Stages of grief
You may have heard about the stages of grief or periods that involve different feelings and experiences. It's important to remember that while these stages are helpful to outline, they don't always occur linearly, and you may not experience these in order.
- Denial. It's not unusual to be in denial about what happened after losing someone. Denial is used as a defense mechanism to temporarily protect you from the overwhelming emotions that often come with grief.
- Anger. You may feel angrier than usual and direct your emotions at other people, including those who have passed. It's also possible to direct your anger toward yourself.
- Bargaining. This is when you may find yourself creating "what if" and "if only" statements.
- Depression. Also known as the quiet stage of grieving, depression often comes with overwhelming sadness and confusion. It's natural for your emotions to feel heavy throughout the depression stage, and you may feel the need to separate yourself from others.
- Acceptance. When you get to a point where you accept what happened and understand what it means in your life, you’ve reached the acceptance stage.
Over the years, some experts expanded this model to include seven stages:
- Shock and denial
- Pain and guilt
- Anger and bargaining
- The upward turn
- Reconstruction and working through
- Acceptance and hope
When grief becomes overwhelming
If your grief is long-lasting and starts to interfere with your day-to-day life, it may be a condition known as prolonged grief disorder. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), prolonged grief is defined by the following symptoms:
- Pervasive yearning for the deceased
- Trouble accepting the death
- Intense emotional pain and suffering
- Feeling numb emotionally
- Feeling as if you’ve lost a part of yourself
- Persistent, ongoing depression
- Withdrawal from social activities
Generally speaking, this type of grief often involves losing a child or spouse and affects as many as 10% of those who have lost a loved one, according to this study.
Typically, time tempers the intensity of grief, as grief isn't something a person recovers from entirely. An estimated 15% of people will experience complicated grief, which refers to an ongoing form of bereavement, and usually lasts for a year or more.
Again, the amount of time it takes for someone to grieve varies in context. However, when symptoms persist without improving for an extended period, they may qualify as complicated grief, in which symptoms tend to be more severe. It can ultimately dominate a person's life and interfere with day-to-day functioning.
Prolonged symptoms may include:
- Deep sadness and emotional pain
- Feelings of emptiness and hopelessness
- Longing to be reunited with the deceased
- Preoccupation with the deceased or the conditions of the death
- Trouble engaging in happy memories of the person
- Avoidance of any reminders
- A diminished sense of identity
- Detachment and isolation from loved ones
- Lack of interest in personal interests
Depression and grief
The DSM-5 does not define grief as a disorder. However, typical signs of grief, such as social withdrawal, can imitate those of depression.
So what's the difference between grief and depression?
- Grief is typically preceded by loss. Depression, on the other hand, can occur at any time.
- The sadness present in grief is usually related to loss or death, while depression is defined by a general sense of despair, hopelessness, and lack of joy.
- Symptoms of grief can improve on their own with time, while someone with depression may need treatment to recover.
Despite their distinctions, depression and grief are not mutually exclusive. If someone has a history of depression, grief can potentially trigger a depressive episode. A therapist can help someone in mourning identify and manage any symptoms of depression.
Healing from grief
The grieving process looks different for everyone. While some may feel more capable of returning to their typical day-to-day activities within six months or so despite feeling moments of sadness and lingering grief, others may take up to a year, if not longer.
Sometimes people grieve for years without feeling any temporary relief. Other conditions, most notably depression, can complicate grief. The person's level of dependency on their loved one can also result in complications.
Often, the grieving process includes many difficult, uncomfortable, and complicated emotions. And yet, joy, humor, and feelings of content don't have to be absent throughout this period. Self-care, recreational activities, and social support can be vital in recovering. And just because someone feels happy or joyful doesn't mean they're done mourning.
Taking care of yourself while grieving
Self-care is an essential component of the grieving process. In addition to therapy, consider things you can do to take care of yourself. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Maintain a daily routine
- Be physically active daily, whether it’s a workout or going on a walk
- Do your best to eat a healthy diet
- Avoid alcohol or limit your intake
- Practice mindfulness meditation
- Surround yourself with loved ones when possible
- Incorporate one joyful thing or activity into your day
How grief and bereavement counseling can help
Grief counseling, also known as bereavement counseling, is designed to help you cope with losing a loved one. As it does take some time for someone to adjust, a counselor can help you develop methods and strategies for coping. Counseling can provide you with a space to discuss your thoughts and feelings openly, helping you discover ways to ease the process.
In addition to helping you cope with your loss, working with a grief counselor allows you to:
- Address any feelings of guilt
- Build your support system
- Come to terms with what happened
Working together, they can help you overcome symptoms of anxiety and depression and allow you to process your experience in your time, at your own pace. A commonly used approach in treating grief is CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy.
Although typically used for mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), CBT can help you manage grief. You may be asked to explore any thoughts related to your grief and loss, as well as potentially unhelpful thoughts, to see how they affect your mood and behavior.
Your therapist may also suggest participating in a grief counseling group, where you can share experiences and connect with others who are coping with loss.
Finding a grief counselor
Coming to terms with losing a loved one takes time. Be patient with yourself, and don't rush through the grieving process. Spending time with those who care about you, allowing your feelings to come and go, and utilizing your support network makes grieving a lot easier to endure. If you feel that you could benefit from additional support, contact us today or call one of our three facilities to learn more and schedule an appointment!
Keywords: grief, loss, depression, grief counseling near me, bereavement counseling