National Grief Awareness Day takes place on August 30th of each year as a testament to those we have lost and the struggle we overcame to process that loss. The mission of the day is to educate us about the realities of grief as creating a safe space to discuss our emotions. Grief is a part of the human experience that we all share. We will take some time today to discuss what grief is, how to identify it, and steps to take if it gets overwhelming.
WHAT IS GRIEF?
Grief is a natural reaction to loss. Being both a universal and personal experience, grief is a strong, and often overwhelming, emotion that stems from the sadness one feels after the loss of a loved one. People who are in a state of grief may feel numb, remove themselves from daily life, or even ignore regular duties due to their emotional burden. Types of loss which may provoke feelings of grief include the loss of family, friends, our job, or even a friendship.
WHAT ARE THE FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF?
Grief processing is generally categorized into various stages. These process steps are not a set of guidelines to follow in order to overcome the emotional weight of grief, but are a helpful way to generalize common emotional patterns. Remember, your reaction to a loss is highly individual to you, and you may or may not process grief under psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ “five stages of grief”:
Denial. You may not believe that the loss is real.
Anger. You may direct your anger internally or externally, blaming yourself or others for the loss.
Bargaining. You may start to reorganize your life in an attempt to regain control over your vulnerability.
Depression. You may express depressive feelings while you work through your grief.
Acceptance. You embrace the loss regardless of the presence of pain.
These stages are not a rigid framework for processing emotions because some people resolve their grief without going through any of these steps. Some people may ping-pong around in their emotions while processing grief, so your experience may or may not be linear as described in the model, which is okay, too. Every loss is different to the people it affects, so don’t worry about aligning your emotions with the “five stage” structure, because it’s okay to process your emotions in your own unique way.
SYMPTOMS OF GRIEF
People who experience grief often describe their emotions as “coming in waves,” where it feels like their feelings wash over them without warning and in unexpected places. Some people even describe their emotions like a roller coaster, having moments of calmness before becoming overwhelmed by sadness. During these stages, you may experience the entire spectrum of human emotion: from joy to anger to sadness and back again. These periods of experiencing extreme, and often contradictory, emotional polarities may leave us feelings confused and conflicted.
You may feel sad that someone is gone but relieved that they are finally at peace.
Mournful at the loss of a spouse but excited for the chance at finding love again
You may feel guilt at the relief of not having to take care of your dying loved one anymore or you may also feel like you didn’t do enough to prevent their loss.
Loss is such an extreme stressor that can cause physical changes to your body and has the potential to cause unmanageable symptoms like fatigue, headaches, heart palpitations, insomnia or hypersomnia, reduced appetite, or even chest tightness.
Grief can also make it difficult to complete daily routines or tasks by triggering feelings of confusion or indecision, affecting our ability to remember responsibilities, or triggering feelings of hopelessness.
Some people may ping-pong around in their emotions while processing grief, so your experience may or may not be linear as described in the model, which is okay, too.
SELF CARE FOR GRIEF AND FINDING SUPPORT
Knowing when to reach out for help may be a beneficial part of the healing process. We may reach out to family or friends for support through these hard times. While other people may not have the magic words to make those emotions go away, it is comforting to know that you have a support system that’s there to help.
Seeking counseling or therapy can also be very beneficial in handling these powerful emotions. Grief counselors specialize in helping us process these intense emotions and are there to assist us through the grieving process. Some people seek group counseling and find benefits in connecting with others who are also trying to work through their grief, while others prefer to seek individual counseling to process through their emotions and find meaning in their experience.
If you or a loved one are experiencing grief, it is never too late to ask for a helping hand. NJ Recovery & Wellness has several clinicians who are specifically trained to work with grief and loss. If counseling may be a component of resolving your emotions, we’re available to have a conversation to connect you with an appropriate provider.