Grief and loss are a part of life and are experience by most of us at some point in our lives. People deal with grief in many different ways, and not necessarily going through a predictable group of ‘stages’, although some do.
How people grieve can depend on the circumstances of the loss (e.g., sudden death, long illness, death of a young person) as well as past experiences of loss. There is no time limit on grief – some people get back to their usual routine fairly quickly, others take longer. Some people prefer time alone to grieve, others crave the support and company of others.
Below are just some of the range of experiences which can be part of uncomplicated grief.
• Symptoms of depression or anxiety, such as poor sleep, lowered appetite, low mood, feeling of anxiety – for some people the anxiety will be more obvious, for others the depression.
• A sense of the loss not quite being ‘real’ at first, or refusal to believe that it has occurred.
• Feeling disconnected from others, sense of numbness.
• Guilt about not initially feeling pain about the loss.
• Worries about not grieving ‘normally’ or ‘correctly’.
• Mood swings and tearfulness.
• Guilt about interactions with the person who has died (e.g. I should have spend more time with her or I wish we didn’t have that argument).
• Waves of sadness or anger which can be overwhelming and sometimes get triggered suddenly by reminders.
• Seeking reminds of the person who has died, e.g. being in their home or with their belongings, or perhaps at times even feeling you see or hear the deceased person.
• Guilt about gradually getting back to ‘normal’ life and at times not ‘remembering’ to feel sad.
Coping with uncomplicated grief
Most people going through the pain described above will eventually adjust to the loss and return to normal life, although of course carrying some sadness about the loss. Most people do not require medication or counselling to manage uncomplicated grief, and should simply be supported to go through their individual grief process. It is important to maintain a healthy diet and some physical activity during this time. Some people may find it helpful to engage in counselling or to attend groups with others who have suffered a recent loss.
Complicated grief is a general term for describing when people adjust poorly to a loss. This is very difficult to define, as there is no standard which limits what is normal and healthy grief.
Below are some warning signs which may suggest that a person is not coping well with grief and may be at a greater risk of the grieving process taking longer to resolve or being more difficult.
• Pushing away painful feelings or avoiding the grieving process entirely
• Excessive avoidance of talking about or reminders of the person who has died
• Refusal to attend the funeral
• Using distracting tasks to avoid experiencing grief, including tasks associated with planning the funeral
• Abuse of alcohol or other drugs (including prescription)
• Increased physical complaints or illness
• Intense mood swings or isolation which do not resolve within 1-2 months of the loss
• Ongoing neglect of self-care and responsibilities
Again, it is important to emphasis that there are no ‘rules for grieving’ and that many of the items above may occur as part of uncomplicated grief. However, people who are coping very poorly one month after a loss may continue to cope very poorly 1-2 years later, so if these warning signs are present then it is often worthwhile seeking some help early on, to increase the chances of adjusting in the long term.
Coping with Complicated Grief
Hypnopsychotherapy Evidence-based can support people to safely explore feelings of grief and connect with painful feelings and memories, paving the way for resolution. Therapy may also support people to use strategies such as relaxation, engaging in positive activities, and challenging negative thoughts, in order to combat the associated symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Mild medication may also be used to alleviate depression associated with grief, and this can be useful in conjunction with hypnotic strategies. Strong tranquillizing medications can interfere with the natural grieving process.
Although early help is recommended, health professionals are able to support people to work through complicated grief even years after the loss.
Grief is the natural, universal response to loss and it’s the most profound emotional pain we’ll ever experience. It can strike suddenly and with devastating intensity. it grips like a vice for months, even years. And, to make matters worse, medical studies have shown that it can wreak havoc with our immune system, leaving us vulnerable to a variety of physical ailments including cancer and arthritis. In intense grief, a person may become short of breath, their throat may tighten and waves of uncontrollable crying may sweep over them. They may become listless and depressed, or nervous, irritable and restless. They may become exhausted from sadness and crying. Grieving people often sleep poorly or not at all. When they do sleep, they may have nightmares. Some can’t eat or make love, while others overeat or feel desperately sexual.
The initial reaction to losing a loved one may be shock and disbelief, followed by a feeling of confusion, outraged anger, or guilt. It is hard to believe that grief is a healing process, but a person must experience it in order to become whole again.
The most profound grief is usually felt at the loss of a spouse, child or lover, and it is especially intense if the death was sudden and unexpected. We’ve had no time to say good-bye. We’re caught in the midst of our life together in mid-flight. There were so many things we wanted to do for that person, so much love to give, things we had always meant to say, restitution we wanted to make for past hurts. Even if a death has been gradual and expected, a person may be filled with remorse for the things they’ve done or left undone. They may feel angry at their loved one for leaving them, and perhaps be ashamed of their feelings.
Some people torture themselves with the idea that they or someone else could have prevented the death. “If only I hadn’t asked her to…then she wouldn’t have been there when…”, “Perhaps the doctor could have prevented the death, if he were skilful enough, or if he had cared enough. Maybe it was the hospital’s fault.”
Such intense feelings are exhausting. A person may begin to feel utterly hopeless and helpless. They feel they will never be the same again, that nothing will ever be the same. Yet, for all the ‘grief’ it gives us, experts continue to assure us that this is a natural emotion, even a healthy on.
Then why is this healing emotion often thought of as harmful? Apparently, much hinges on our perspective and our preparedness to deal with loss. Fear, not grief, is the culprit here. Fear of death (our own, as well as the loss of those we love) can immobilize us to the point that we deny our grief. It is this denial or suppression, then, that can give rise to serious consequences.
Unfortunately, too, supportive efforts often discourage full expression of our emotions. Well-meaning relatives may tell us to, “be strong,” “think positive,” “don’t cry.” The clergy may paint a reassuring picture of life after death, explaining that “there’s no reason to mourn” since the deceased is in a better place. Doctors may prescribe tranquillisers and antidepressant drugs long after the initial shock period – whether or not they are necessary. These are all common solacing techniques that, in effect, block the natural grieving process. And, in so doing, do more harm than good.
To fully recover and move forward pas the immediate loss, we must affirm and acknowledge our feelings. Sorrow, guilt, anger, depression, loneliness, fear, anxiety and shame are all normal emotions associated with bereavement that need to be voiced openly and honestly. Only through telling our story over and over again do we clarify in our own minds what has happened and how we really feel about it. Through that, we come to accept the reality of the loss so we can go on living. Crying can also provide a healthy outlet. Tears carry away toxins that are produced during emotional shock. That may be why we feel genuinely better afterward.
It is important too, to allow enough time for the grieving – and healing – process. How much time is, of course, different for each person and set of circumstances. Research on 1,200 mourners showed an average recovery time of from 18 to 24 months.
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