Grief and Loss
Grief is what occurs when someone or something we are attached to is gone. Grief is not a choice, it is the natural human response to loss. The stronger the attachment to the person or situation that is lost, the stronger the grief. Some forms of grief include; the death of a loved one, a divorce or an important relationship ending, life changing illness, estrangement from family, a significant life change such as a job loss, the death of a pet, relocating or children leaving home. When experiencing grief it is common to feel disconnected from oneself and from the world around you.
The difference between Grief and Mourning
Grief is the internal experience comprised of thoughts, feelings, beliefs and sensations. It can be complex depending on the relationship that has been lost or the circumstance the grief is in response to. Grief often has a strong physiological experience that accompanies thoughts and feelings. One can feel as though they are literally "weighed down" or numb. It is common for one to feel disorientated and unsure where they fit in the world after a significant loss. One may experience a strong yearning for the person or situation that is gone. Confusion can become a prevalent state of mind where one spends a lot of time attempting to make sense of, or understand what occurred.
Mourning is the outward expression of the grief and loss one has experienced. Mourning is an essential aspect of integrating one's grief because it enables movement. If one does not allow themselves to express their internal experience this is often how individuals become "stuck". Ways of mourning include; talking about the loss, crying, creating a ritual or way of honouring the loss, writing or journaling, going to a support group, seeing a therapist and more.
Grief vs Depression
Grief and depression have several similar qualities. It is natural to feel sad when experiencing grief. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified five stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression/sadness and acceptance. David Kessler added a sixth stage, meaning making. Although grief is a unique process and not linear, many people do experience the different stages which may be in a varied order. Shock, numbness, denial and disbelief are also significant aspects to grief and are nature's way of helping to protect one from the full reality of the loss, until they are able to digest what occurred.
Symptoms of Depression
Below are symptoms of depression when five or more have been present for the past two weeks and represent a change from previous functioning:
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions.
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and helplessness.
- Feeling hopeless
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were once pleasurable.
- Change in appetite (overeating or loss of appetite).
- Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiousness or emptiness.
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.
- Able to respond to comfort and support.
- Are openly angry at times.
- Relate your depressed feelings to the loss.
- Able to experience moments of enjoyment.
- At times feel sad and empty
- May have physical pains that come and go.
- Experience guilt over some aspect of the loss.
- Have a temporary loss of self-esteem.
- Do not accept support.
- Are irritable, but do not directly express your anger.
- Do not relate your feelings of depression to a particular life event.
- Have a sense of doom.
- Live in a chronic state of hopelessness and emptiness
- Experience chronic physical pains.
- Have general feelings of guilt.
- Experience a constant lack of self-worth.
During the grief process intense emotions can arise such as anger, hatred, terror, blame, deep sadness, resentment, rage and jealousy. The intensity of these emotions may be upsetting for oneself and can feel alarming for those around you. For many people strong emotions such as those named above can cause significant discomfort. Well-meaning friends and family can unintentionally support the person experiencing grief to "try and keep it together", not realising that the expression of these intense feelings can assist the healing of grief.
Healing through Grief
Contrary to the popular saying “time heals all wounds” this is not necessarily the case. It is what you do within the time. Healing involves finding ways to integrate one’s grief into self and to, over time, learn how to live your changed life with meaning and fullness. When the loss has been severe, this can be a very slow, gradual return to living a life that feels wholesome and meaningful. It can be common to feel as though life has lost all purpose and for the individual to disbelieve that feeling whole again will be possible.
Ways to Care for Yourself
- Focus on the basics; sleep, eat and exercise. When we are in grief or high levels of distress we often lose a balance in our daily routines.
- Establish a regular sleep routine.
- Eat regular consistent, satisfying meals (many people either lose their appetite and do not get enough nourishment or can begin to emotionally eat with foods that do not provide physical nourishment)
- Develop a regular exercise routine. A form of cardio is helpful due to the release of endorphins which can act as a natural anti depressant. If you do not have the energy for cardio try other forms of relaxation exercise such as yoga, walking in nature, gardening or playing with a pet.
- Surround yourself with people who are accepting of your fluctuating moods, feelings and experiences.
- Honour your pain. To eventually heal, you cannot go around grief, you can only go through it.
- Avoid trying to numb the pain through self-medicating.
- See your GP if you need support with sleep or medication.
If you are experiencing grief and loss or have been living in a state of despair for a long time talking to an experienced therapist can be beneficial. If you would like to book an appointment contact Diane McGeachy.
Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist
Accredited Gestalt Psychotherapist
Hobart Counselling Centre
181 Elizabeth Street
Hobart TAS 7000