What is grief?

Grief is an emotional reaction that follows the loss of someone or something of great value. Grief is a natural response to loss.

Any loss can cause grief. Death is the one that usually comes to mind, but there are many others. Losses like divorce, losing a job, losing a pet, or a child moving out, can all result in grief. Sometimes people are afraid that they should not feel the way they do when they are grieving.

Sometimes grief can become clinical depression. You should not try to overcome clinical depression by yourself. Depression can be successfully treated with psychotherapy, antidepressant medicine, or both.

What are signs of grief?

The following signs are all common and normal in grief:

  • feeling guilty about things you did or didn’t do before the loss
  • feeling like you should have been the one who died
  • thinking you hear or see the person who died
  • having problems sleeping, either sleeping too much or too little
  • doing a task over and over again
  • not wanting to eat, exercise, or be around other people

According to William Worden, there are 4 tasks of grief that each of us must go through when mourning the death of a loved one. These are:

  1. Accept the reality of the loss. This means knowing that your loved one is no longer alive and can’t be a part of your everyday life.
  2. Work through the pain of grief. You will have a variety of intense feelings as you work through your grief. Some of them may not be pleasant, but allow yourself to feel them anyway.
  3. Adjust to a different reality. This is the time to deal with the changes that occur as a result of the death. You might have to take on new tasks, do things differently, or give up some activities. You start to see the impact that the death had on your day to day life.
  4. Move on with life. This is the time to loosen your ties to the person who died, put them safely in your memory and start to invest your time and energy into living again.

These tasks may not happen in this exact order. This is normal. Do not judge yourself badly for not “getting on with your life.”

Grief takes its own time. Grief may last only a few days, or it may take many months. Be kind to yourself.

How can I take care of myself?

There are ways to help yourself deal with grief and loss. These include:

  • Engage in 20 minutes or more of physical activity at least every other day.
  • Pursue recreational interests at least once or twice a week.
  • Make time for hobbies.
  • Talk with friends and family.
  • Learn ways to lower stress, such as breathing and muscle relaxation exercises.
  • Get 7 to 9 hours of rest a night.
  • Eat a healthy diet and drink less caffeine.
  • Do not abuse alcohol or drugs.
  • Postpone major decisions or life changes (such as selling your home and moving) until your judgment and perspective return.

You can also try:

  • believing that things will work out
  • making new friends
  • asking for help at home and work when your load is too much for you to handle alone
  • telling your friends that it is okay to talk about your loss and let you know they care

Grief support groups are very helpful. Counseling can make a difference. Let others know how you feel and what they can do to support you through your grief. Some people fear that if they start crying, they will be unable to stop. This is not true. The best thing you can do with your grief is to cry and talk it out.

When should I seek help?

Seek help if you:

  • are unable to focus at work even months after your loss
  • have extreme feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • have unexplained physical symptoms
  • have feelings of depression or nervousness that get worse rather than better after a month or so
  • have trouble sleeping that lasts 4 to 6 weeks, particularly waking up very early and not being able to get back to sleep
  • have lost or gained more than 10 to 15 pounds without trying
  • have suicidal thoughts you cannot get out of your mind

Once symptoms like these develop, you cannot think yourself out of the complicated grief reaction. Talk with your healthcare provider about your fears and confusion. You are not weak for having these symptoms. Getting help really can help.

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