Receptionist 303-986-4197
M – F • 8:30am – 5:00pm

Grief: What is it?

Grief: What is it?

woman crying in therapyWhen you experience a loss in life, the feeling that accompanies it is called grief. It is most commonly associated with the death of someone important in your life. However, you may also experience grief in connection to other losses like losing a job, chronic illness, or the end of a relationship.

Grief is a natural response that your body experiences at the loss of someone or something. It may also be accompanied by a variety of other emotions like loneliness and helplessness.

The grieving process works differently for different people. It is important to understand your feelings and seek support if needed. Taking care of yourself can help start the healing process.

Stages of grief

As you come to terms with your loss, you may experience different emotions in different phases. There is no way to control the process, but it can be helpful to know why you feel a certain way.

A theory by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross suggests 5 stages of grief. However, grief does not always progress in the same way for everyone. Nevertheless, here are the different stages of grief:

  • Denial

Denial tries to pretend that the loss never happened. It is a defense mechanism employed by your body to deal with the overwhelming pain of loss. Denial is often accompanied by shock and feeling numb.

  • Anger man looking outside through a window

As you start accepting your loss, you also start experiencing feelings of frustration and helplessness. These feelings often turn into anger, which may be directed towards yourself, others, or even the divine. Anger helps you express your emotions without the fear of being judged or rejected.

  • Bargaining

In the bargaining stage, you start thinking about what you could have possibly done to prevent the loss. You start directing your requests towards the divine to possibly cause a different outcome. You start feeling that you are “only human” and realize that you could have done nothing to change the outcome.

  • Depression

When you realize that bargaining is not an option, sadness sets in. You start feeling the loss even more. The overwhelming feelings of less make you retreat inward and you become less social. There are several signs of depression but the most common ones are decreased or increased appetite, sleep issues, and crying. Depression can also be accompanied by feelings of regret and loneliness.

  • Acceptance

When you reach the acceptance stage, you begin the accept the reality of your loss. However, that in no way means that you no longer feel the pain. Even though you still feel sad thinking about your loss, but you motivate yourself to move on in life.

sad woman sitting outside

Effects of prolonged grief

Prolonged periods of grieving can have detrimental effects both on your mental as well as physical health. Some of the commonly experienced effects are:

  • Strained relationships

If you are unable to overcome your grief, it can often cause a strain on other relationships in your life. For example, the divorce rate among couples who have lost a child is significantly higher than those who have not.

  • A decline in emotional health

Grief can have serious effects on the emotional health of a person to the extent of causing psychological issues. Mothers who have lost a child are particularly at high risk of declining emotional health, sometimes requiring psychiatric hospitalization.

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

People who have experienced the violent death of a loved one are also at high risk of PTSD. PTSD is a condition in which the sufferer who has gone through a traumatic experience re-experiences the event through memories or emotional reactions.

  • Depression

Long periods of grief can lead to depression. Depression affects your day to day life and is often accompanied by feelings of helplessness, sadness, loneliness, and anger. Severe forms of depression can affect your ability to function at home and work. In extreme cases, it may also be a threat to your life.

When should you seek medical help?

Most people overcome grief on their own. However, for some, things just don’t get any better. Doctors call this condition “complicated grief”. When you are in a continuous state of mourning that does not let you heal, it is called complicated grief.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, it is time to seek medical help: grieving woman looking at laptop

  • You are unable to keep up your normal day to day routine, like going to work or cleaning the house
  • You are feeling anxious, worthless, depressed or suicidal
  • You are not taking care of yourself or not eating properly
  • You are not taking care of your family properly
  • You are experiencing panic attacks or anxiety attacks
  • You are unable to sleep or have a disturbed sleep pattern
  • You are unable to cope with your feelings and are feeling overwhelmed

A good Denver therapist can help you understand your emotions and also teach you coping skills to manage your grief. For certain situations, your therapist may be able to prescribe medications that will help you feel better. When experiencing extreme emotional pain, many people turn to alcohol, drugs, or food to numb the pain. Such behavior can be addictive and have long-time repercussions. Your therapist can help you deal with grief so that you can begin healing. 

Getting Support with Grief

Grief counseling may significantly reduce the period of suffering after a loss and surround it with meaning and understanding. It is easy to find and schedule an appointment with one of our Denver-area therapists and counselors that specialize in grief.