Understand grief and how it affects us
Grief can be felt and expressed in a wide variety of ways, and behavioral changes caused by grief are common and can last a long time.
You cannot predict how someone will react to loss. Grief may change a person's interests, habits, preferences, and desire to socialize.
Behavioral changes associated with grief are a normal part of the mourning process and can be subtle (like sighing more) or obvious (like becoming socially withdrawn and noticeably distracted).
Although there are no right or wrong ways to grieve, grief becomes unhealthy when it no longer contributes to processing loss and instead prolongs itself and has a negative impact on a person's life and those around them.
Coping means managing the difficult of grief and is different for different people.
Coping is not inherently a bad thing and knowing healthy ways to cope is an important part of managing grief.
Some methods can be effective and helpful while others can be counterproductive and cause additional problems or pain.
Death may be a topic often avoided, but living with grief cannot. At some point, these feelings will need to be dealt with and resolved, otherwise they can cause emotional or physical pain or illness.
Physical and behavioral signs of grief
- Loss of or increased appetite
- Disturbed/poor sleep
- Dry mouth
- Irregular heartbeat
- Joint Pain
- Digestive problems
Emotional and psychological signs of grief
- Mood Swings
- Suicidal feelings
- Outburst of crying
- Loss of focus/attention
- Short term memory loss
- Loss of faith
Examples of healthy coping behaviors
Participate in Rituals
- If the death has just occurred, join the memorial, Funeral, or additional services and traditions that may be held being surrounded by loved ones, friends and community can be comforting
- For losses that occurred in the past, stay connected to the deceased by continuing the rituals that previously bound you and the community together (anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, etc)
- Tell close friends and loved ones what you're feeling; saying it out loud can help reduce pain, even if it does not disappear outright
- However, don't feel pressured to talk when you are not comfortable doing so
- Other forms of expression, such as writing in a journal, or even being creative by writing a song, poem or tribute can be cathartic, even if never shared
Allow for Positivity
- Pain can be all consuming, but it doesn't need to be
- Give space to allow for positive emotions and memories of the deceased
- Enjoy joyful activities and let yourself have fun.
- While it's important to explore and process your emotions during this time, it's just as important to try and take a break from them.
- The Grieving process can be exhausting and take a toll emotionally and physically
- Try to eat well, get proper sleep and remain as mentally and physically active as possible
- Be careful not to develop a dependence on medication or other substances
Seek Additional Support
- If Grief becomes overwhelming and you feel that it's affecting daily life, seek support from a mental health professional
- Know that outreach is a sign of strength, not weakness
- Research has shown that Grief will subside over time, but most often and most effectively when combined with healthy habits.
Examples of unhealthy coping behaviors
In addition to general physical manifestations of grief, you may unconsciously resort to Coping Mechanisms to manage challenging emotions.
Coping mechanisms can be different for different people; there's no one way to manage mental health.
While many can be healthy, effective and helpful, some can be counterproductive and cause additional problems or pain
These include, but are not limited to:
- Physical & Emotional Isolation: avoiding memories, thoughts, friends, family or situations that trigger feelings of the deceased
- Emotional Suppression: refusing to acknowledge Grief's existence is itself an avoidant tactic
- Staying Busy: rather than making time for oneself, focusing only on the needs of others, or remaining over-worked for long periods of time and seeking distraction helps avoid painful feelings
- Trivialization: instead of accepting the seriousness of Grief, making the death seem like it’s not a big deal and assuring oneself and others that everything is fine
- Self-destruction: any type of risk-taking behavior can be harmful to a person dealing with Grief and may require professional support; typically, these behaviors are substance abuse, excessive eating, compulsive spending, sexual promiscuity or aggression, or physical self-harm
- Attacking Others: lashing out, or harming others emotionally or physically, is unnecessary and dangerous, but particularly so during Grief; this type of anger avoids confronting or displaying troubling feelings or vulnerability
- Apathy: a loss of interest in things once enjoyed, feeling that nothing really matters, unmotivated or lacking all concern, or not feeling anything at all in general, are all versions of ways to avoid difficult feelings
When is grief unhealthy?
Everyone manages grief in their own way and on their own timeline. However, knowing what constitutes a normal, healthy response to loss, versus those which are unhealthy can be difficult.
There are a many situations in which grief might become detrimental. In these cases, contacting a professional to get further support in processing the loss and managing emotions is recommended.
Some include include:
- Stuck grief: Most people experience grief as a rollercoaster of emotions with many ups and downs. If there is no variety in emotion and only one feeling is felt consistently, grief can get stuck.
- Delayed grief: in which a person doesn’t process the loss when it happens, but experienced profound and disruptive feelings some time later.
- Prolonged grief: in which a person continues to experience serious emotions a year or more beyond the loss.
- Lack of grief: in which the emotions may build up under the surface. Failing to deal with a lack of grief can lead to mental health concerns down the line.
How does grief affect relationships?
Family members and close friends are often a key source of support in the immediate aftermath of losing someone.
However, over time, people’s patterns of grief may evolve in different directions.
This is because the process of grieving is a personal one and there is no “wrong” timeline.
It is not uncommon for some people to experience strain in their personal relationships following the loss of a loved one.
You might have an idea of how you expect your friends and family members to support you during this time.
If those people fail to live up to these expectations, the grief can become even more personal as you turn inward. It’s common to experience disappointment in these loved ones or friends.
Explaining these feelings might be a first step towards repairing these relationships.
When this is not sufficient support to help you through your Grief, however, consider bereavement groups or professional help.
Providers to Contact
Find a grief group near you
Grief groups are support groups for people grieving the death of a loved one. They can provide emotional support and practical advice for dealing with grief. They can also be a place to share stories and connect with others going through a similar experience.
Find a psychologist near you
Psychologists are mental health professionals who specialize in human behavior. They can help people cope with mental health disorders, relationship problems, and stress. They can also provide psychological testing and counseling services.
Find a therapist near you
A grief therapist is a mental health professional who specializes in helping people deal with grief. They can provide support and guidance to help you cope with loss and process emotions.