What is Grief? It’s what we feel in response to a loss, even if it is the loss of your typical schedule or your sense of safety and control. Grief can be complex – to get more technical, it’s the process of social, somatic and emotional reactions to perceptions of loss. But what the heck does that mean?
Usually we correlate grief with death, but the reality is that we can grieve any loss. Some examples include the loss of a job, relationship, home or health. Lots of us are even grieving the loss of our “normal daily life,” in this weird COVID-19 world that was forced upon us. In a way, we can view grief as an ongoing process of being, as we grow and change and move through our lives!
Grief can and does look different for everyone, because it affects all aspects of a person, making it highly individual. Your grief will look different than your friend’s grief, even if you are experiencing the same loss. AND, no one way of grieving is better than any other. Some people may show more emotional symptoms and some may appear more stoic. Our experiences can include:
- Physical Effects, like headaches, exhaustion, muscle aches, loss of appetite and insomnia ~
- Emotional Effects, like anger, sadness, anxiety, shock, guilt, numbness and even relief ~
- Psychological Effects, like lack of concentration, dreams, search for the meaning of life ~
- Behavioral Effect, like crying, withdrawal, moodiness, apathy, change of relationships, avoiding reminders or seeking reminders ~
- Spiritual Effects, like questioning one’s faith, embracing one’s faith, searching for the meaning of life ~
We often hear that there are “Stages of Grief,” but these are more recently thought of as “Tasks or Methods.” There is no certain way to experience these Tasks, and some people may not experience all of them – every grief event is different. The main Tasks include: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Despair and Acceptance. We can literally bounce around from one to another, without any warning. For instance, we may be going about our day, and something reminds us of our recent loss, and we may suddenly feel sad. The next minute we may be fine. Later, we might feel angry. It’s all part of the reality of grief – it can just be messy. With that said, it’s really important to remember that we can also experience Joy, Contentment and Humor through all of it! These are not absent during difficult times and can be welcomed and embraced, even in small doses.
So, what can we DO? Counselors often hear clients share that they want to “Get Over It,” or “Get Back to Normal.” A different approach is needed, because life doesn’t go back to exactly where it was before. It’s more important to “Go THROUGH It.” Life’s events change us and make us who we are. We should be ever evolving and learning about ourselves and others, to be healthy and resilient. Going Through a Difficult Time may mean many things, but here’s what we can practice:
- Self-Compassion: Allow and honor your feelings – treat yourself as you would treat a good friend that’s hurting
- Set Small Goals: Some days are more difficult than others, so maybe just finishing homework or running an errand was what you successfully accomplished! Give yourself credit for the little things
- Use Small Distractions: Watching a movie or reading can give you a needed break – a little rest
- Cry! It’s natural – our tears represent a release of stress, anger, guilt, loneliness or whatever. Bottling it up may not be healthy in the long run
- Unplug from Media: Even a few hours away from Social Media can give us a rest from the chaos and fake news
- Take Care of Your Physical Self: exercise – never underestimate the power of a walk. And of course, eat some healthy food
- Visit Nature: Nature is therapy in itself – be in the moment and notice what’s around you. Be like a little kid and collect leaves or rocks
- Journal: about your feelings and also include what you are grateful for. When we’re hurting, we need intentional reminders of things that are good
- Reach Out to Others: Asking for help is NOT a sign of weakness! You are not alone
Remember that we can experience emotions of grief over any loss. Currently the loss of our normal daily lives is pressing, but taking care of yourself, looking for positives, reaching out and connecting with others is still just as important as before. Instead of “socially distancing,” think of it as “being social while physically distancing!” Difficult times can also bring us clarity into what’s really important to us and what might not be very important to us. We are all unique – honor your individuality!
- Transforming Grief & Loss by Howard R. Winokuer
- Hamilton’s Academy of Grief & Loss www.Hamiltonsfuneralhome.com
- MHA: Mental Health America