The Experience of Grief: How the Grieving Process Manifests Itself
Updated: Jul 26, 2022
When we experience loss or great sadness in our life, grief is a common and natural response. But what is grief?
Although grief is often perceived to be an emotion, it is in fact a collection of different thoughts and feelings and can manifest itself physically, mentally and emotionally.
The grieving process is a personal one and no two experiences are identical, but there are common shared symptoms for those going through the process of loss. Read on to learn more about grief and how to support yourself or your loved ones.
The Five Stages Of Grief
There are commonly thought to be five main stages of grief, a model created by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, to describe how we move through the process of loss. These stages of bereavement are:
Our minds protect us from the initial shock of a loss by denying what has happened - a common defence mechanism. Other reactions during this stage include numbness, panic or disbelief.
We often express our pain through anger. Feeling rage or resentment and blaming yourself or others is a sign that you are starting to emotionally reconnect to what happened.
In the bargaining phase of grief, we feel guilty and ask questions like ‘what if’, ‘why me’ or ‘if only…’
Facing reality and accepting what has happened can cause intense sadness, despair and depression. However, this is a natural part of the healing process and should pass with time.
Acceptance is the stage in which we acknowledge what happened, learn how to live with it and start to move on with life. Acceptance doesn’t mean that we forget our grief, rather that we learn to manage it.
Although this five stage model is often used, it’s important to remember that this is just for reference and everyone’s experience is different.
Common Symptoms Of Grief
When going through grief, these are some of the common emotional and physical symptoms you might feel - you might feel one, two or a mix of all of them.
Feeling tired all the time
Can grief make you feel tired? Certainly. Grief can be an intense process and often causes fatigue. If the person grieving also has problems sleeping, this can even lead to problems like insomnia.
Panic or confusion
Grief can be bewildering, especially if you experience a sudden loss. Panic or even confusion about what happened is normal in these circumstances.
If someone passes away following a long illness, you may even feel relieved as part of your grief, especially if they were suffering. Feeling relief does not mean you loved that person any less. Relief often may be accompanied with a feeling of guilt for feeling this way.
Stomach pain is a common side effect and sometimes goes hand in hand with a change in appetite, where the person affected either eats more or less than normal to try and cope with their loss.
Chest tightness, shallow and rapid breathing, difficulty breathing or even panic attacks are other physical responses you may experience while grieving.
Aches and pains
The experience of grieving can cause physical pain, including headaches, chest pain, neck ache, joint pain, muscular pain or general heaviness of the limbs.
Common Misconceptions About Grief
Some of the common misconceptions about grieving include:
Although there are models and guidelines for grieving, remember that there's no right or wrong way to grieve and everyone has their own process. Is it normal to cry everyday after a death? Yes! Not crying after someone dies? Also completely normal. Your grief is your own and no one should tell you how to feel.
The right order
Some people go through the stages of grief in a different order, they might go back and forth between them, or they might not experience any of them at all. There’s no correct order to do things.
Taking too long
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the length of time we grieve. Some people find that they feel better after a few days or weeks, whereas others take months or years to grieve properly.
Supporting Yourself Through Grief
If you’re experiencing grief and aren’t sure how to deal with it, here is a list of the ways to support and care for yourself.
Talking to friends and family
Talking about how you are feeling with family and friends can be really helpful, especially if they have gone through a similar thing.
If you feel that you can’t cope with your feelings of grief, seek professional help; such as counselling or therapy. If you experience a desire to self-harm or hurt yourself in some way, you should call a crisis hotline like The Samaritans.
Local support groups enable you to connect with people in your area who have experienced grief. This can give you a safe space to express how you feel and discuss your thoughts and emotions with others.
Give yourself time
Give yourself as much time as you need to come to terms with what happened and process how you feel. Burying your feelings and trying to move on isn’t a long-term solution.
Look after yourself
It may be hard, but simple acts like taking a shower, getting dressed and leaving the house each day will help you feel better. You could also try to find a new hobby to distract yourself and keep busy.
How To Help Someone Grieving
If someone you know is grieving, here are some ideas for how to help them.
Listen - be a shoulder to cry on and a sympathetic ear to listen
Reach out - if you believe someone may be grieving, gently ask them if they want to talk, but…
Give them time and space - don’t force them to talk to you about their grief
Offer help - this could be with practical things like shopping, cooking, cleaning or looking after their children
Find support - looking for local support groups or counselling services can really help
I hope this article has given you all the information you need to know about grief, how to cope with its different stages and how to help others in need.
The content on this page is provided for general information only. It is not intended to, and does not mount to advice which you should rely on. If you think you are experiencing any medical condition you should seek immediate medical attention from a doctor or other professional healthcare provider.