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Grief: Understand the Stages and Find Help

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There is a British TV series, Grantchester, which follows a church vicar and a police detective as they solve crimes in the 1950s. It’s charming and enjoyable, but throughout the show, the vicar interacts with characters in moments of intense grief. Some have recently experienced the loss of a loved one, and others are in denial and struggling to understand why tragedy happens. Many are seeking emotional, spiritual, and behavioral help after a shocking death. 

As you watch, it’s almost too familiar; we all have experiences with grief, whether directly grieving ourselves or helping someone close as they experience grief. For many, grief is an obstacle that seems almost impossible. Grief is complex and sometimes hard to describe. 

If you live in Oklahoma and you are looking for help with grief, the professional counselors at Xpress Wellness Behavioral Health provide services that can help you navigate seasons of grief, anxiety, anger, depression, or other challenges. 

If you’re unsure about meeting with a therapist, we’ve shared information about grief, the signs and stages, and how therapy can help with grief. 

What Is Grief? 

A quick Google search will give you this definition for grief from the Oxford English Dictionary: “deep sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death.” Wikipedia’s definition of grief is a little more robust, “Grief is the response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or some living thing that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, grief also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, cultural, spiritual and philosophical dimensions.” 

So, in short, grief is a deep, profound sorrow that often follows the death of someone dear and can impact every aspect of our lives. That deep sorrow can be distressing, unhappy, and unpleasant. 

Other adjectives that come to mind when understanding grief and sorrow include melancholy, broken heart, anguish, woe, and distress of mind. When a profound loss occurs, the grieving process begins to help individuals process and accept the loss. 

The Grieving Process 

Grieving is a personal experience, and individuals have different needs during this time. Some individuals cry, some need others to surround them, and some want to be isolated. But, be assured, grief is a process involving widely varying emotions and responses. Although we commonly associate grief with death, grief and the grieving process can occur any time deep sorrow and unmet expectations become our reality. 

The 5 Stages of Grief

There is no timetable for this process. Elizabeth Kubler Ross identified the five stages of grief most are familiar with. The Stages of Grief include: 

  1. Denial 
  2. Anger 
  3. Bargaining 
  4. Depression 
  5. Acceptance 

Each stage can look and feel very different. Awareness of each stage can help you be more aware and compassionate toward yourself when experiencing painful emotions. It can also help inform decisions to find support from a behavioral health professional. Some people cycle through the stages of grief quickly and repeatedly while experiencing grief and sorrow. 

Stage 1: Denial 

Denial can look like: 

  • ​Avoidance 
  • Procrastination 
  • Forgetting 
  • Easily distracted
  • Mindless behaviors 
  • Keeping busy all the time
  • Thinking or saying “I’m fine” or “it’s fine” 

Denial can feel like: 

  • Shock 
  • Numbness 
  • Confusion 
  • Shutting down 

Stage 2: Anger

Anger can look like: 

  • Pessimism 
  • Cynicism 
  • Sarcasm 
  • Irritability 
  • Being aggressive or passive-aggressive
  • Getting into arguments or fights 
  • Increased alcohol or drug use 

Anger can feel like: 

  • Frustration 
  • Impatience 
  • Resentment
  • Embarrassment
  • Rage
  • Feeling out of control

Stage 3: Bargaining

Bargaining can look like: 

  • Ruminating on the future or past 
  • Overthinking and worrying 
  • Comparing self to others 
  • Predicting the future and assuming the worst 
  • Perfectionism 
  • Thinking/saying “I should have…” or “If only…” 
  • Judgment toward self and/or others 

Bargaining can feel like: 

  • Guilt 
  • Shame
  • Blame
  • Fear
  • Anxiety 
  • Insecurity 

Stage 4: Depression

Depression can look like: 

  • Sleep changes and appetite changes 
  • Reduced energy
  • Reduced social interest 
  • Reduced motivation 
  • Crying 
  • Increased alcohol or drug use 

Depression can feel like: 

  • Sadness 
  • Despair 
  • Helplessness 
  • Hopelessness 
  • Disappointment 
  • Overwhelmed 

Stage 5: Acceptance

Acceptance can look like: 

  • Mindful behaviors
  • Engaging with reality as it is 
  • “This is how it is right now” 
  • Being present in the moment 
  • Able to be vulnerable and tolerate emotions 
  • Assertive, non-defensive, honest communication
  • Adapting, coping, responding skillfully 

Acceptance can feel like: 

  • “Good enough” 
  • Courageous
  • Validation 
  • Self-compassion
  • Pride
  • Wisdom 

Symptoms of Grief 

For many people, the symptoms of grief are evident as they cycle through the stages of grief. Their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions all closely match the stages of grief as we just listed. But for others, grief includes additional symptoms.  

Complicated Grief Symptoms 

For some individuals, there are prolonged symptoms of trauma involved in the situation. For these people, symptoms of depression and anxiety may develop during the grieving process causing additional complications such as nightmares or sleep interference, intrusive thoughts, feeling disconnected from self, loss of things once enjoyed, and inability to focus on work, social, and personal activities. This is considered complicated grief and is often treated with behavioral counseling or bereavement counseling, medication, and/or grief support groups. 

Physical Symptoms of Grief 

Grieving also causes physical symptoms such as an upset stomach, aches, pains, exhaustion, panic attacks, and skin sensitivity. Physical symptoms are not thought of as often as emotional pain. It is important during this time to get enough rest, eat healthily, stay hydrated, avoid alcohol, do light exercise if possible, and maintain a consistent schedule. 

Suggestions for Coping with Loss 

The following ideas may help you cope during times of grief: 

  1. Give yourself permission to feel.  Grief is a part of dealing with loss; if you don’t allow yourself to feel it, you may not allow grief to run its natural course. 
  2. Write a letter to the deceased loved one. Writing a letter may help you process your emotions, understand your feelings, and it can be cathartic. 
  3. Journal about positive memories. Journaling can help you consider the good times, times of love, and times of joy. 
  4. Talk to someone. Talking can be very challenging when you are in a time of grief. Finding a friend or a behavioral health therapist can encourage you to understand your grief better. 
  5. Understand grief affects everybody. No one is immune to grief. It is a shared part of the human experience. Even though it is shared, each person grieves differently, and we can learn from each other. 
  6. Lend a supportive ear to others. Listening, supporting, and comforting others during grief is so important. Whether your spouse, friend, or child is grieving, be ready to listen and help answer questions. 
  7. Prepare for recurring grief. Grief can come and go. Birthdays, holidays, or a song on the radio can cause grief to return. Try to be prepared for these triggers. 

Grief Counseling Can Help 

Learning coping techniques and intimately understanding your grief can help you better handle grief and loss today and in the future. For many people, working with a licensed counselor is essential for healing. 

The behavioral health counselors at Xpress Wellness Behavioral Health serve patients across Oklahoma as they navigate grief. If you would like to speak to a therapist, contact us. We would love to meet with you in person or via a telehealth video appointment. Grief is an individual experience, and there is no time limit for grieving. Be patient with yourself, see a physician if medication is needed, and seek help from a grief support group or individual counselor specializing in complicated grief.

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