Although a perfectly normal part of human life and experience, grief and loss represent one of the most delicate and touching subjects in psychology and everyday life.
Everybody deals with grief and loss differently
The responses and journey taken is different for everyone but there are some healthy and mindful ways to deal with the process.
In principle we all share the same six basic primary emotions (and we share these with primates). They are happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust.
There is a natural trigger for all of these for example, happiness is usually triggered by fulfilment. Babies are usually happy when they recognise a person’s familiar face or have a toy they like, but they feel disgust when they taste something they don’t like. This and other emotions get more complex as we grow older.
Sadness on the other hand can be triggered by a sense of loss.
Sadness vs grief
Sadness is a normal reaction to loss – we can feel sad listening to bad news or seeing someone in pain. But GRIEF is an extension of this, a greater reaction to a tremendous personal loss. This could be losing a job, or something of great personal value to us, a relationship break down, illness or death.
In between there are subtle changes and events in life which can have an impact on us, such as finishing school, moving from a community or country. These changes can also be perceived as loss and we might need some time to grieve before being able to come to terms with them.
When we experience grief and loss we are usually in the middle of an emotional cocktail – anger, sadness, denial, shock, guilt… so how we deal with grief is different because of this mix/balance.
When grief goes on for too long, it can be seen as a pathological grieving – or depression – where the intensity is unchanged and prevents a person from moving forward to live life fully. For someone prone to depression, the slip from grief to depression can easily happen if no preventative measures are taken.
How we grieve
Grieving affects us in physical, emotional and cognitive ways. Here are the most common symptoms.
Emotional symptoms – sadness, anger, guilt, blame, confusion, denial, fear, anxiety, irritability, panic, loneliness, shock
Physical symptoms – nausea, fatigue, dizziness, enhanced heartbeat, sickness, headache, shortness of breath, extreme hunger or loss of appetite, weight loss or gain, hyperventilating, chest pain, sore muscles, upset stomach
Cognitive symptoms – confusion, concentration problems, memory problems, loss of hope, preoccupation with the object of grieving, delusions
There are also behavioural symptoms including crying, overactivity, complete inactivity, irritability and aggressive behaviour, sleeping problems, loss of interest in things previously enjoyed, restlessness
There is help for anyone who feels they are drowning in the grief process, or struggling to come to terms with loss or where some of these symptoms are preventing a normal life. Many books, online courses and of course therapy and group support can help you personally to navigate through this difficult times. We would ask everyone not to suffer in silence or alone. Reach out, ask for help and recognise when things are not going well for you.