Every year in Canada, more than 280,000 people pass away. Whether their death is expected or not, they often leave behind family, friends, and loved ones. For the people left behind, it can be difficult to process their loss.
However, grief doesn't just happen when you have lost a loved one. It can also occur when you lose a job, a relationship, or become ill yourself. During this time, acknowledging your grief is essential if you are going to process it in a healthy way.
So why is this so important? Well, living with unresolved grief can have a serious impact on your physical and mental health.
What Is Grief?
Grief is a natural emotional response when you lose someone that you love. Often, this is as a result of their death but you may also experience grief after:
- A divorce or the end of a relationship
- Losing a job or retiring
- Losing your financial stability
- Losing your health
- A miscarriage
- The death of a family pet
- A loved one becomes seriously ill or injured
- An accident result in life-long injuries
- Losing a friendship
- Losing your home or place of safety
Each of these losses can trigger a significant shift in your understanding of life and your place within it. Some may have a greater effect on you than others. However, it is important to give yourself time to process all of these changes properly.
One of the most difficult aspects of grief to deal with is a loss of control. This usually happens because you have lost someone or something when you didn't feel ready to lose. Even if you are prepared for your loss, you can still grieve for it.
To understand this better, let's take a look at some of the different types of grief that you might experience during your lifetime.
Different Types of Grief
Every person's grief is personal to them and you can take as long as you need to process it. Because of this, there is no single "normal" way to process grief. It's all about finding coping mechanisms that work for you.
That said, it is a good idea to keep an eye out for some specific types of grief that can have a significant impact on your life.
Anticipatory grief, as its name suggests, often starts before the loss of a loved one. This might happen as they become older or if they are diagnosed with a terminal illness. Or you may feel anticipatory grief as you approach retirement or prepare to sell your home.
During anticipatory grief, you will feel a range of emotions but often anger will come to the forefront. It is important to acknowledge the grief you are feeling and process it before your loss. This can help you to prepare for it.
Disenfranchised grief can have a serious effect on your mental health. This occurs when you (or those around you) fail to recognize the significance of your grief. This can also happen if there is a stigma surrounding your loss, such as suicide or miscarriage.
As a result, you devalue your loss and cannot process your grief, which can be extremely isolating.
Working through grief can take a long time and it is important not to rush this. However, your feelings should progress over time through the stages of grief. If they don't you may find yourself among the 20% of grieving people dealing with complicated grief.
This can have a huge impact on your life, relationships, and future happiness. So it is important to get support if you are struggling with complicated grief.
5 Stages of Grief
You may already have heard of the five stages of grief, even if you can't remember what they all are or which order they happen in.
While everyone grieves differently, most people will experience at least one of these stages while grieving. Acknowledging this can help you to better understand your loss and the emotional response that you're having to it.
Denial is common in the early stages of grief and can often leave you feeling numb to the events around you. You may carry on with life as if nothing has happened or focus on specific menial tasks.
During this time you might also feel the presence of the person that you have lost or struggle to think of them as gone completely.
Often a loss, particularly one that is out of our control, can spark feelings of anger and frustration. You might feel like your loss was unfair, brutal, or cruel.
During this time you may also experience feelings of anger towards a person who has died or left. Some people direct their anger inwards and get frustrated with themselves for things they did or didn't do.
If you are struggling to accept your loss then it is natural that you might try to do something to change your circumstances. This is where bargaining comes in.
You may find yourself making deals with yourself, with the people around you, or (if you're religious) with God about how you will behave in the future. This partly comes from the guilt that you might feel over a loss and the determination to avoid it happening in the future.
Of course, one of the overwhelming feelings you experience with grief is sadness. Over prolonged periods of time, this can leave you feeling depressed and disengaged with the world around you.
You may also find that your life feels scary and unfamiliar after a significant loss.
All grief comes in waves, which means that it might be worse on some days than others. One of the most important things you can do is accept that you don't have to get over your loss and act like it never happened.
Accepting what you have lost and acknowledging its importance is a huge part of your emotional journey.
What Does Grief Do to the Body?
Embracing the extended grieving process is extremely important but it's also vital that you take care of your physical health during it.
This is because grief can have a big effect on your body. Let's take a closer look at some of these.
Intense stress that you experience when grieving can increase your chance of developing heart problems. Because of this, the death of a loved one can increase your risk of having a heart attack.
You may also experience a rare condition known as 'Broken Heart Syndrome' that mimics the effects of a heart attack. If you do experience any chest pains or symptoms of a heart attack then it is important to seek medical attention immediately.
Body Aches and Pains
Grief can affect the hormone levels within your body and this can result in stiffness as well as aches and pains. These should get better over time as you start to process your grief.
Lowered Immune System
Stress and grief can have an impact on the number of white blood cells that your body produces. As a result, your immune system may be weaker than normal. This leaves you susceptible to catching colds and other illnesses.
During the grieving period, your digestive tract can take a serious hit. This might be because your diet becomes less balanced, your appetite changes, or you feel nauseous when anxious.
If you find that grief is disrupting your dietary choices it is important to get help from a professional.
Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
Unhealthy eating habits aren't the only way that some people cope with grief. Others may turn to:
- Binge drinking
- Drug abuse
- Reckless behavior that endangers themselves or others
Each of these can have serious long-lasting consequences for your body. So it is important to get help with keeping your copying mechanisms under control as soon as possible.
Sleep Problems and Exhaustion
While you are grieving, it can be common to develop insomnia or struggle to sleep for extended periods of time. This can have a huge impact on your energy levels and on your body's ability to rest and repair.
As you start to process your grief, you should find that your sleep improves. If this doesn't happen then your doctor may recommend additional sleep aids or therapies.
What Does Grief Do to the Mind?
Your physical and emotional response to grief can be closely linked. Understanding what you are feeling or preparing for this, doesn't mean it will go away immediately. But it can make your feelings easier to live with during the grieving process.
Shock and Disbelief
Shock and disbelief are an important part of the denial stage of grief. You may even find yourself denying the loss altogether or playing it down.
Sadness about your grief can come out in a huge number of ways. You may find yourself feeling:
- Yearning for what you have lost
This may come in waves resulting in emotional instability. Accepting sadness as part of your grief can help you gain more control over it.
Guilt and regret are also common feelings when you are grieving and this can be confusing. You might not feel responsible for someone's death but you can still feel regret about things you did or didn't do.
It's natural to feel anger, frustration, and resentment at being unable to prevent a loss. You may direct this inwards or focus it on the people around you. Focusing your blame can become a welcome distraction from accepting your grief.
Loss often acts as a reminder about our own fragility in life and this can leave you feeling afraid or nervous. If your loss has directly impacted your long-term stability then this is even more understandable.
How to Deal With Grief
When it comes to dealing with grief there is evidently a lot going on and you may react differently from your friends and family. There is no "right" way to handle grief, just the right way for you.
Acknowledging your loss and the grieving process is the first step you should take. This won't necessarily change how you feel but it will help you give yourself the emotional slack and support to grieve properly. It will also help you to actively engage in the grieving process.
This can help prevent you from developing complicated or disenfranchised grief.
Do I Need Professional Help?
If you are struggling with grief, then it's important to ask for help. Reaching out to your friends and family is a good idea but professional help is also at hand.
You might attend group therapy sessions or one-on-one counseling. Some people choose a trauma therapy style of grief counseling. This is more intensive but it is 25% more effective than talking therapy, especially for people dealing with complicated grief.
Getting professional support can help you create time and space to acknowledge your loss and speak about it openly. A professional will also help you create healthy coping mechanisms to protect your long-term physical and mental health.
If you find that you have developed unhealthy coping mechanisms during the grieving process then it is important to seek professional help for these.
Taking Care of Yourself While You Grieve
Throughout our lives, it will be almost impossible to avoid grief in one form or another. This is why it is important to prepare yourself for the grieving process and to accept support during it. This will ensure that you process your loss in a way that is emotionally healthy so that you can move forwards with your life.
If you have recently lost a loved one, you may be able to get financial support during the grieving process from their life insurance policy. Find out more about submitting life insurance claims with different insurers now.