What Does Grief Feel Like?
The term grief is often used to describe the intense feelings resulting from losing a loved one. The loss of someone we love is far too intense to be adequately described as 'sadness'. The person experiencing this loss is said to be “grieving”; grief often comes in waves, like a phase, rather than a momentary surge of emotions. The significance of grieving lies in the fact that it is a process through which we not only mourn our losses but also learn how to adapt and build resilience.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross made the first attempt at understanding grief in 1969 through her conception of the 5 stages of grief. She first studied the stages of coping terminally ill patients go through. Eventually, she realised that these stages are experienced by bereaving people as well, like people struggling to figure out how to deal with a death in the family. The stages include:
However, not everyone goes through these stages linearly; some may not experience them all. This is because grief is very subjective. As individuals, we continue trying to adapt and work through our pain. While some feelings, like sadness, continue to stay, we simultaneously try to cope and adjust to our new reality. At times, the loss overpowers us; at others, it seems to be barely present.
Grief feels different for everyone. While some of us can keep pushing through it, others may find it too debilitating to handle. Grief is complicated and brings with it a complex mix of emotions and feelings - sadness, frustration, emptiness, agony, anger, rage, and hopelessness. All ways of perceiving and experiencing grief are entirely valid and normal.
Signs That You’re Unable To Overcome Your Grief
Grief affects us and shows up for all of us in different ways. If the signs listed below last a long time for you after a significant loss, it may indicate that you should seek additional support to work through your grief.
Emotional after-effects of going through a loss can include:
- Intense Urge To Cry
- Detachment From Those Around You
- Intense Emotional Pain
- Feelings Of Guilt, Hopelessness, Or Even Relief
- Confusion Or Disbelief
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Preoccupation With The Thoughts Of Loss
- Seeing Or Hearing The Person You’ve Lost (Hallucinations)
You may notice the following physical sensations when coping with grief:
- Tightness Or Heaviness In Chest Or Throat
- Loss Of Appetite
- Unexplainable Headaches
- Tension In Muscles
- Body Pain
- Extreme Fatigue
- Falling Sick Frequently
Loss is often a life-changing event, and can lead to various changes in behaviour. These include:
- Loss Of Sleep Or Sleeping Too Much
- A Sudden Decrease In Appetite
- Loss Of Interest In Favourite Activities
- Restlessness Or Lethargy
- Shift In Perspective Towards Religion, Spirituality, And Loss Of Faith
Ways To Work Through Grief
Now that you can identify the symptoms of grief, here are some ways to navigate grief mindfully:
Don’t Run Away From Your Grief
To deal with grief, it’s important to face it first. Whether it’s you who has lost someone or a friend, it’s essential to share the grief. So, don’t shy away from talking about it. While it may seem painful, it can also help to share memories and have conversations about the person you’ve lost.
Seek And Offer Support
Grief can be a lonely experience, but social support can significantly help with the coping process. If you’re unsure about what to do after losing a friend, it can be a good idea to reach out to a therapist for online therapy. If a loved one is struggling to figure out how to talk about grief and loss, gently let them know that you’re there for them or urge them to seek therapy.
Avoid Placating Words
Avoid saying things you don’t believe in to someone who has experienced a loss. Such phrases can include, “everything happens for a reason”, “they’re in a better place”, or “at least they lived a long life”. While these seem like the right things to say to console someone or help them see the loss more optimistically, there is no such thing as an optimistic view when it comes to grief and loss. Grief is painful, and it is not our place to take those moments of the pain away from someone. All we can do is support them through it by being at their side.
It is okay to take a loss as it is - a loss. We do not need to soften our grief to make it palatable for those around us. If you’re also confused about how to talk about grief in therapy, it is okay to acknowledge your feelings as they are - messy, painful, complicated, and lacking a silver lining until and unless you’re ready to find it.
We understand how agonising grief can be, with no end in sight. If you or a loved one seems to be struggling to cope with their grief, we’re here for you. Our team of experienced therapists are a click away, ready to support you through your difficult time.