When you lose someone or something that is important to you, it sometimes shakes you to the core. Experiencing this loss can be heartbreaking and traumatic. The mourning process might be confusing for many people as they might feel that their life will never be the same again.
There are many people who begin to accept the loss and again start living their normal life. The journey to come to this point of acceptance is different for everybody, and there are a number of people that may take much longer to get there than others.
Along the way, there are many people who may begin to feel the effects of grief on their mental health, but some may even experience different symptoms that are much more severe than others. Understanding the grieving process and then helping to find ways to move forward in a healthy way is the end goal, as you have to learn to live your life again in the light of your loss.
Difference between grief, mourning, and bereavement
Though all three terms have almost a similar meaning, these are quite different in subtle ways. Understanding the slight differences between these will help you to deal with each one in a better way.
Mourning is a psychological process that follows when we lose somebody that we loved very much, and it is also known as an external expression of grief. It is an adaptive and necessary process and the way that you project your grief to other people in mourning.
Mourning is quite important in order to adapt to the new situation that we live in. We have to slowly accept the different changes that take place in us and our surrounding environment after the loss. Grieving in a respectful and patient way will help us to cope with sadness in a better way.
Bereavement is a period of mourning and grief after a death. An individual who tries to overcome all the emotions, and returns to a healthy and stable physical and emotional state must be the end goal of the bereavement process.
Everybody deals with death in his/her own way and own pace. Therefore, the bereavement process will always be different for different people. For some, it can be quite difficult to separate the event from the overwhelming emotions that accompany it.
Grief can be defined as an internal emotional struggle that we face due to a loss. It can affect pretty much every part of our life. Sometimes grief makes the simplest of the tasks very difficult. The main thing to understand is that it is internal, and it is the way that you experience the feelings that are associated with the loss of somebody that you love.
Though it is different for everyone, yet most people would agree that a loss can take a toll on your mental health. Different feelings of anger, sadness, loneliness, and hopelessness are quite common emotions that many people experience during their process of grieving.
Stages of Grief
The experience of losing a parent, child, partner, or even a close friend can be so overwhelming that it may take a lot of time in order to process the emotions. The individual who is affected must learn how to handle sadness while adjusting to the new life that does not include that loved one.
As grieving is a long and painful process, it has to be done a little at a time. Although grieving is not that predictable, yet there are normally five clear stages of grief.
- Numbness and shock
In the initial stage, the person who is in grief may not fully believe that his/her loved one is gone. This pain might be too much to absorb all at once, and here our minds help us with this state of shock and disbelief. In many ways, this is quite a helpful stage also, as it can make us get through with various practical tasks that follow the death of the loved one i.e., planning for the funeral and resolving any financial issues, etc.
On the other hand, several problems can arise if the numbness and shock phase gets stuck in our minds. In some cases, we have noticed that the bereaved person might go on for too much time before fully accepting that the loved one is gone.
- Anger, blame, and guilt
After the shock has worn off, the next phase is that you may start feeling angry with anyone that you may think could have prevented the loss. Mostly, these feelings can be directed towards God, the medical staff, or even against yourself in the form of guilt.
You may also feel angry for the person who has died for abandoning you. These are the feelings that sometimes take you by surprise with their intensity. You have to keep in mind that this is all part of a process, and is nothing to be concerned about unless you tend to find yourself getting stuck in an anger or guilt phase, and are unable to move on.
Bargaining is a stage in which you will attempt to try to offer something in exchange in order to return your loved one. Most of the time, this offering is towards God e.g., you will attend church every week, or you will try to be a better person from now on.
Whatever way it is, bargaining is a mechanism that is designed to mask the real inside pain temporarily. Bargaining is quite similar to the denial and anger phase that it is another way that your mind will attempt to deal with the sadness that is associated with the loss of a loved one.
Depression is a stage in which a grieving person becomes very sad and withdrawn. In this particular phase, you will find yourself thinking a lot about the loved one that you have lost. Most of the time, extreme sadness gets triggered by unexpected things that happen in daily life.
There are reactions that can make it feel quite awkward and difficult to be in the company of other people who may not understand your situation. This is the main reason that the grieving person starts to withdraw from others. Therefore, it is very important to stay connected with a strong network of support.
Acceptance is the next phase at which the grieving person tries to adjust to a new life in which the loved one is absent. Although you might miss the person whom you have lost, you have eventually come to terms with the fact that your future can no longer include that person.
Acceptance is no doubt a good stage of returning back to normal life, but you will always feel that something is missing, and from time to time, little reminders may pop up to rekindle your feelings of loss for a long time i.e., months or years.
How long does grieving go on?
Most of the time, it seems like the pain that comes with grief is never going to end. It is very important to know that eventually, things will start getting easier. It is very difficult to guess how long grief will affect you because everyone’s experience is different.
It can be quite helpful for us to think of grief as an ocean. Sometimes the power of the ocean is too strong that one feels out of control. Other times, these feelings are manageable, and you can drift along with these waves. The pain of grief can come to you in huge waves, smaller or sideways.
Sometimes, there are mental situations that you are not ready for, while sometimes there are periods that are calming for you. Although this might make you feel like getting out of control, there are various things that you have to do naturally that can help.
How to cope with your grief
Grief is a highly individual and unique process for the people who experience it. Things from our personal histories to culture and personality traits affect how we experience and then cope with the loss of our loved one in our life. There are some suggestions that could help you to think about and also navigate your grieving process in a constructive, compassionate, and healthy way.
- Don’t put time limits on your grief
Most of us do understand that grief is inevitable and normal for a major loss. Though we cannot understand the duration of grief, many experts think that it should last for a year and not more than that. There are individuals who feel that it may last longer, but after a couple of weeks, they start feeling a little easier.
It is quite important for you to acknowledge this uncertainty instead of standing or fighting against it by putting artificial deadlines on your grief, as most of the time, it backfires. In the case of a major loss, you will always feel sadness and grief when it is reminded.
- Take care of your diet and nutrition
At the time of grief, it is very easy to slip into unhelpful eating habits. The content and quantity of how much you eat can obviously have a profound effect on your physical and emotional wellbeing. If the physical state of your body is better, then it is very easy for it to repair you mentally.
Both under-eating and overeating can actually make it very harder for you to navigate the many challenges regarding grief and the grief process that you have to face. Science has proved that eating a well-balanced and healthy diet can help you to cope with the loss of your loved one.
- Get enough sleep
For many people who go through the grieving process, sleeping, or going to bed can be a very difficult period for them. While visitors and different activities of the day keep the mind occupied to some extent, but at bedtime, many people experience a flood of painful memories, emotions, and thoughts.
Consequently, these people end up avoiding bedtime and try to disrupt their sleep schedules and routines. Poor sleep makes life much harder and difficult, and managing the challenges of grief also becomes very hard.
- Be Physically active and exercise
During the grieving process, it becomes quite natural to experience low levels of motivation and energy. This, of course, makes getting your regular exercise quite challenging. But there is also a reverse, and one of the best ways to gather your energy is to restore your motivation and enthusiasm.
This way, you are able to regulate your painful emotions by staying physically active and exercising on a regular basis. For many people, even going for a short walk on a daily basis can make all the difference.
- Try to seek out the right support
The idea that you should be seeking out support from your loved ones during grief is the best advice out there to process it. The big mistake that most people make is that they assume in their mind that talking to other people about their loss and grief is social support.
Though sharing your grief and deliberately talking to people can be quite helpful, but this cannot be the only way of getting social support. Another better way is to start spending a little bit of time with the different people that you enjoy doing activities with e.g., going for a drive, meeting a girlfriend for coffee, and going back to the book club that you used to enjoy.
- Resist comparing your grief to the other people
Nowadays, it is very easy to compare our grief and the grieving process with others. The impulse of comparing and contrasting with other people’s grief is quite natural. This means that it is not a surprise that we might wish we could get on with life like someone we know who did.
We should remember that an act of comparing ourselves to others and then trying to judge accordingly is not going to help us. Everybody’s life, circumstances, and nature of loss are different than others. Even if the superficial details tend to look like others, but comparing the grief with others is always like comparing apples and oranges.
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