What is grief?
Grief is your emotional reaction to a significant loss. The words sorrow and heartache are often used to describe feelings of grief. Whether you lose a beloved person, animal, place, or object, or a valued way of life (such as your job, marriage, or good health), some level of grief will naturally follow.
Anticipatory grief is grief that strikes in advance of an impending loss. You may feel anticipatory grief for a loved one who is sick and dying. Similarly, both children and adults often feel the pain of losses brought on by an upcoming move or divorce. This anticipatory grief helps us prepare for such losses.
What is grieving?
Grieving is the process of emotional and life adjustment you go through after a loss. Grieving after a loved one's death is also known as bereavement.
Grieving is a personal experience. Depending on who you are and the nature of your loss, your process of grieving will be different from another person's experience. There is no "normal and expected" period of time for grieving. Some people adjust to a new life within several weeks or months. Others take a year or more, particularly when their daily life has been radically changed or their loss was traumatic and unexpected.
What are common symptoms of grief and grieving?
A wide range of feelings and symptoms are common during grieving. While feeling shock, numbness, sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, or fear, you may also find moments of relief, peace, or happiness. While grieving is not simply sadness, “the blues,” or depression, you may become depressed or overly anxious during the grieving process.
The stress of grief and grieving can take a physical toll on your body. Sleeplessness is common, as is a weakened immune system over time. If you have a chronic illness, grieving can worsen your condition.
Although it may be possible to postpone grieving, it is not possible to avoid grieving altogether. If life circumstances make it difficult for you to stop, feel, and live through the grieving process, you can expect grief to eventually erupt sometime in the future. In the meantime, unresolved grief can affect your quality of life and relationships with others.
How is grieving treated?
Social support, good self-care, and the passage of time are usually the best medicine for grieving. However, if you find that your grief is making it difficult to function for more than a week or two, contact a grief counselor or bereavement support group for help.
If depression or anxiety is making it difficult for you to function for longer than a couple of weeks, talk to your health professional about medication; counseling can also help speed your recovery.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about grief and grieving: