Losing someone or something we value or love dearly is not something we can prepare for.
It’s an experience that evokes intense and overwhelming feelings; there are no words that can describe them. It just hurts. We feel overwhelming emotional pain in our heart and soul, even physical pain.
In the midst of grief we cannot see beyond it, it is like being in a thick fog. The grief takes over the whole person, all our parts, our thoughts, feelings, goals, other struggles and stresses we have, our imagined future and present moment. All we can focus on is the loss and how much pain we are experiencing as a result of it.
While painful, this is normal. This is expected. This is because of the natural attachment we have to meaningful relationships.
People can experience grief over the loss of a person, but also the loss of a career, a social role, a pet or a planned future.
The Stages of Grief
Sometimes people go through different stages of grief after experiencing loss. The most common stages are:
- Denial – Being in shock, unable to believe that the loss has occurred;
- Anger – Over the unfairness of life, being victimized like this;
- Bargaining – ‘If only…’ thoughts as a result of feelings of guilt and regret;
- Depression – Lasting feelings of sadness, helplessness and hopelessness for present and future.
- Acceptance – Acceptance of the new reality
Nevertheless, these stages may not come in that order. Many people may experience a mix of all these feelings and stages that may come randomly, unexpectedly and change from one to another quickly, like a painful rollercoaster ride of emotions.
In the early stages of grief, soon after experiencing the loss, people are in a stage of shock and confusion. Life does not make sense anymore and we may not know what we need to do or focus on.
It is therefore important to get help and support with the everyday mundane things to keep a basic routine going. This is crucial in the early days. Get up at the same time in the morning, do your morning routine, have some food, go about your day and focus on what you can (even if it is bare minimum), such as household chores, keeping your body clean and groomed, walking your pet (if you have one) etc.
As the shock dissipates, you may be able to focus on talking to someone about how you feel. You may then seek or accept the support of others such as family, friends and professionals.
Although it is very helpful to talk about our feelings to help our brain process the experience, not all people are talkers. If you find that talking is not your thing, you may still find benefit in being around people and environments that bring you comfort.
Get the support that is helpful to you. Many people find that their loved ones, with their best intentions, may not be the most helpful in offering support during times of grief. When people jump to give advice, we may feel judged and misunderstood. It is ok to tell people if we do not feel like talking about some things in that moment, and spend quality time in other ways (such as going for a walk or coffee together, sitting in silence, playing a game etc).
You may need help with getting groceries, chores or finances, or just having a shoulder to cry on. Say what you need if you can, so people know how best to support you during these challenging times.
Learn a few easy and quick grounding/relaxation techniques to help you manage intense emotions when they overwhelm you. Feeling emotions is normal and desired during times of grief and loss, it helps us integrate the experience and heal.
However, when emotions become too overwhelming, we want to reduce their intensity to a more manageable level. Grounding/relaxation techniques will help with lowering the arousal of the nervous system and bring the emotions to a more manageable level.
It is ok to feel positive emotions during grief and loss too. Many people feel guilty and do not allow themselves to feel short moments of happiness during their grief. Feeling positive or happy does not mean that you are not honouring the person you have lost, or that you have forgotten them. Not at all. It just means that you are human. We have changing emotions, both positive and negative, that come like tides or ocean waves. It is normal. Do not hold on to them, just let them come and go and change naturally.
If you have concerns about your grief and loss experience, it is a good idea to talk to your GP who may refer you to see a psychologist. This does not mean you have a problem, it just means that you get a bit of support to help you cope during a difficult time.
Author: Ilana Gorovoy, B.Arts (Psych), B. Arts (Hons.)(Psychology), MPsych (Couns.)
With a Master’s in Counselling, Brisbane Psychologist Ilana Gorovoy draws on therapeutic approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Existential and Strengths-based approaches, Person-Centred and Positive Psychology, to assist her clients to become conscious of their strengths and difficulties, design and reach their goals, live a life of meaning and purpose, and reach their full potential through empowerment.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Ilana Gorovoy, try Online Booking – Wishart. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology (Wishart) on (07) 3088 5422.