Coping with Grief/Loss – Understanding Symptoms (Part 1)
This is the first in the series of many blogs I plan to write about grief/loss. I view emotions, life, and life events through a loss-oriented lens. Death and change are the only constants in our life. As finite-beings, our lives are transient and through one journey or another, we are all headed towards death (just being an existentialist). Despite the shared truth of death, our lives are spent focusing on minimizing death anxiety and maximizing the meaning of life, while attempting to engage in activities that will postpone, ignore, or mitigate death. Apart from managing our own death anxiety, we go through a lot of changes as we grow old and every change signifies the loss of what preceded. Yet, grief/loss continues to be swept under the rug, unacknowledged and minimized.
Grief is not just related to death, but also to the myriad other losses we experience in our life. We lose a lot over the course of our lives – loss of youth, loss of school friends, loss of pets, loss of home, loss of dependence on parents, loss of some dreams, loss of pregnancy, loss of relationships, loss of jobs, loss of people, loss of time, loss of freedom, loss of ability and so on. Not every loss stirs up unmanageable emotions, but different losses impact different individuals in their own way, in the context of their life experiences and culture.
Important things to know about coping through loss/grief.
Grief does not run a predictable course.
There is no time-limit, or continuity in the process of grieving.
Every person deals with loss in their own time, in the context of their stressors, previous losses, coping skills, social support, and their meaning-meaning abilities.
Common reactions to loss
Depression is not the only way grief presents itself.
Cognitive- Many individuals who are going through a loss may present with cognitive symptoms such as forgetfulness, disorientation, confusion, and difficulties with attention and concentration.
Physical symptoms – Individuals coping with grief and loss could experience changes in sleep patterns, changes in appetite, fatigue, racing heart, panic attacks, weakness, hypervigilance, and illness due to decreased immunity.
Emotional symptoms – Individuals experiencing grief and loss could present with sadness, depression, helplessness, loss of control, fear of death, shock denial, numbness, guilt, shame, remorse, anger, loneliness, tearfulness, crying, or relief.
Hierarchy of grief
In our society, some losses are acknowledged and recognized as more painful compared to others. There is a misconception that loss is more painful if the relationship was close and long in duration. In creating a hierarchy for which loss is more painful, emotions around a death of a close relative are validated and acknowledged; while many other losses such as loss of a pet, loss of a dream, loss of a friendship, and others are not acknowledged. It is unfair.
Factors that may complicate loss/grief
Some circumstances make it more difficult to cope with loss. These include circumstances of loss, age at which loss was experienced, unexpected loss, and the traumatic nature of loss. . Earlier unresolved losses that you never had a chance to grieve about, parental divorce, or broken relationships with people in your life may also complicate recovery. Below are some warning signs which may suggest that a person is not coping well with grief and may be at a greater risk of the grieving process taking longer to resolve or being more difficult:
Pushing away painful feelings or avoiding the grieving process entirely
Excessive avoidance of talking about or reminders of loss
Abuse of alcohol or other drugs (including prescription)
Increased physical complaints or illness
Intense mood swings or isolation which don’t resolve within 1-2 months of the loss
Ongoing neglect of self-care and responsibilities
Next Blog – Understanding Grief through an Existential Lens.