Grief is one of the most profound and challenging emotions humans can experience. Feeling a sense of grief typically stems from a loss, whether it be a family member, a friend, or maybe even a beloved pet. The death of a loved one is categorized as the most significant life stressor we face during our lifetimes. No matter the kind of loss, grief stays with us for an extended period of time. If left unaddressed, this can turn into a host of mental health-related issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Fortunately, there are some incredible resources to explore for those experiencing this profound sadness.
What Is Grieving?
Prior to learning specific tools to aid in the grieving process, it is important to understand what grief really is. The five stages of grief have become popular models but have proven to be inadequate. In short, the experience of grieving is essentially the adaptation that follows the loss of a loved one. Some of the most common symptoms of grief are lack of appetite, detachment, loss of motivation, isolation, guilt, and suicidal thoughts.
Survivor’s guilt is a newer extension of grief that refers to the profound guilt experienced when a life is lost while the other survives. Researchers have seen an increase in this variation in situations like mass shootings. This type of grief deviates from the traditional definition but demonstrates emotional complexity.
In most cases, grief occurs from losing someone that they held a close, personal relationship with. The timeline for grief is another aspect that has not been identified as it varies drastically, case by case. According to The Mayo Clinic, profound grief that lasts longer than a year requires professional guidance from a doctor.
Varying Levels Of Grief
Attachment styles play an important role in the grieving process. Humans experience emotions in a wide variety of ways, but the loss is correlated to attachment theories specifically. For example, adults raised in an environment where their needs were not consistently met form an anxious attachment. These are the people that have some of the most challenging experiences with grief, as they struggle to accept that the person is no longer in their lives. It can cause undue anxiety and a perceived lack of control. In contrast, avoidant attached adults will deny their feelings of grief and suppress them. This is due to a lack of reassurance and closeness in childhood.
Inevitably, not all humans will process their grief in the same way. For this reason, it is difficult to face it alone in a self-guided manner. Reaching out for support from those you feel most comfortable with is the best way to effectively move through the experience.
Talk To Someone
One of the most common symptoms of grief is isolation. Ironically, this has the ability to perpetuate this painful emotion and prolong the experience. Opening up and talking to someone about the loss is an important step in healing. It often is especially helpful to speak to others who also had a relationship with the lost loved one. Focusing on this connection can help combat some of the feelings of isolation and aloneness that often occurs.
Reminiscing positive, happy memories can improve mood and decrease sadness. Similarly, focusing on the positive impact the person left on your life is a great way to honor them. Ultimately, expressing emotions is crucial to the healing process. Being intentional about healing in a healthy way is important for all experiencing the loss.
Reaching out to a professional to aid in the grieving process is beneficial, especially in cases where the loss has significantly disrupted daily activities. Some losses can result in surviving loved ones withdrawing socially, missing work, and not eating. In the event that this happens, therapy may be needed to assist in the healing process.
Up to one-third of people that experienced a significant loss suffered from detrimental effects on their physical and mental health. Grief therapy focuses specifically on feeling the emotions of the loss, learning coping mechanisms, and ultimately being able to move on with life. It is important to note that the goal is not to forget the loss but to simply be able to return to normal levels of functioning.
Move Your Body
Endorphins are research-supported hormones. They can boost mood, decrease depression-related symptoms, increase cognitive function, and relieve stress. When dealing with grief, it is likely that you are experiencing most or all of these adverse effects. Moving your body can effectively produce these hormones and improve your overall mental state.
Some easily accessible examples of a quality movement that you can try are vigorous walks, biking, running, or swimming. By engaging in just 30-60 minutes of activity per day, you can decrease the feeling of heaviness or sadness associated with grief.
Another positive benefit to outdoor exercise is the exposure to vitamin D from the sun. Vitamin D is shown to have a significant impact on mood. In areas where sun exposure is limited to less than 120 days per year, depression rates are drastically higher than in areas with significant sun exposure. Vitamin D is shown to combat feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and anxiety with as little as 15 minutes of direct sunlight per day. For those in areas with less sun, a vitamin supplement may be useful.
Emotional Support Animals
In a study conducted on grief support, animals received the highest rating of satisfaction amongst the entire panel of support groups. This ranged from counselors, faith leaders, support groups, and even friends. This high level of support demonstrates the effectiveness of leaning on them during times of profound grief.
Some of the reasons emotional support animals are so effective are their unbiased company, their dependence on humans to take care of them, and their unwavering loyalty. Those going through periods of loss are able to rely on the constant support of their animals or pets and are given the necessary motivation to continue forward with daily life. Even just going through simple motions of feeding and walking a pet can promote positive behaviors such as exposing oneself to nature, physical movement, and vitamin D exposure. Having a loving being to spend time with is a great way to ensure emotional needs are met during this difficult time.
Grief is an experience that all humans will go through at one point in their lives. For some, grief may be experienced more frequently than others. Some people may be affected for years following a loss, while others are seemingly fine in a much shorter window of time.
Grief is an individual process that depends on a variety of factors. Knowing how to properly cope during this devastating time can allow healing to occur quicker than it would without proper tools. Leaning on loved ones that are experiencing the loss as well, finding an emotional support animal, and seeking therapy are just a few of the ways to navigate the loss. Ultimately, healing takes time, and being gentle with yourself along the way is essential.
We Can Help!
MHThrive provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any mental health or substance abuse issues, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
Online Treatment Programs provides Teletherapy Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient Programs allowing participants to receive intensive therapy with our licensed therapists and psychiatrists without having to leave home. If you or someone you know is struggling to overcome depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, trauma, panic attacks, PTSD, alcoholism, drug abuse, or other mental health or addiction issues, we can help. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our teletherapy programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.