Everyone grieves in life. Grief is a natural, necessary, and often uncontrollable emotional, physical, mental, and/or spiritual response to painful or traumatic events. It can present itself as a variety of difficult and unexpected emotions.
Some common misconceptions around grief, such as when it’s okay to grieve, how long it should take, and what normal grief looks like can leave you wondering if you’re doing it right. It can feel like you will never be okay again and like life will never be the same.
Luckily, as difficult as the hard times are, know that symptoms of grief are generally temporary.
Many believe that grief follows a pattern, that you must go through certain stages, or that you should be over your grief within a certain timeframe. While there are stages of grief and time does play a role, grief doesn’t follow a set pattern. There isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve just as there isn’t a right or wrong reason.
Much of the process is natural. Relax your expectations on how it should go and simply allow yourself to get through it. These surprising truths about grief will help you along the way:
- Nobody Has to Die For You to Experience Grief
Many people think of someone dying when they think of grief. While that’s certainly a significant cause of grief, it’s not limited to death. It’s normal to grieve the loss of something significant, and there aren’t any restrictions on the things or events that can cause grief.
You can grieve for any number of reasons, including:
- Loss of a pet or loved one
- End of a romantic relationship or friendship
- Job loss, change, or retirement
- Serious illness or disease in yourself or a loved one
- Loss of independence
- Change in living arrangements
- Any event that affects your safety or security
- Everyone Grieves Differently
The stages of grief are highly subjective, and your experience may be very different than someone else’s, even in similar circumstances. How you grieve depends on things like your personality, life experience, faith, and the significance of your loss. It also depends on how you handle your grief.
The stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You will likely experience each of these stages, though the order varies. There’s no rulebook on what you should feel and for how long in each stage. Some people don’t experience any of the stages and others go back and forth, with their grief coming in waves. The intensity increases with the significance of the loss.
Common symptoms of grief include:
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in weight
- Changes in appetite
- Aches, pains, nausea
- Lack of energy
- Trouble concentrating
- Questioning your religion, spirituality, life choices
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Isolation from others
- Feelings of fear, anxiety, helplessness, insecurity
- Guilt, anger, sadness, emptiness, loneliness mixed with occasional moments of happiness and joy
- It’s Okay to Not be Okay
You might feel like you need to be strong for other people in your life, or others might tell you to stay strong. Maybe you feel like you don’t have a right to grieve or that your feelings are silly or unwarranted. Perhaps you think you should get over something quickly.
The truth is, avoiding your feelings hinders the healing process and makes it harder to move on.
There’s a difference between holding your emotions in and waiting for an appropriate time to let them out. Find time to yell or cry, or express yourself through music, art, journaling, or whatever works for you. The only way to work through it is to let it out.
- Grief is Often Accompanied by Guilt
Guilt could easily be its own phase of the grieving process. You might find ways to blame yourself for your loss or maybe you feel guilty for surviving. Maybe you regret something you said or did, or you feel guilty for moving on or feeling joy. It’s normal to feel guilty and have regrets, but that doesn’t mean you’re to blame.
- Time Does Not Heal All Wounds
It’s not so much about the amount of time that passes, but rather what you do with it that determines how long your grieving process takes. The significance of the loss also matters. It may take you years to get over something that takes someone else a few short months.
Time is more about learning to cope and getting through it rather than getting over it. There’s not a defined length of time it should take, and truthfully, some things you will mourn forever.
Avoid giving yourself a deadline to process your grief, and don’t beat yourself up for long-term grieving.
- Acceptance Takes Effort
Accepting a loss is more complicated than admitting it occurred– and it doesn’t just happen.
Avoiding your pain only prolongs it, so find ways to properly grieve and do the work to get through it.
The best ways for you to cope may differ from what’s best for others, but there are some tried and true methods you can use or share with people closest to you in order to help a friend that’s grieving:
- Acknowledge your pain. Identify and name your feelings, whether that’s anxious, powerless, angry, sad, lonely, hopeless, etc. Sit with them, and find positive ways to cope with them.
- Know your triggers. Certain dates, events, locations, etc. can trigger grief. Plan ahead when possible. You might need to avoid certain things until you’ve had time to process your grief, although practicing your response ahead of time can help you through it.
- Learn about grief. One of the most effective ways to navigate something is to know as much about it as you can. Read books and articles, listen to podcasts, and talk to others to understand grief, effective coping mechanisms, and warning signs.
- Practice self-care. One of the most important things you can do while grieving is properly care for yourself. Get enough sleep, eat right, exercise. Stay connected with those who care about you. Maintain your hobbies and interests.
- Seek support. Lean on friends and family and accept their help when you need it.
- You Might Need Help Getting Through It
If your grief remains unchanged or intensifies over time, you may be experiencing complicated grief.
Complicated grief goes beyond normal grief. It prevents you from getting back to your daily life and the relationships that are important to you. It can cause you to isolate yourself and can lead to substance misuse, anxiety, depression, and other health conditions.
Consider seeking help from a mental health professional or support group if you experience the following:
- Trouble accepting the reality of your loss
- Feeling trapped in your grief
- Difficulty focusing on anything but your loss
- Self-destructive behaviors
- Suicidal thoughts or actions (NOTE: If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and is available 24/7.)
For more advice on coping with grief, check out the useful resources from BetterHelp: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/grief/.
Your reasons, coping mechanisms, and timeline are your own, and your grieving experience shouldn’t be compared to anyone else’s. If you acknowledge your grief and work through your feelings in a way that works for you, there can be life after grief.