One of the most painful experiences in life is losing someone or something you love. When we lose a significant person, job, ability, or time, we may feel lost and confused about how to move forward. Loss can cause a wide range of emotions, and grief is a natural process we all go through.
What Does Grief Feel Like?
Everyone goes through grief at some point in their lives, but it can be an overwhelming and stressful experience. As a result, it can be difficult to predict how we might respond to a loss, as it is an individualized experience. You may experience any of the following after a loss:
- Sadness or depression. After realizing the loss, you may isolate yourself and reflect on things you did with your loved one or focus on past memories.
- Shock, denial or disbelief. Following a loss, some people may find themselves feeling quite numb about what happened, as their minds protect them from pain. In the early stages of grief, shock serves as an emotional shield to prevent overwhelming feelings.
- Numbness and denial. After a loss, you may feel numb. It is natural and helps us to process what has happened at our own pace and not before we are ready. The problem arises when numbness is the only feeling we experience, and none of the other grief-related feelings can cause us to feel ‘stuck’ or ‘frozen’.
- Panic and confusion. When someone close to us passes away, we may wonder how we will fill the void left in our lives and may feel like our identities have changed.
- Anger or hostility. When we lose someone, it can seem unfair and painful. When you experience loss, you may feel angry or frustrated and seek to find someone or something to blame to cope.
- Feeling overwhelmed. It is common for people to cry a lot or feel as though they cannot cope when grieving. Some people worry that their feelings are so overwhelming that they cannot handle them. Over time, however, the intensity of grief tends to lessen, and people learn to cope.
- Relief. There are times when you may feel relieved upon the death of someone, especially when there had been a long illness, when someone was suffering when you were the person’s primary caregiver, or when your relationship was difficult. This is a normal response and does not mean you don’t care or love the person.
- Mixed feelings. Having a difficult relationship with a person may make you think that you will grieve less or cope better because you had a difficult relationship with them. You may instead experience a mixture of emotions like sadness, anger, guilt, and anything in between.
It is possible to feel all of these things, none of them, or just a few of them. After a loss, there is no right or wrong way to feel. Some people seek help immediately by expressing their emotions and talking to others, and others prefer to deal with things slowly and quietly. Everyone grieves differently and on their own timeline.
Reasons You May Experience Grief
Many people associate grief with losing a loved one, but any significant loss that completely alters your life’s trajectory – especially if it is unexpected – can cause grief.
Life events that often lead to grief include:
- Divorce and relationship breakups
- Chronic or terminal illness
- Loss of time
- Loss of a job or other financial security
- Death of a pet
- Loss of a friendship
- A miscarriage
- Loss of safety due to trauma or abuse
- Selling a family home
It may seem selfish to take care of yourself after a heavy loss, especially if other people around you are hurting and need support too. However, putting your mental health on the back burner can increase your chances of depression, anxiety, and other conditions. One of the most important ways to cope with grief and begin the healing process is to take care of your mental health.
Here are some tips to give yourself space to grieve a loss while prioritizing your mental health.
Mental Health Tips for Coping with Grief and Loss
- Allow yourself time to grieve.
The process of grieving is unpredictable, complex, and exhausting. Accepting that grief takes time is an integral part of grieving. Once you’ve given yourself time to heal, the heavy weight of grief will gradually lift, and you’ll develop the strength to move forward with your life and relearn who you are. Allow yourself grace if you need additional time and support to move on from grief.
- Spend time with people you trust.
After a significant loss, many people prefer solitude to reflect and process their emotions. If you need some time alone, take it. Be aware, however, that prolonged isolation can result in loneliness, which negatively impacts all aspects of your health. Whenever you’re ready, speak to friends, family, clergy, or other people in your community who make you feel safe – even if you’re only talking on a video call or sitting in a room together. The company of another human can offer much-needed comfort and emotional support.
- Don’t neglect your health.
Experiencing a loss is not just an emotional endeavor. It can also impact your physical health if you have trouble eating, sleeping, or staying active. Because our minds and bodies are so closely connected, meeting your basic needs, such as food, sleep, and exercise, during a grieving period can help you remain physically healthy and mentally stable.
- Get back into your hobbies (or discover a new one).
It’s normal to lose interest in social activities or hobbies after a loss. The benefit of channeling your interests is that it allows you to cope with grief while stimulating your body and mind at the same time. Taking part in hobbies that you enjoy can keep you physically and mentally active, whether you are painting, gardening, writing, fishing, kayaking, or cooking. Consider exploring a new hobby and learning something new if your old hobbies no longer interest you.
- Talk to a mental health professional.
You may feel lost when you lose someone or something important to you. There was a drastic change in your life path, and you don’t know which alternative path to take. It’s okay to feel this way. However, a long period of grieving can be a sign that you need additional support. By discussing your struggles with a mental health professional, you can express your emotions and learn tools to find your next path (or carve out a new one altogether).
Whether your loss is recent or happened a long time ago, our mental health providers at SF Stress & Anxiety Center are here to help you move forward through in-office or telehealth sessions and is dedicated to supporting you on your healing journey. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with our team.