What Is Grief? Types And Symptoms 6 Tips For Healing

Grief, that potent cocktail of emotions that washes over us after loss, is a universal human experience. It’s a complex process that manifests in many forms, and understanding its types, symptoms, and healthy healing pathways can be crucial for navigating this difficult time. This blog post will delve into grief, explore its various guises and the emotional and physical signs it presents, and offer six practical tips to help you find solace and heal.

What Is Grief?

Grief is the natural response to loss, a wave of emotions that crashes over us when something or someone important is taken away. It’s a deeply personal experience, encompassing a wide range of feelings, from searing sadness and anger to disbelief and guilt. Coping with grief is a journey, not a destination, and there’s no right or wrong way to navigate it. The important thing is to acknowledge your emotions, seek support, and allow yourself to heal at your own pace.

Stages Of Grief

While commonly referenced, the five stages of grief, developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, are not a linear progression. People may experience these stages in any order or even concurrently.


This initial stage is a coping mechanism, a way to shield oneself from the immediate pain of loss. It might involve disbelief or a sense of detachment from reality.


As denial fades, anger often takes its place. The anger can be directed at oneself, the person or situation that caused the loss, or even the world.


To regain control, bargaining involves pleading for a different outcome. This could be promises or actions taken in exchange for reversing the loss.


This stage is characterized by intense sadness, loneliness, and exhaustion. A deep sense of loss and a withdrawal from life can occur.


Acceptance is not about forgetting the loss or pretending it didn’t happen. Instead, it’s about acknowledging the reality of the situation and finding a way to move forward while carrying the memory of what is lost.

Symptoms Of Grief

Physical Symptoms

Grief doesn’t just manifest itself emotionally. It can also wreak havoc on your body. Physical symptoms of grief can include fatigue, headaches, nausea, weight gain or loss, aches and pains, and changes in sleep patterns (either sleeping too much or too little). These are all normal responses to the stress and emotional turmoil that grief can cause.

Emotional Symptoms

Grief is an emotional rollercoaster. It can bring on a wave of profound sadness, leaving you feeling utterly lost. But within that sadness, there can also be a strange sense of relief, mainly if the loss followed a long period of suffering. 

Guilt, apathy, and anger are all common emotions during grief, and the deep loneliness that can set in can be overwhelming. You might experience intense longing for what you’ve lost and sharp pangs of regret. It’s important to remember that there’s no right or wrong way to feel while grieving. Feeling numb or emotionally vacant is a valid response to this complex experience.

Behavioral Symptoms 

Grief can also cloud your mental clarity. Confusion, difficulty making decisions, and loss of hope or direction are all common behavioral symptoms. You might struggle to focus on tasks or need help recalling things. 

This can be particularly frustrating, but being patient with yourself is essential. Grief can also lead you to question your long-held beliefs about religion or spirituality as you grapple with the nature of loss and the unknown.

Types Of Grief

Anticipatory Grief

A sudden loss does not always trigger grief. Anticipatory grief is the emotional response to an expected loss, allowing you to mourn before it happens. This could be facing the death of a loved one with a terminal illness or even preparing for the end of your own life. It’s not just death-related, though; anticipating a significant life change, like a divorce, or witnessing a loved one’s decline with a progressive disease can also trigger anticipatory grief.

Ambiguous Loss

Grief is only sometimes clear-cut. Ambiguous loss describes situations where closure is absent, making the grieving process more complex. This can happen after events like divorce, estrangement, or even natural disasters where loved ones go missing. The uncertainty surrounding the loss can make it harder to move forward.

Complicated Grief

Grief doesn’t always follow a neat timeline. Complicated grief, affecting around 7% of bereaved adults, occurs when intense grief symptoms linger for a year or more, significantly impacting daily life. People with complicated grief may be preoccupied with the loss, experience overwhelming emotions, deny the loss, or feel a sense of purposelessness. Sleep disturbances, suicidal thoughts, and physical health problems can also arise. Thankfully, there is help. Treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), antidepressants, and support groups can provide relief and guide you on the path toward healing. If you’re struggling with complicated grief, remember you’re not alone, and reaching out for help is a sign of strength. You can find support through the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.

Disenfranchised Grief

Not all grief is treated equally. Disenfranchised grief occurs when someone’s mourning is minimized or dismissed. This can happen after losing a pet, a pregnancy, or a loved one in unusual circumstances, like incarceration. The lack of understanding or social support can make this type of grief even more challenging to bear.

Coping With The Grieving Process: 6 Tips

Coping with grief is a profoundly personal journey, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Allow yourself to feel your emotions and seek support from loved ones or a therapist. Many helpful resources are also available, including books about coping with grief that offer guidance, empathy, and practical strategies for navigating this difficult time.

1. Talk with trusted people

Grieving doesn’t have to be a solitary journey. Leaning on trusted friends and family can be a powerful source of strength. Sharing your pain with loved ones who care can lighten the emotional load. Remember, reaching out for support isn’t a burden; it’s a sign of courage and a step toward healing.

2. Practice self-care

Prioritizing self-care during grief is crucial. While it won’t erase the pain, it equips you to cope and heal. Focus on getting quality sleep, allowing yourself rest when needed, and nourishing your body with healthy foods. Exercise is also a powerful tool, and incorporating activities like yoga or meditation can provide much-needed relaxation during this challenging time.

3. Attend grief counseling or grief therapy

Consider seeking professional support from a grief counselor or therapist. Grief counseling provides a safe space to process your loss and navigate the complex emotions that arise. Therapists can utilize techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy or art therapy to help you manage complicated feelings and gradually rebuild a sense of normalcy in your life.

4. Stick to a routine

As you navigate grief, establishing a routine can be a powerful tool. Consistency in everyday activities, like going to bed and waking up at similar times or scheduling meals, can provide a sense of normalcy and stability during this unpredictable emotional time. This structure can help you feel more grounded and in control as you learn to accept and move forward from your loss.

5. Join a bereavement support group

You don’t have to walk the path of grief alone. Bereavement support groups offer a sense of community and shared understanding. Connecting with others who have experienced loss can lessen the loneliness of grief and provide valuable emotional support. These groups can also be a source of information and practical strategies, all while reducing feelings of distress.

6. Feel your feelings

Grief, a natural response to loss, can be a powerful surge of emotions. Don’t try to bottle them up. Feeling all the messy emotions – sadness, anger, guilt – is essential to processing grief and eventually moving forward.


What is prolonged grief disorder?

In some cases, grief can become overwhelming and persistent. Prolonged grief disorder, affecting 7-10% of bereaved adults, is a condition where intense sorrow and preoccupation with loss interfere with daily life. It can involve feelings of emptiness, emotional numbness, and a disrupted sense of identity.

What is the most universally experienced symptom of grief?

Profound sadness is considered the hallmark of grief because it’s the most common and intense emotion experienced after a loss. This sadness can manifest in many ways, including emptiness, despair, longing, or deep loneliness. It’s a natural response to losing someone or something important.

What is bargaining in grief?

Bargaining in grief is a way of trying to negotiate with a higher power or yourself to undo the loss or change the situation. It’s a common coping mechanism where you might make promises or plead for a different outcome.


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