Grief comes in many forms, and is a natural response to any type of loss. We grieve many things, sometimes on a daily basis! Common experiences would include loss of health, loss of job or career, or loss of loved ones – but anytime things change in our lives that we perceive as negative, there’s an opportunity to grieve. Grief is often misunderstood and it’s unfortunately not discussed as often as it should. In this article I break down a number of myths and common questions I get asked around grief and the grieving process.
Question: Are there different “levels” of grief?
Yes. There is what we call normal grief, and there is pathological grief. In normal grief, we experience sad thoughts and feelings that can come in waves that are followed by periods of relief. Pathological grief is a persistent state of a low mood and leads to a depressive state which you can feel “stuck” in.
In the depressive grief state people are often experiencing feelings of guilt and worthlessness, and are devoid of any joy or happiness. This can make it difficult to accept the loss or grief. When someone is in this state it’s often very helpful to have a counsellor help them navigate their grief.
Myth: Distract yourself from the loss
Anytime we have the opportunity to grieve, if we ignore that opportunity those negative feelings don’t go away. They can ferment and affect our health, relationships, career, and overall enjoyment in life. In order for you to be balanced and optimal, all aspects of your life need to be nurtured.
Distracting yourself by pouring all your attention into one area to keep yourself busy from the other area that’s causing you grief, can further add to the imbalance. This can result in stress, depression, anxiety, ill health, relationship issues, career and financial issues, and lack of enjoyment in life.
Question: Can grief make you physically ill?
Yes. Grief, especially grief that is not acknowledged and dealt with, can cause both emotional and physical negative effects. Emotional grief and the stress it causes activates your central nervous system (or your fight-or-flight response) in the same way it would if you were being attacked. Your brain releases cortisol (a stress hormone), adrenaline, and an increase in blood pressure.
Similarly to how your brain and body react to anxiety and depression, when experiencing grief the body doesn’t send the “all systems back to normal” signal and so your body is experiencing chronic stress which can cause a number of chronic medical conditions ranging from headaches, nausea, lack of energy to do anything, and stomach problems, to heart disease, chest pain, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and loss of purpose and passion.
Myth: There is a set time that you should grieve
Grief takes as long as it takes and there is no set time to grieve. One person’s experience is dependent on their own circumstances such as their beliefs, personality, environment, age, if they have emotional support, or if the loss is ongoing.
The notion that “time heals all wounds” is also inaccurate because a person’s experience through grief can not be controlled. Different situations or stimulations can trigger that grief again, even after a long period of time.
Question: What are the stages of grief?
Grief goes through a variety of stages but it is not a smooth or patterned process. Individuals will move back and forth through the different stages. And as mentioned above, situation or stimulations can trigger grief again, resulting in an individual moving back through some of the stages again. The stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance and we break each of them down further in Navigating the Stages of Grief.
Myth: You should grieve in private
Some cultures limit how long a person is allowed to grieve, or if they can grieve at all. The more grief is suppressed or denied, the longer one is stuck with it and they often experience greater stress and more negative emotional and physical symptoms.
When grief is allowed to be a natural part of life and moved through as the individual needs to without being stuck, then the sadness eases and the grief eases as daily life returns to a happier state.
There is also great value in connecting with people who care for the individual so they feel a sense of social support. Seeing a counsellor can also help if grief is interfering with daily healthy life to explore one’s emotions and experiences, to reset the central nervous system and balance the brain.
Question: How can a counsellor help support you through grief?
If grief is interfering with daily healthy life, then a counsellor can be helpful in helping you explore your emotions and experiences, helping you normalize them, and teach you coping strategies and skills.
Grief interfering with daily healthy life can look like a variety of things including difficulty getting to work or doing daily activities, negative ruminations, feeling depressed or anxious, blaming or criticizing self, having the emotional or physical negative effects that are not going away, feeling and thinking suicidal ideation, harming self, or just feeling stuck and wanting to prevent a build up of grief.
When I work with clients experiencing grief, I use and teach strategies that reset the central nervous system, balancing the brain which enables individuals to move through the various stages of grief more easily. These strategies include meditation, cognitive self-hypnosis, and NeurOptimal Neurofeedback. Positive Self-Hypnosis can also be taught so individuals can resolve grief in their life at home by themselves. If you are experiencing grief and would like a counsellor to help you navigate your experience, please book an appointment. I offer counselling and hypnotherapy in-person, over the phone, or online, as well as offer neurofeedback appointments in-person.