People often relate feelings of grief and loss to when they have experienced the death of a loved one but it doesn’t only pertain to that type of loss. Sometimes it can be helpful to recognize other areas of life that can cause us to go through this so that we may find comfort and recovery.
Most people are likely aware that when someone passes away we can experience a period of grief and loss that has a tendency to go through stages. What we often overlook is when people experience grief and loss when it has nothing to do with anyone’s passing. Loss of any kind can trigger these feelings as well, such as the loss of a job, familiar community, or medical issues. Sometimes this can also occur even when something positive has come into your life but requires you to make significant compromises such as being relocated to a new area or finding recovery from an addiction.
It’s not uncommon for people to seek help until they have been in a long period of grieving and have been feeling depressed or feeling as though their life has no direction. It can be very difficult to find hope for a change that is meaningful when experiencing grief. If you have been feeling down or finding it challenging to move forward with your life perhaps you have been stuck in a cycle of mourning. While we are all very different in how we manage changes in life it’s possible many of us can relate to some stages of grief.
The first stage of grief relates to feelings of denial. Denial that there is a problem or that it’s happening to you. It’s not uncommon for this stage to be fairly short in comparison to other stages of grief, such as anger- which typically is the next feeling in stages of grief. Some people may spend a great deal of time sitting with anger when a significant event has occurred. News of a medical diagnosis for example- and it doesn’t just mean physical illness, it can relate to mental health as well. Having to feel like taking medications for a lifetime can feel like a life sentence rather than an opportunity to live a more manageable life. You may even be going back and forth in stages of denial mixed with anger. There is no definitive line that indicates you have moved onto a different stage of grief but it can be helpful to recognize these things especially if they have been impacting your day-to-day needs and responsibilities.
These beginning stages of grief can also be an open gate to bringing in negative behaviors such as drinking, drugs, promiscuity or other risky behaviors. If someone close to you has had significant news or events happen to them it may be helpful to be aware of an increase in negative behaviors. Unfortunately, for some, these negative behaviors may impact them for a lifetime and can potentially struggle for quite some time. Early intervention is critical when significant things happen in our lives. It can be easy to also dismiss things and feel as though you or another will “just snap out of it.” Feeling helpless during this time may also be coming up and can lead to a feeling of hopelessness.
A sense of bargaining can also begin to happen where you start pondering the “What if’s” in an effort to figure out if things could have been different. This stage can also carry guilt about a decision or past actions even when there may be no logical or rational way to explain or justify things. In example, if you have faced a job loss, you may be wondering if you had done something wrong when the company may have needed to make cutbacks. You may even be asking yourself why you didn’t pursue other career options. It’s very easy to place blame on yourself when tragedy occurs which can impact your future choices, such as being confident in moving forward.
Depression is the stage of grief that may motivate you or others to start seeking help. Since we all manage things very differently, you may not be aware that what you are going through is depression. It is also possible you may be experiencing anxiety along with sadness. If you have been having sleep problems (too much or too little), issues with appetite (lack of or over-eating), avoiding social opportunities, or finding yourself crying often- it’s possible you are experiencing a depression. It can feel like things are just never going to get better but there are many ways to get yourself started in getting back on your feet.
Talk to a doctor or friend about how you have been feeling. Asking for help or even acknowledging there is a problem is a big and courageous step toward recovery. It can also take some time to start feeling better so work on allowing yourself to be patient with progress. For severe depression you may want to seek psychiatric intervention and consider medication options. Look for a doctor who specializes in grief and loss or depression. Seeking medication support does not necessarily mean having to take it for the rest of your life. A reputable doctor can help you figure out what will work best for you. You may also want to seek additional help from a therapist to help you learn to process what you are experiencing and feeling.
Other ways you can help yourself is to start working on at least one area of your life you want to change, such as sleep or appetite. If you have been unable to eat- make a commitment to have one healthy meal. The same for over-eating- evaluate the foods you have been eating- sugar and other non-healthy foods are easy to gravitate to as they can provide comfort in some of us. In some scenarios, an increase in sugary foods can create a “high” that is short-lived. As they say, “what goes up, must come down” and that sugar binge will create a devastating cycle that only perpetuates depression so that you experience a series of highs and lows.
If you have been struggling with sleep- take a look at your sleep hygiene- how well you are keeping with a routine and avoiding certain activities close to bedtime. If you are over-sleeping, you may want to consider developing a set sleep and wake time. Try not to be too hard on yourself if your first attempts to make changes don’t happen the way you envisioned. We all need to start somewhere and the fact that you have a desire to change something is the greatest step you can take. If you have not been sleeping- be mindful of activities such as watching tv, playing games, caffeine, and even late-night exercise that may be contributing to keeping you awake. Develop a routine for any middle of the night wake up times by avoiding overstimulation- from tv, using your phone or computer. Instead opt to do light reading, writing in a journal, coloring in a coloring book, or meditations.
Practicing mindfulness can also be helpful as this will help you focus on something specific. If your nights are riddled with replaying thoughts over and over in your mind this can mean you are dealing with anxiety. The same goes for if you have been avoiding people and situations. If you have been unsuccessful in developing coping strategies that have been helpful it may be time to seek additional help from a counselor or therapist. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one type of therapy that people can find to be beneficial. It is a way to help reprogram your negative and worrisome thoughts and switch irrational into more rational thinking.
By getting support from others you may be able to find acceptance- which is the final stage of grief. No two people are alike though so if you are trying to help someone feeling lost in grief, remember that your way of grieving will not be the same as another person. Individuals may find they go through some of the stages back and forth or even skipping some of the stages so it may not be as easy to detect. The important part of grieving is to be aware of whether it is affecting other areas of life and to seek help when necessary. It may be difficult to accept that you need help at first but more than likely once you get connected with support, such as with a therapist, you may find a great sense of relief as dealing with grief can also feel burdensome.
Sheilagh is an Artist and Art Therapist who believes in healing with art and creativity.