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If you or a loved one has recently dealt with a loss, it can be extremely helpful to learn about the grieving process and how it works. For most people, the experiences of trauma, stress, and the consequent grief can be overwhelming. It usually affects their physical and mental health, impacts sleep and appetite, and makes it difficult to function at their best. Many develop depression, anxiety, and trauma symptoms, such as nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and disconnection from self.

In such circumstances, educating yourself about the stages of grief and how a person uniquely experiences them can help increase self-understanding and build compassion. It can also help one understand their needs and enable them to work on getting them met.

The five stages of grief have been developed by a psychiatrist named Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. The theory suggests that every person goes through five distinct stages after experiencing a loss. These stages are briefly outlined below:

Denial

Many people feel numb in the early days following a loss, while others may carry on as if nothing has happened. Even if they know in their minds that someone has died, it can be tough to believe that they are not coming back. In the denial stage, many people may report feeling the presence of their departed loved one, hearing their voice, or even seeing them around.

Anger

It is entirely normal to feel angry soon after someone dies. Death can seem unfair and cruel, especially if someone leaves before their due time or you have plans to spend the future with them. Some people may feel angry towards their loved ones, while others direct these feelings towards themselves for things they did or did not do before their loved one’s death.

Bargaining

When someone is in pain, it may become difficult for them to accept that there is nothing they can do to change what has happened. Hence, many people may start bargaining with themselves or with God in an attempt to feel better. Others go over the things that happened in the past and raise many “what if” questions, wishing that they could go back in time and change things.

Depression

Sadness is what most people think of when they talk about grief. The pain can be highly intense and may come in waves lasting for months or years. Some people may lose the meaning of life.

Acceptance

Grief can easily make anyone believe that nothing will ever be suitable for them in life. However, the pain gradually eases in reality, and many people accept what has happened to them. While completely getting over the death of someone precious is not always possible, people learn to live again while keeping their memories close to their hearts.

Because each person mourns differently and for different reasons, it is possible for a person to feel as if their grieving process is not going the way it should be. In such circumstances, remember that there are no set norms for how to grieve, and there is no right or wrong way of coping with a loss.

Below are some of the most common misconceptions that may cross your mind as you judge your or someone else’s way of grieving.

“I am doing it wrong.”

Many people falsely believe that there is only one way to process grief. In reality, when we talk about recovering from a loss, there is no right or wrong way of doing it. Grieving does not involve a definitive list of phases or steps, and even the models of grief presented by experts are only a guideline to understanding the process better. Not everyone sticks to these models, as overcoming grief is a multidimensional journey unique to every person.

“I am not feeling the right emotions.”

As mentioned before, not everyone is likely to go through all stages of grief. Similarly, different people may feel different emotions as they overcome a loss. For example, for some people, the state of depression may predominantly include feelings of sadness, while others may experience irritability. Similarly, the denial phase may consist of a sense of disbelief and shock instead of an expectation that something will fix the loss.

The emotions we use to contextualise the stages of grief can be diverse for different people. Some may not even experience them at all, which does not indicate that their healing journey is incorrect.

“This stage should go first.”

Keep in mind that there is no linear order when it comes to stages of grief. You may move along them one by one or keep going back and forth. Someday, you may feel downright depressed, wake up hopeful and motivated the next day, and then go back into depression the day after. It is even possible to have mixed emotions at some point. For many people, denial is not always the first emotion they experience the following grief.

“This is taking too long.”

Coping with a loss is a purely singular and personal experience, and multiple factors may affect how long it takes you to process it. Some people may successfully navigate through grief in a few days, while others may take much longer. Hence, it is not advised to set any deadlines for your process of overcoming grief, as it will happen in its due course. However, experts recommend keeping an eye on the intensity and frequency of your emotions, and in case of a severe or rapid increase in it, professional support must be sought. 

“I think I have developed depression.”

Depression is one of the five stages of grief, but despite its symptomatic similarities with clinical depression, both conditions are not comparable. For example, in grief, the symptoms of sadness and depression tend to lessen in frequency and intensity as time goes by. On the other hand, the symptoms of clinical depression never improve without professional treatment and are likely to worsen with time. While it is possible for a grieving person to feel sad while reliving the happy moments in the past, an individual with clinical depression may rarely feel any happiness or pleasure. However, remember that there is always a possibility of developing clinical depression as you grieve. If you notice your emotions becoming progressively intensive in frequency and intensity, reach out for help.

It can be challenging to know what to do or say to someone who has undergone a considerable loss. Following are a few tips to keep in mind for supporting a person through the five stages of grief:

Avoid fixing or rescuing

Some people may pass encouraging comments or use humour to ease a grieving person’s pain or fix things for them. While their intention is positive, this approach is likely to make a grieving person believe as if their pain is not heard, seen, or validated.

Do not force them

In an attempt to help a grieving person, you may nudge them to talk and yell out their emotions before they are ready for it. While it may seem that this act will help them heal faster, it can sometimes be an obstacle to their recovery.

Make yourself accessible

It is critical to give people adequate space to grieve. However, let them know you are available to lend an ear whenever they are ready. It is a good idea to invite them to talk but remember to understand and validate them if they are not prepared for a discussion yet. Remind them that you are here for them and emphasise that they do not need to hesitate in asking for support.

If you or someone you know has been experiencing intense grief and do not know how to manage it, getting professional help is advised. Other instances where you may consider seeking help from a professional include the following:

  • You need to get back to work or school but are unable to go about your daily tasks, for example, due to trouble concentrating
  • You are experiencing physical pain or discomfort
  • Your emotions seem to be becoming more frequent and intense instead of lessening with time
  • You have started missing your medications and meals because you don’t feel like doing anything
  • You are the main source of support or guardian for someone else, for example, you are a single parent
  • You are thinking about self-harm or hurting others

Remember that you do not need to go through grief on your own. Professional help is always available to make the process easier for you. Contact a rehab today to start healing.

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