Even Positive Changes Can Trigger Grief and Loss
Spring is a time for changes, renewals and new beginnings. It can be a very positive time for people and families. The community begins to come alive again with outdoor sports, yard work, and gardening. Major changes for our children are right around the corner with another school year finishing, summer jobs, and for the seniors, graduations.
I know we usually discuss grief and loss around the death of a loved one or even during a separation and divorce, but we also experience this in other events where a “letting go” is required. Anytime something significant is taken away from us, we can grieve. This grieving process can trigger a variety of unfamiliar and confusing emotions and behaviors.
For most of us, we find a way to move through our grief and find our new normal after a loss. However, at other times, it can be complicated and confusing. This is especially true if you move beyond normal grief into complicated grief or depression. Below are signs or symptoms of normal grief of any event.
Physical Symptoms: Crying spells; lack of energy or drained; changes in sleeping or eating patterns; general feelings of melancholy
Emotional Reactions: numbness; sadness; irritability and anger; guilt; anxiety or fear
Behaviors: withdrawn; less productive; jumpy or fidgety; inattentive; difficulty concentrating; confusion; memory problems; seeing or hearing the deceased
Over time, you will feel a gradual reduction in of the symptoms listed above as you begin to accept the loss and adjust to the change and a new sense of normalcy.
During our grief, it is too easy to slip into bad habits. This is a time to maintain your health by maintaining a healthy diet, as well as limiting if not avoiding caffeine and nicotine. Getting plenty of rest, exercise and regular social support is vital to working your way through the grief process.
Many of you may be familiar with the Stages of Grief introduced in the late 1960’s by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross describing a person moving from denial, anger and blaming, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. People often make the mistake in thinking this is a linear process and if they are not moving through them, then something is wrong.
If only it were linear and simplistic as that.
While we do experience these states throughout the process of grief, they are not exact or independent of the others and we will cycle back and re-experience the conditions. Kubler-Ross even described it as a “roller coaster” effect while moving through the grief.
I am often asked, “What is a reasonable time to experience grief/loss?” There is not a simple answer to that question and what I often say is, “It depends.” What I mean by this is it all depends on the situations, the people, the relationship, the closeness to the events or persons, etc. We all experience loss in our own ways and there is not a “normal” way of doing grief. However, if symptoms become worse, more like those listed below and these worsened symptoms last for 6 months or more, this is described as complicated grief.
Physical Symptoms: continued sleep problems due to nightmares; significant weight loss or gain; physical symptoms or somatic complaints related to the loss
Emotional Reactions: prolonged hostility and aggression; irrational fears, phobias or panic attacks; a yearning for what/who was lost
Behaviors: continued loss of interest in activities; avoidance of tasks that are reminiscent of the loss; increased withdrawal and isolation from social relationships; self-destructive behaviors
Please be cautious, experiencing some of these symptoms for only a short time may not indicate complicated grief. The experience may fall within expected reactions to a loss.
However, if you or someone you know seems stuck in their grief process and several months go by with little or no progress, professional counseling may help. If it is left untreated, the studies suggest that complicated grief is associated with clinical depression, suicidal thoughts or actions, substance abuse, strained relationships, and cardiovascular illness.
Grief is often mistaken for depression and understandably so. However, the key distinction for depression is the emotions of sadness, sorrow, guilt, and irritability are related to all areas of the person’s life. Grief is more related to the specific loss one has experienced. Also with depression, the emotions are more of a constant condition rather than coming and going as is typical with grief.
It is possible to be experiencing both grief and clinical depression. Actually, prior depression increases the likelihood of depression following a loss, as does a lack of social support and few experiences of loss. If this is happening for you or someone you know seek professional help of a therapist and/or a physician to begin treatment.
The purpose of the article this month is my way of saying goodbye to three of the best interns/post-graduates we have had at Running Creek Counseling.
It has struck me, with all of you leaving within the same month, how important their role in my life has been. I am extremely excited and happy for all of them as they move into the next phase of their professional careers and how much more they will experience. However, I am experiencing the loss and sadness of losing great people and the time we spent together.
It has been a pleasure and an honor getting to know, teach and learn from each of them.