“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.”
It strikes the mother who just realized her kid’s childhood is over, it strikes the 10th std student who realizes their school life is at an end, it strikes the person who was cheated on and then broken up with.
Grief is a natural emotional response to any sort of loss, both actual and perceived. Although it is conventionally seen as something that follows death, grief is much more.
It can be very scary to go through grief without knowing what it is. Think of grief as the body and mind’s way of processing the end of that which we consider significant. What is significant to us varies.
For some it could be moving to a new city, for others it could be the loss of childhood memorabilia.
In any case, grief isn’t something to be ashamed of, it isn’t an emotion that is to be avoided or suppressed; it is an emotion to be processed. Good grief!
So how do we recognize grief? Good question! Grief has a range of possible emotional and physical symptoms.
Physical symptoms like increased blood pressure, stress, muscular pain, digestive problems and migraines accompany stress responses. There can be a change in appetite and sleeping disturbances as well.
Studies (https://sanlab.psych.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/31/2016/08/A-87.pdf) show that emotional pain can literally be felt by our bodies, just like physical pain.
Emotional symptoms like anger, sadness, pity, guilt and shame can also creep up. It is important to note that these symptoms are preceded or succeeded by the perceived or actual loss in an individual’s life.
The defining characteristics of humanity find their origin in caring and feeling. We care about our family, we care about our partners, we care about our jobs, our fellow human beings. Grief is the risk we incur for caring and feeling. Then how do we cope with grief?
Patience and self-compassion:
Unfortunately, contrary to what all grieving people desire, there are no quick fixes to grief. Grief is a slow process and requires immense patience.
We are with ourselves all the time. And if we are not kind and compassionate towards our own selves, grieving becomes nigh unbearable.
So instead of chiding ourselves for not grieving fast enough, we can assure ourselves that we are doing the best we can and that we are proud of ourselves for how far we have come.
Self-assurance and self-compassion ensure that the one person who is with ourselves all the time is helping us instead of hurting us.
Additionally, our grieving process is unique to us. Each of us grieve in our own ways, and that’s okay too! Whatever floats your boat!
Seek out support from loved ones:
Grief can render us lonely. It can isolate us from the people who care the most about us. But it is these bonds that keep us afloat during the most difficult times.
Call that friend in the middle of the night! Talk to your mom! The people that know us best and care deeply for us are the reminders that jolt us back to reality.
Taking care of your physical needs:
As simple as this sounds, a person in grief completely engulfed by it can find even the most menial tasks like brushing their teeth and maintaining hygiene, unbearably effortful.
Grief is such a visceral process and takes up so much of the mindspace that physical needs like eating, sleeping and maintaining personal hygiene just fall off the to-do list. Therefore it is imperative to make conscious efforts to take care of our physical needs during the grieving process.
Identifying triggers and anticipating them:
Since our grieving processes are unique, what triggers our grief is also unique. For some it could be finding a personal belonging of your previous partner in your apartment, for others it could be visiting the same places alone.
It is helpful to identify our triggers and anticipate them. This can make dealing with grief easier.
For example, to catch a train, knowing the train number and knowing when it arrives at what platform help us get on the train. Similarly, knowing what aggravates our grief and anticipating them can help prepare us to deal with it.
Grief is not linear:
The five stages of grief- denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance- are a helpful identification tool.
It is helpful to keep in mind that even though this tool is helpful, it is not linear in nature. Stages can be skipped, or revisited. There is no right or wrong.
Denial can follow bargaining, and vice versa. It’s a good identification tool, not a good roadmap through the grieving process.
Grief is unavoidable in life. But the good news is, so is happiness and joy! Life’s varied flavors are what make each life unique. Each experience is unique and by definition, no man steps in the same river twice.
If you are grieving right now, as cliche as it sounds, there is an end. Life blossoms anew and spreads throughout our existence. We all may need help on the way so please feel free to reach out to your friendly neighborhood therapists!
As J.R.R Tolkein once wrote, “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”
If you or somebody you know struggles due to one or more of the attitudes/behaviors mentioned above, please reach out to us for professional help.