Grief is a natural reaction to a severe loss, like the death of a friend or relative. It is an emotional process you go through when you are adjusting to death, but grief is not reserved just for the loss of a person.
For instance, when you get divorced, you may need to mourn the loss of your marriage and the ideals or potential that is gone. Various types of trauma may trigger the grieving process as well. Working through the emotions following an accident or serious physical injury can also be similar to grief you experience after the death of a loved one.
The Stages of Grief
Grief is a mental and emotional process with a number of different components you’ll work through in your own time. No matter what event triggered your grief, you are likely to move through these five stages:
- Denial: The initial defense mechanism that kicks in when you learn of a death or severe loss is denial. You do not want to believe it has happened. You may try to ignore the information in front of you or isolate yourself from others who are experiencing the same loss.
- Anger: When experiencing grief, your anger may be directed at anyone or anything. You may be angry at someone that you see as responsible for the event or even just someone involved in it. Anger can also extend to people not involved in the situation and even inanimate objects.
- Bargaining: At some point in the grief process, you will go through the, “if only…” thoughts. If only we had tried harder. If only she had turned right instead. If only I had known. This is how most people create “bargaining” situations in their minds, trying to change the outcome. There is often guilt in this stage of grief as well.
- Sadness and regret: Sadness and regret – often referred to as the “depression” stage – are often part of grief. You may feel guilty for things you said or didn’t say, or things you did or didn’t do. You may also start to feel sorry for the time and energy your grief has taken away from others in your life. You might even think about your own death and what that would mean to your loved ones.
- Acceptance: Some people describe this stage as being able to live with the loss without grief disrupting their daily activities. It is not a feeling of happiness, but more of a resignation to what was lost and an intension to carry on without it.
These stages of grief do not always present in the same order. During your period of grief, you may also repeat one or more of the stages. Grief is a very personal experience, and each time you go through the grieving process can be unique.
When Grieving Leads to Depression
There is no set time period for the grieving process. In each instance, it takes as long as your body needs – physically and emotionally – to process your emotions and work through the grief to arrive at some form of acceptance. The longer the mourning process continues, however, the more likely it is to develop into clinical depression.
Specifically, the length of time you remain isolated in your grief can affect the transition to depression. When you do not get the support you require from other people, it can be harder to cope with the emotions you feel during a loss. This is also one reason we have funerals and other social rituals for mourning — they can help you reach the acceptance stage of grief and find the ability to move forward.
Am I Grieving or Depressed?
It can be difficult to tell the difference between grief and depression. There are some similarities with sadness and isolation that might indicate either condition. The true difference is in the severity of your symptoms. The sadness of grief comes in waves triggered by thoughts or stimuli of the loss. Over time, even if it is very slowly, the sadness of grief begins to go away. With depression, the sadness is always there. It can be like a wet blanket weighing you down even during pleasant activities. The severity of sadness in depression does not lessen.
Complicated Grief Disorder
The sadness and anger in complicated grief disorder also does not lessen. When experiencing complicated grief, you may become fixated on the loss and take on behaviors that exacerbate your pain. With complicated grief, people can even become self-destructive or suicidal.
Additionally, intense sadness can be accompanied by anger. The period of isolation may become extended, or you may not be able to accept what has happened. Forcing yourself to remain in a state of disbelief can be indicative of complicated grief disorder.
When It’s Time to Get Help
Grief can turn to depression or complicated grief, and it can threaten your overall well-being and quality of life. You want to be patient with yourself, allowing enough time to work through your grief naturally. At some point, though, you may need help dealing with your grief.
When you experience physical symptoms of depression, like insomnia or sudden weight changes, it is a good idea to seek help. If you have thoughts of suicide, reach out for help immediately. Brookhaven Retreat is a private recovery center for women where you can get the help you need with your grief or depression in a safe and comfortable environment.
Contact Brookhaven today for more information about recovering from grief.