The 7 Stages Of Grief: What They Are And How They Affect You
Grief is an experience that most everyone encounters at some point in life. It can come in various forms, such as with the death of a parent, separation from a loved one, a change in a relationship or life role, moving to a new location, or when a serious illness occurs.
Experiencing grief is entirely natural, but it’s a process that can sometimes overwhelm us. Because many people will experience the stages of grief and loss, and unresolved grief can lead to unhealthy behaviors, learning to identify the stages of grief and ways to cope through each is a great way to begin the journey to healing after a loss or significant life change.
Everyone grieves differently, and many people may try to “put on a brave face” around others because grieving is a personal experience. Regardless of how you personally experience grief, the grieving process typically follows the stages outlined below in some way. So, read on to learn more about the seven stages of grief and how they affect us.
The Stages Of Grief
Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first introduced the “5 Stages of Grief” model in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. Her work with terminally ill patients inspired the book.
Through the years, Kübler-Ross's model for grief has been used to describe how terminally ill patients deal with grief and educate them on any loss or change of circumstance. Today, many sources cite seven or more phases of grief.
It's important to note that everyone experiences grief in their own way and that some people may not experience all the stages in order. It may be that you experience a few stages and then revisit a previous stage before moving forward. This is normal!
Grief is often what feels like a messy, never-ending process. There is hope, though, and understanding some of the stages can be the beginning to understanding that grief is not the end.
How Grief Can Affect You
The symptoms of grief present differently in everyone. They can manifest emotionally, physically, and/or socially.
Bereaved people may cry often but have trouble with expressing their feelings verbally. Feelings of depression are not uncommon, and they may become worse on significant days, such as the anniversary of a death or traumatic event or on holiday. When emotional symptoms are not resolved, anxiety and depression can become serious issues.
If the source of grief is related to a sudden, unexpected event, the individual may also experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Without proper education and help, those with severe emotional grief symptoms may turn to alcohol and/or substance use to cope.
Physical symptoms may include headache, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, or difficulty sleeping. Long-term physical symptoms may cause increased health disturbances, such as a compromised immune system or heart disease.
Social symptoms may manifest as a desire to be alone or to seclude oneself from others. Many people find it difficult to focus on day-to-day tasks that were once simple.
Understanding The Seven Stages Of grief
Although most sources list an "order" of grief stages, they may be experienced in a different order by different people. Also, some people experience the same stage more than once, depending on individual circumstances. If you think you may be experiencing these stages, you can find help by searching for "grief counseling near me" online.
Below is a list of the seven stages of grief and an overview of what may be experienced during each.
Shock And Denial: This initial phase of grief is when feelings of disbelief are most present. If the loss or change was unexpected, such as a tragic accident or unexpected death, it can leave the bereaved feeling numbed by the shock of the event. Some people describe this as feeling emotionally paralyzed, as if they know what has happened but can't seem to feel the reality of the situation.
Guilt And Pain: As shock from the grief loss begins to subside, those emotions are often replaced with the feeling of pain and regret. During this time, it is important to allow oneself to experience the pain and not hide it. As difficult as dealing with the pain of remorse is, it is a natural part of healing.
If you know someone experiencing this phase of grief, being a present source of comfort and support while grieving can be helpful.
Anger And Bargaining: When guilt begins to subside, many people begin to feel angry. During this stage, it is common for the bereaved to lash out at others. For example, if a parent loses a child, they become angry and question why their child died before them. Some people even blame the person who died and wonder how they could have left them. For the person who lost a job or a home, they may feel anger toward a boss or landlord for not being more considerate or giving them another chance. While this is an expected phase of grief, it's important to remember that poor behavior could result in damage to other relationships (personal and professional). Therefore, learning to release bottled-up emotions healthily is crucial.
When unexpected illnesses or accidents occur that do not immediately end in loss of life, many people try to "bargain" as a way of getting through the event. For instance, if a loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, a family may pray and say that they will give something in exchange for healing the hurt or deceased individual.
Depression, Reflection, And Loneliness: After the anger and desperation of bargaining begin to subside, the bereaved begin to reflect on the loss. During this time, the weight of the loss begins to take hold, and loneliness and depression may begin to surface. When these emotions begin to be felt, many people withdraw from others (social symptoms of grief) and say that they want to deal with things alone. While some alone time is good for everyone, it is also important to spend some time with others during the process of grief. If you feel grieved but don't feel comfortable talking to friends or other loved ones, there are alternative options for healthy support. You can talk with a licensed physician if you want to know more about the stages of depression and grief and what to do to address your mental health problems.
The Upward Turn: When the feelings of pain, guilt, and anger slowly lift, there seems to be an improvement in well-being. It's often described as the "upward turn" of emotions. Although the loss is still felt, it is not as difficult to manage its symptoms. Individuals tend to feel more hopeful about life and begin to find some measure of peace-related to the loss.
Reconstruction And Working Through: As emotions begin to settle and thought processes feel less scattered, it becomes easier to work through feelings, seek solutions for managing grief and life, and begin to set realistic goals for the future. Although this stage is still related to grief, it is associated with rebuilding the lives of the bereaved. Life begins to feel less tumultuous, and a focus on wellness, both physically and emotionally, can begin.
Acceptance And Hope: It's important to note that accepting a loss does not mean pretending as though it never occurred. It also does not mean instant happiness. However, it is an opportunity to deal with the reality of what has happened and learn ways of moving forward.
During this final stage of grief, thinking about the future and planning life with new goals absent the loss you've experienced is the focus. Although you may still feel pain or sadness, it becomes less crippling than it was at the beginning of the grief journey. This becomes a time to anticipate happiness again and to find joy in the experience of everyday living.
Ways To Cope With Grief
Experiencing grief can feel like a rollercoaster of emotions, at times. Feeling overwhelming despair or loss can make it difficult to deal with day-to-day life. However, there is hope for healing and regaining a sense of normalcy.
While each person deals with grief differently, there are some things you can do to help healthily cope with grief. These include:
Don't Suffer In Silence: While grief often causes individuals to feel there is no source for help or that no one understands, that is not true. You don't have to go through this process alone or keep your feelings bottled up. In fact, doing so may result in complicated grief resolution. Seeking a support system of friends or loved ones who are willing to listen to you and support you through grief will help you as you begin to heal and move on with your life.
- Express Yourself: Even if you do have people that you know you can talk to, it may not be easy (especially at first) to do so. If talking to personal friends is uncomfortable, you may find a source of encouragement by joining a grief support group. It can provide a way to release your thoughts and emotions and begin making sense of what has caused your grief.
- Be Intentional About Self-care: Although it may not feel like it, one person can provide you unconditional support during a period of grief. That person is YOU. It is not uncommon for the bereaved to ignore self-care during grief, especially if they are beginning to withdraw from others. Maintaining a healthy balance of rest, nutrition, and interaction with others can help relieve some of the difficulties associated with grief. Don't overwhelm yourself with tackling big projects or feeling like you need everyone to think you're okay. You are grieving. Take your time and care for yourself. Take a walk. Read a book. Relax in a bubble bath. Anything that focuses on recharging your body and mind will be helpful as you begin to process life with the reality of loss and change.
- Establish And Maintain A Routine: After a significant life change, especially one that is traumatic or unexpected, it is normal to feel anxiety or to feel like nothing is going "normally." Establishing a routine of common activities will help you stay focused as you try to navigate through grief. Simple things such as going to bed at the same time nightly, eating meals regularly, and spending time meditating can help you achieve a sense of control that will help relieve some of the common unsteadiness during the grief process.
- Avoid Harmful Behaviors: As previously mentioned, during times of stress those who are unable to process the emotions of the situation may resort to harmful behaviors, including substance use. If you feel the need to engage in unhealthy habits or behaviors, try to focus on more positive things. Talk to friends or loved ones and/or engage in some of the self-care activities mentioned above.
- Seek Professional Help: For many, the idea of seeking professional help feels uncomfortable. However, if you feel overwhelmed by grief or need to learn ways to cope effectively, a mental health professional or counselor could be a critical person to include on your path to healing. The right professional can help you process your emotions related to grief and help you create a plan of action to handle the days, weeks, and months to come.
Sources Of Help
Many people find comfort and help with processing grief by talking to friends, joining grief support groups, and working with a local mental health provider. You may also participate in online grief support. In addition to these sources, a growing trend among those needing help and support is using online counseling options, such as Regain.
Online therapy is a way of connecting with mental health professionals who are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to help facilitate effective healing. You won't need to sit in traffic on your way to an appointment or worry about running into people you know in the waiting room. The National Health Research Center conducted a meta-analysis of dozens of studies on internet-based therapy. They found that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy for the treatment of trauma, PTSD, grief, depression, and more.
Below are some reviews of Regain counselors from people experiencing similar issues.
"Michelle has been a wonderful listening ear as I have worked through the grief of losing my mother and issues in my relationship. She is very calm and understanding, letting me talk through my thoughts and not condemning them at all. I had appreciated her responding to me promptly, especially when I wasn't expecting a response."
"Buddy helped us get through a rough patch of our relationship. He listened to both sides and helped us bridge the gap. He is extremely compassionate, understanding, and empathetic. He has a wide scope of experience and provided insight into other topics, such as grief and loss. Talking to Buddy feels like talking to a good friend who really cares about you. I am so thankful to Buddy for how he helped us, and I highly recommend him to anyone looking for a counselor."
Grief is a personal, often complicated, journey that most of us experience at some point in life. Although the weight of grief can seem overwhelming at times, there is hope for recovery and for achieving happiness again. Self-care, connection with others, and the right help when needed can help healing occur.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Are The Seven Stages Of Grief?
The seven stages of grief are: shock and denial, guilt and pain, anger and bargaining, depression, the upward turn, reconstructing and working through, and acceptance and hope. It is important to note that the phases of grief can also be stages of loss. Stages of loss are what a person experiences when experiencing a specific type of grief related to a loss (of a loved one, a relationship, a beloved family pet, etc.). Stages of loss are typically used synonymously with phases of grief.
Are There Five Or Seven Stages Of Grief?
In 1969, a Swiss-American psychiatrist named Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published a book titled On Death and Dying. After years of working with terminally ill patients, she categorized grief into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In modern psychiatry, the five stages of grief are not the only model for grief, but it is the basis. Modern models have up to seven stages of grief, expanding upon the five stages presented by Dr. Kübler-Ross in 1969.
How Long Do The Stages Of Grief Last?
The stages of grief have no specified duration. The amount of time it takes an individual to progress through the stages is entirely dependent on how they personally handle the grief. One person may experience a full recovery from loss in several weeks. Another may not experience recovery for several years. One person may experience a loss and find themselves struggling to move past one of the stages; another may move quickly through them. Grief is grief, and the speed at which one moves through the stages is a personal and individual experience.
How Does Grief Affect The Body?
Grief can have varying physical effects on your body, depending on many different factors. However, several very common physical effects people experiencing grief report are:
- Difficulty sleeping: The stress from grief can take a toll on your body, and the feelings of pain and sadness can keep your mind running instead of shutting down when you are trying to fall asleep. This can lead to poor quality sleep, lack of sleep, or general fatigue despite sleep.
- Unhealthy Habits: Many people who experience a loss may pick up unhealthy coping habits during their grieving process. These habits can be dietary, behavioral, or anything that puts your body in a vulnerable position.
- Aches and Pains: The stress from a loss and the grief process can also cause aches and pains in your body. As your brain releases stress hormones because of your grief, these hormones affect the way your muscles work, effectively stiffening them and causing stress on your joints. These aches and pains will feel like soreness and cause your body to feel fatigued.
- Digestive System Trouble: Grief can cause a variety of habits to form regarding your diet and digestion. One person can experience a loss of appetite, which causes them to refrain from eating for extended periods of time. Others could find comfort in junk food or foods they know their body doesn’t digest well. Anxiety related to the stress hormones your body is producing can also cause irritable bowel syndrome or nausea. All of these issues can be caused by stress, and if you experience them, you may be able to find help from a licensed mental health professional.
- Lowered immune system: Stress hormones also affect your body’s ability to fight off diseases. If you notice yourself getting sick more often, or having a lingering cold, or other symptoms that you can’t seem to shake, it is best to seek the advice of a medical professional.
How Long Is A Healthy Mourning Period?
Truthfully, grief has no standard period. Oftentimes people don’t find themselves progressing through the phases of grief in a linear, straightforward way. Grief can be chaotic and unpredictable. So, give yourself time. Making an appointment with a licensed mental health professional is a great option if you do not see any progress with your grief or are having trouble moving through it.
What Does Grief Do To Your Brain?
When you experience a loss, grief causes your brain to develop an abnormal mix of hormones as you process the grief in different parts of your brain (emotionally in one part, physically in another, etc.). Stress hormones typically increase while dopamine (the chemical that levels out your mood and is typically associated with happiness) production struggles to keep up. As a result, you can begin to experience specific symptoms like a change in appetite, loss of healthy sleeping habits, or depressive-like symptoms.
How Long Does It Take To Go Through The Phases Of Grief?
There is no set period to determine how long it will take you to go through the phases of grief. Everyone’s experience with grief is different, so give yourself time and patience. Talking to a licensed mental health professional can help you if you feel stuck.
What Is Bargaining Grief?
One of the phases of grief is bargaining. Bargaining is what happens inside your mind when you attempt to rationalize whatever experience caused your grief. You may find yourself considering different scenarios of actions you could have taken, words you could have said, or things you could have done differently to prevent the loss or grief from occurring. The bargaining stage of grief follows the anger stage quickly in many cases. If your brain fails to rationalize the loss in the bargaining stage, you may experience a move from bargaining to the fourth stage of grief, which is depression (this depression can be any depression such as major depressive disorder, atypical depression, or situational depression. Specific instances can induce particular depression types, such as postpartum depression).
Can You Die From Grief?
While you cannot necessarily die from grief directly, grief and loss can cause physical health complications potentially resulting in death, such as a compromised immune system, increased risk of heart attack, and stroke. If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of physical complications related to grief, seek out a medical professional immediately.
Does Dying Hurt?
Truthfully, doctors don’t know what someone feels when they die. The dying process can be painful depending on the cause of death, but death itself is difficult to research. Some doctors theorize that a person loses consciousness before their actual death, which would indicate an inability to experience pain.
How Do You Help People Who Are Grieving?
The internet is full of resources that offer help to people in grief, such as different grief quizzes, grief groups, or contact information for licensed mental health professionals. If your friends or loved ones are going through grief, one of the best things you can do is support them and be present with them. Always encourage someone who is struggling to seek professional help.
What Are The Six Stages Of Grief?
Grief is something we experience when we lose a loved one, experience a traumatic event such as abuse or a natural disaster, or when we undergo significant life changes. Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross categorized grief into five stages. This grief model includes the denial stage followed by anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance as part of the grieving process. Individuals may experience stages at different lengths and in different order. Many models of grief in modern psychology have more or fewer stages, but the Kübler-Ross model of grief is the basis for most models.
Recently, author and grief expert David Kessler, who contributed to Kübler-Ross’ work in the past, published a new book adding the sixth stage to the essential grieving process. This final stage is meaningful. Most people seek closure after any loss. Finding meaning can help alter the way we process grief and loss while eventually moving forward with hope. Finding meaning in a loss is meant to connect an individual to the loved one they lost. The intention of finding meaning is to remember your loved one always with love instead of focusing on only the pain that the loss caused. Finding meaning is a way to honor your loved one’s life with happy memories filled with love.
What Stage Of Grief Is Blame?
Blame typically happens in the anger stage of grief and bereavement. Feelings of anger usually begin after the denial stage, according to models of grief. Anger is normal and often a necessary stage of grieving. Grief can cause an overwhelming range of emotions. When we have a loss in our lives, countless emotions are masked by anger. We often don’t know where to direct the anger, so we blame the world for the pain we are experiencing.
What Are The Three Stages Of Bereavement?
Bereavement, also known as grief, can be broken down into three stages. Within each stage, an individual will experience a range of emotions. Each of these stages is completely necessary for someone to cope with and overcome a loss. The three stages of bereavement are:
Numbness: This stage begins immediately after the loss occurs and can also be referred to as the denial stage in other models of grief. There will be feelings of denial where it doesn’t seem real, and the individual has difficulties accepting reality.
Disorganization: In the middle stage of grief, individuals experiencing loss will go through many different emotions. They can feel guilt, anger, extreme sadness. Some may even feel relief if they were a caretaker. This is then usually followed by guilt again for having these feelings. Essentially this stage is the disorganization of feelings. These feelings are completely normal and essential for the healing process. If you’re experiencing a loss, let yourself feel and release those feelings.
Reorganization: The last stage may take time to get to, but this stage is all about acceptance and finding meaning. During this last stage of bereavement, individuals will start to go back to a routine and their normal life. They may find happiness in things more easily. They start to have hope and a more positive outlook on life. Their loved ones' death doesn’t consume their thoughts. This stage is the final stage of the healing process. It doesn’t mean they’re not sad or don’t miss their loved ones anymore, but they’ve come to terms with the loss and choose to remember them with love.
How Do You Accept The Loss Of A Loved One?
To accept the loss of a loved one, one must allow oneself to move through all the stages of grief and accept the grieving process. These stages of grief and bereavement typically are the denial stage followed by anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance, and meaning. These stages and symptoms of grief are a normal part of the healing process.
Everyone experiences these stages at a different rate and potentially in a different order. It’s perfectly okay for an individual to take their time to mourn. It may help to remember all the good things about this person you’ve lost and how they impacted your life. Honor them by continuing a project they started and couldn’t finish.
Children grieve differently than adults do. If your child is grieving the loss of a loved one, it’s important to talk to them and note their symptoms of grief to make sure they are coping with the loss in a healthy way. Coping with the loss of a loved one and feelings of unresolved grief can be extremely difficult. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, experiencing complicated grief symptoms, and having difficulties coping, reach out to friends or family. Grief can be overwhelming but remember you are not alone.
A licensed therapist or grief counselor is another great outlet for offering professional guidance and grief support for those experiencing a loss. They can help you work through your feelings of grief and healthily process them.
Grieving the loss of a loved one can be difficult. Feelings of grief and bereavement put us under a lot of emotional stress, affecting our bodies, organs, and immune system. Our bodies and minds are a two-way connection, and symptoms of grief ultimately put stress on our bodies. Those experiencing a loss can become sick more often, and it can worsen existing conditions. Losing a loved one can also cause extreme feelings of sadness. This is completely normal and part of the grieving process, but for some, they can become depressed if they have unresolved grief and bereavement.
Symptoms of depression include insomnia, extreme hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, feelings of worthlessness, and isolating oneself. If you or someone you know is grieving a loss and exhibits any of these symptoms of depression or complicated grief, it’s important to seek help. A trusted professional can help. If you are having thoughts of suicide, reach out to someone right away. They can be reached online or by phone at 1-800-273-8255.
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