The 7 Stages Of Grief: What They Are And How They Affect You

Updated November 14, 2022 by ReGain Editorial Team

Grief is an unfortunate experience that everyone encounters at some point in life. It comes in various forms, such as with the death of a loved one, a change in a relationship or life role, 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 try to “put on a brave face” because grieving is a personal experience. Still, 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.

Grief Is Something We All Go Through - But We Don't Have To Do It Alone

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 inspired the book with terminally ill patients.

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 7 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 not be able to express their feelings. 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 7 Stages of Grief and an overview of what happens during each stage.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 will be helpful. During this time, those who feel unable to handle the guilt and pain often turn to alcohol or other substances to avoid feeling the pain.

  1. 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, she may blame God and question why her child died before she did. Some people even blame the person who died and wonder how he/she could have left them. For the person who lost a job or a home, he may feel anger toward a boss or landlord for not being more considerate or giving him 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 tell God that they will give something in exchange for healing.

  1. 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 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 alternate options for healthy support.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 focus on wellness, both physically and emotionally, can begin.
  4. 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 suffered 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 a way to regaina sense of normalcy.

While each person deals with grief differently, there are some things you can do to help healthily cope with grief.

  • 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.

Grief Is Something We All Go Through - But We Don't Have To Do It Alone

  • 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 will provide you 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 will 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.
  • 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 process 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. Below are some reviews of ReGain counselors from people experiencing similar issues.

Therapist Reviews

"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."

Conclusion

Grief is a personal, often complicated, journey. It is something everyone experiences 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 helpwhen needed can help healing occur.

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