You Can Get Help for Grief
Did you know that your brain function can suffer when you’re experiencing grief? That’s right, grief is more than a feeling. It can disrupt your hormones and impact your mental health in real and noticeable ways. People often say after a loss that, “I just don’t feel like myself.” That is because grief alters your body, mind, and emotions for much longer than people believe that it “should.”
Managing grief and loss on your own is challenging. Why aren’t you trying to get help? Is the stigma against mental health treatment holding you back? Have you always been told to keep a “stiff upper lip?” or that you “should be over it by now?” Are you berating yourself because you “can’t just let it go?” There are many harmful myths about grief that are helpful to understand.
We’re here to talk about why you deserve and need help when you’re moving through the grieving process. Read on to learn more.
Why am I feeling this way? How grief affects your brain.
Your brain (nervous system-meaning your whole body, mind & emotional states) is impacted by loss in the same way as it is impacted by trauma. Lisa M. Schulman, MD a neurologist that studies grief and brain function states, ““Grief is a normal protective process. This process is an evolutionary adaptation to promote survival in the face of emotional trauma.” Dr. Schulman has noted that “This response engages the fight or flight mechanism, which increases blood pressure and heart rate and releases specific hormones.
Grief and loss affect the brain and body in many different ways. They can cause changes in memory, behavior, sleep, and body function, affecting the immune system as well as the heart. It can also lead to cognitive effects, such as brain fog. The brain’s goal? Survival.” Grief counseling and therapy can support your system in turning off the flight, fight or freeze survival responses and returning to a state of equilibrium.
Is Having a Grieving Period Wrong?
There is absolutely nothing wrong or unhealthy about having a mourning or grieving period. This is a natural process. As a matter of fact, if you don’t feel like you’re experiencing grief in a situation in which grief would be natural, that could be indicative of a problem, and you should consider getting help. However, a grieving period does not have a timeline. There is not set period of time in which you will no longer feel loss.
There is no one wrong or right way to grieve. Some people focus on tasks and responsibilities in order to return to “normal life,” while others take time to feel their emotions and commiserate with others. People are often confused by how they may respond differently to different losses. There is not set way that any individual will experience grief. It’s perfectly natural for it to be different every time it happens.
Grief is traditionally thought to happen in several stages. The traditional stages of grief are:
What we now understand now is that grief is a cycle, not a stage. These are certainly feelings that you might feel, or you might not. You can expect that you will have many emotions. You can experience multiple things quickly or they can seem like forever. In other words, if you’re experiencing a variety of emotions during the grief process it’s completely normal. That doesn’t, however, mean that you don’t deserve to seek out help. These emotions are challenging and it’s helpful to work through them with someone who understands what grief is like.
What Are the Common Symptoms of Unmanaged or Prolonged Grief?
Grief becomes problematic when someone is unable to manage their symptoms. It’s normal to feel the impacts of grief and many emotions after loss. You hopefully can return to engaging with life and meeting your needs within a reasonable amount of time. This doesn’t mean you won’t be changed by the loss or need to do things differently. There is cause for concern if you can’t do the basics of self-care such as eating, bathing, occasionally connecting with others, working, etc. after some time has passed.
A common misconception about grief is that you must keep feeling it to show that you loved the person enough to keep feeling grief. People often can feel that if they don’t hold onto the pain that it means that they don’t care or that they will forget the person. It’s natural to miss someone for a very long time and feel the pain of loss, your whole life perhaps. Missing someone is not the same as keeping yourself in the most painful parts of grief so that you don’t forget them. Grief works on its own timeline. You can prolong the process with good intentions, but it is not necessary. You can have support through the hardest parts, continue with life, and honor and remember your loved ones and what was important to you all at the same time.
There are mitigating circumstances that can impact what grief will look like for you. Underlying mental health conditions, for example, will often prolong the grieving process.
What symptoms are associated with unmanaged grief?
First, it’s common to experience behavioral and mood changes. People who are grieving may find themselves withdrawing from their friends and family members, even if they logically know that socializing will help them through the grieving process.
It’s also not uncommon for people to experience serious mood swings. People who are grieving often oscillate between anger and sadness, and this can impact the way that they respond to the people around them. Changes in moods are common, but if you are experiencing rapid cycling changes you likely need additional support.
While many of the following things are to be expected while grieving, if they persist or are unmanageable you or your loved one should seek help.
- Deep, unbearable sadness that never seems to lift
- Pessimistic expressions of doom, gloom, and despair about life in general
- Irritability and a temper that makes the person difficult to communicate with
- Sleeping problems (insomnia, or sleeping at odd hours)
- Refusing to leave the home
- Persistent anger and bitterness toward the world
- Denial and defensiveness when asked about the grief
- An inability to engage with or take interest in others
- Worsening of any preexisting mental health conditions
- Strong attachment to mementos and reminders of the departed person or, conversely, a strong aversion to those reminders
- Behavior that seems reckless, impulsive, or potentially self-destructive
- Thoughts or talk of suicide, or actual suicide attempts (Please contact the HELPLINE right away if you are considering suicide 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
What Help Is Available for Grief and Loss?
There is help available for people who are grieving. You may think that seeking help for mental health is only for people with serious mental health conditions, this isn’t true. The grieving process resembles symptoms from several mental health issues, so there’s no reason that you shouldn’t seek help.
At Center of Balance Counseling, we take a holistic approach. Our therapy techniques aim to treat the entire person rather than just the symptoms of grief. We can support and help you through this difficult process.
We offer specialized therapy from a therapist that understands the process of grief. We have offered grief counseling for individuals and groups for many years.
Alongside individual therapy or counseling, it may also be in your best interest to join a support group for people who are grieving.
What Are the Benefits of Treatment for Grief and Loss?
Why not just go through the grieving process like everyone else? If other people can get through grief on their own, why can’t you?
This is an option, of course, but why put yourself through that prolonged pain if there’s another option? You may have a harder time coping and you could leave “pieces” of grief behind that will continue impacting you long-term. Your brain and body can be stuck in a looping cycle of survival keeping you from returning to normal functioning. Many people will have expectations of you and your process and will want you to “get over it” sooner than you are able to. It can be hard to turn to someone and tell them you’re struggling if they’re telling you it’s time to move on and you don’t know how. Having someone to talk you through the process that knows how to support you and help you move through the process.
Support for “Unconventional” Grief
Not all grief is the result of a close loved one dying. It’s difficult to get support for less conventional types of grief, and this can be invalidating for the person who’s grieving.
Unconventional reasons for grief include (among others):
- Losing a pet
- Adoptee grief
- Losing a child that isn’t your own (for example, a step or foster child)
- A breakup
- Grief for someone who is still living, but ill
- A diagnosis that changes your life
While the average person may have a hard time understanding someone who’s experiencing what may be considered “alternative” forms of grief, a good counselor will understand that there are no appropriate comparisons when it comes to grief, loss, and suffering. We feel how we feel. We don’t have to feel “bad” that we’re feeling “bad”. Expecting ourselves to feel a particular way about our losses, or having that expectation placed on us by others, is incredibly painful. Having support from someone who understands can be an incredible relief.
Learning Coping Skills
Grief and loss counseling doesn’t only help during sessions. A good counselor will be able to help you find healthy ways to cope.
These coping skills will help you long-term. Because grief can be life-long (even if it changes every day), you may find yourself using those coping mechanisms occasionally forever.
An Easier Grieving Process
Again, grief can be a life-long experience that changes over time. That said, the worst parts will gradually change. Going to counseling can support you in getting through the hardest parts.
Wanting your grief to go away faster doesn’t mean that you want to forget the person or thing that you lost. Instead, you’re honoring them and yourself by learning how to move through suffering.
You Deserve Help for Grief and Loss
Going through grief and loss alone is an unnecessary challenge. You can find help, and you owe it to yourself to do so. What’s stopping you?
At Center of Balance Counseling, we want to help you move through the grieving process. Through a variety of traditional and holistic treatment methods, and first hand knowledge of loss we support clients through stages of healing.
Contact us to learn more or set up an appointment today.