Loss is an event that provokes an emotional release called grief. Grief is a natural response to loss. Understanding the difference may help you cope during this time.
Loss and grief can be severely overwhelming experiences, especially if you wonder if what you feel is natural.
The processing of grief and loss varies for each person. Everyone expresses their emotions differently; there’s no “right” or ” wrong” way.
But knowing what to expect and what to do when grieving may help you or a loved one cope.
Grief is an emotional response to experiencing loss.
Sign and symptoms
Licensed professional counselor and psychotherapist Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick, PhD, LPC, says signs and symptoms of grief may include:
- low mood states
- symptoms of anxiety
- symptoms of depression
- emotional withdrawal or isolation
Loss is defined as the act or process of losing something or someone. It triggers the grieving process.
You may experience loss during times of transition, such as breaking up with someone or resigning from a job.
What is the difference between loss and grief?
Frederick explains loss as a cause of grief. And grief is an emotional response to loss.
What does grief do to your body?
Andrea Dorn, MSW, a licensed clinical social worker and author of “When Someone Dies: A Children’s Mindful How-To Guide on Grief and Loss,” explains emotions are “very physical experiences.”
According to both experts, grief can contribute to inflammation in the body and possibly have the following physical manifestations:
- sleep quality or quantity changes
- appetite changes
- decreased energy (fatigue and exhaustion)
- joint and back pain
- digestive issues
- muscle tensions
What are 5 types of loss that can cause grief?
Five common types of loss causing grief include:
1. Loss of a loved one or pet
Losing a loved one (human or animal) can create a huge sense of loss and frequently results in a “void” in one’s life.
2. Job transitions
Job transitions can cause loss of daily routine, social interaction, and identity. Job-related loss includes:
- changing companies
- being promoted or demoted
- being terminated
- switching fields altogether
3. Moving away
According to Frederick, moving-related loss includes leaving:
- a home environment
- frequented grocery stores
- community and social events
- ability to easily navigate from one place to the next
Breakups include the loss of a relationship and the loss of how life once was.
“Even if an individual chose the breakup, they are still fully entitled to experience loss over this event and will likely grieve this loss just as much as the other partner,” says Fredrick.
5. Illness and injury
Dorn says experiencing loss of physical or mental ability can result in grief, too.
- traumatic brain injury
- chronic illnesses
- mental health conditions
What is the best way to cope with grief?
There’s no typical way to grieve or an exact timeline of stages of grief. Acknowledging loss has occurred is a crucial first step to healing, suggests Frederick.
Consider the following tips to help you cope with your journey during this time.
It can take time; try to give yourself grace as you discover what’s best for you.
Stay connected with a support system
“Connection with others that can be most healing; we heal better together,” says Dorn.
Frederick agrees, noting a support system is a crucial tool for grieving loss because it helps create feelings of safety and connection. A support system may include:
- spiritual advisors
- a therapist
Experience emotions like waves
“The only way out of uncomfortable feelings is through them,” says Dorn. “Allow yourself to breathe deeply through them, and let them wash over you and subside.”
“By allowing yourself to openly feel these emotions [without judgment], you are able to process through the loss and more effectively get to the other side of the grieving process,” Frederick says.
Keep a daily routine
While it might be difficult to maintain a daily routine at first, it’s helpful not to allow a lack of routine to persist for an extended period.
“Routine can feel comforting and predictable, which is valuable when going through the devastating changes of a loss,” she says.
Try to care for your basic needs first, and offer compassion when you can’t accomplish everything you’d hoped.
Move your body
Physical movement can help you let go of built-up emotional energy. It can help release powerful feel-good chemicals that help to fight against anxiety and depression, adds Dorn.
Consider trying out exercises that best suit your ability and preferences. You may enjoy physical movement, such as:
- lifting weight
- yard work or gardening
Express yourself creatively
According to Dorn, people of all ages can benefit from letting go and using creative outlets to process feelings.
“Play and creativity are also powerful ways to ground yourself in the moment, which can be a helpful [temporary] distraction from challenging thoughts and feelings after a loss,” she says.
How do you comfort the bereaved?
Try to routinely “check in” at a frequency that feels appropriate and authentic for your relationship.
Consider choosing periods in your day where you’ll most likely be undistracted and able to be present for your loved one.
Even if you’re not discussing the loss, emotional presence may feel like a true gift to someone who’s in grief.
Engage in reflective listening
One of the best ways to support someone in grief is to listen without attempts to fix feelings, says Dorn.
“Reflective listening refers to a technique that encourages the listener to seek to understand the speaker and simply repeat back what the speaker just said, sometimes with gentle curiosity.”
Reach out on anniversaries
“Especially for significant losses, grief can come in waves over time. Waves can become more intense around significant holidays like birthdays or anniversaries,” says Dorn.
“Even without bringing up the loss, making points of connection during these times can be incredibly supportive,” she adds.
Showing up for loved ones can mean accepting them for where they are at the moment. Try to offer compassion and give them space to grieve, no matter how long it may take.
According to Frederick, judgment can show up in statements like:
- “stay strong”
- “everything will be okay”
- “it’s probably for the better”
- mentioning how much time has passed
- “move on”
Experiencing grief after loss is a natural response. If you need support, consider speaking with a mental health professional who can validate your experience.
A mental health professional can also provide specific tips and ideas for healing from this loss.
If you’d like to speak with a therapist, either locally or online, consider visiting Psych Central’s Find a Therapist resource. You’re not alone.