Grief and loss are universal experiences that every individual will undergo at some point in their life.

When we hear the term “grief and loss”, for most, this brings us to think about loss through physical death. However, people can experience grief over many different forms of loss, such as loss of a relationship or loss of self.

Every person who is experiencing a loss will grieve differently, and there is not one specific way that this process must look like. However, grieving processes can be defined as healthy or unhealthy.

Both “healthy” and “unhealthy” grief typically begin in the same way. The individual undergoing loss may:

  • Experience feelings of anger, sadness, guilt and /or loneliness
  • Withdraw from social interactions and relationships
  • Have difficulty sleeping or concentrating on important tasks
  • Feel a persistent lack of energy

The distinction between “normal grieving” and what is called “prolonged grief”’is the duration of these symptoms.

As stated by the American Psychiatric Association, for some people, these intense feelings of grief persist for long periods of time, leading to a disruption in functioning that stops them from continuing on with their lives.

These individuals may experience:

  • Identity disruption
  • Intense emotional pain
  • Difficulty engaging with friends and family
  • Emotional numbness
  • Feelings of hopelessness

Additionally, there are some individuals who may be more at risk of developing prolonged grief disorder, including people with a history of depression or bipolar disorder, caregivers or people who have experienced death very suddenly or death from a traumatic event.

According to the model created by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler Ross, there are 5 universal stages of grief, and these include:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

The denial stage of grief is the stage in which the individual may doubt the reality of the loss, and is described as an initial shock to the situation which may then lead to feelings of numbness

The anger stage involves the individual displaying both anger and guilt towards themselves, their family and/or friends, or even inanimate objects and strangers, while the bargaining stage describes thoughts the individual may have such as ‘if only I had done ___, maybe things could have been different”.

The 4th stage, depression, includes feelings of fatigue, vulnerability, confusion, loss of appetite, or feeling as if they are not able to enjoy the things they had before.

Finally, as described in the name, the acceptance stage is the final stage of grief in which the individual is not necessarily happy or okay with the loss, but they have learned how to continue on with their lives and readjust after the event.

Grief and loss can be extremely difficult to deal with, but it is important to realize that there are ways to cope with these feelings, and ultimately, you do not have to be alone during these hard times.

Both journaling and mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation can be ways for you to cope with grief and loss on your own time.

However, if you feel as though independent coping strategies may not be enough help, grief counselling has an abundance of benefits that can aid individuals through the grieving process, whether they display symptoms of “normal” grieving or prolonged grief. Grief counselling can provide individuals with a safe place to express their feelings, without fear of judgement or ridicule. Grief counselling also teaches clients strategies for coping that they may use away from sessions to deal with their feelings of grief.

If you are experiencing symptoms of grief and loss and feel as though counselling could be the next step for you, Cornerstone Counselling offers a team of amazing psychologists and counsellors who are there to help clients through various concerns, and can guide you towards healing.

For more information, call 780.482.6215, or email office@cornerstonecounselling.com.

 

Blog post by Bianca Biasini, Volunteer.

References

American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.). Prolonged Grief Disorder. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/prolonged-grief-disorder

Better Help. (2023). The Benefits of Grief Counselling. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/grief/benefits-of-grief-counseling/

Casabianca, S. S. (2021). Mourning and the 5 Stages of Grief. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief

Juliano-Villani, G. (2023). How to Deal with Grief: 10 Tips From a Therapist. Choosing Therapy. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/how-to-deal-with-grief/

Morrow, A. (2023). Differences Between Normal and Complicated Grief. Very Well Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/grief-and-mourning-process-1132545