How Grief Affects Your Mental Health

The loss of a loved one is a universally devastating experience. You may go through a wide range of emotions—sometimes conflicting, often debilitating—as you try to process grief and rebuild after a profound loss. 

Grief has two types based on how long you mourn: acute and persistent. The first is the more common type of grief that takes place in the first six to 12 months after a loss. Over time, it dissipates. The second type is grief that extends for more than a year and may require clinical intervention. 

In both types of grief, experiencing stress is common since your body might release higher levels of cortisol or stress hormones to respond to the loss, negatively affecting your sleeping and eating patterns.

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The Many Faces Of Grief

When you’re in mourning, it’s natural to flash back to your dearly departed memories. You may remember them in the spaces you once shared or in the sights you see. It can trigger a wave of intense emotions like sadness, anger, guilt, bitterness, or regret. They can come all at once or build up over time.  

Although grief can bring about intense feelings, it can also suck the pleasure out of the activities that used to bring you joy, leaving you feeling numb. You may notice this when you can’t focus or when you have no energy to go through the day nor time for the hobbies you once enjoyed.

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Grief And Psychological Disorders

Grief can also bring psychological disorders like anxiety to the surface. Given the highly uncertain situation that a loss puts us in, it’s common to have questions like: how do you move forward? What does “forward” even look like? 

According to an expert, anxiety is a normal response to loss and should be part of the stages of grief from denial to acceptance. After a loss, your life is never the same. Each day may feel lacking due to the absence of your loved one and of a sad future without them.

Beyond the intense emotions of sadness and abandonment, a loss forces you to think about your mortality. Although death is a fundamental truth of life, we have the unhealthy tendency to sweep it under the rug or to postpone it to an unnamed day in the far future when we’ve got our affairs in order. 

But life hardly moves the way we want it to, and when a loss becomes personal, you need to grapple with the limits of your own life and the path you’ve chosen so far. This daunting realization may trigger anxiety attacks.

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Grief can also make a person more vulnerable to developing depression. It’s common to mistake one for the other since they share several characteristics, but they are distinct experiences. It’s essential to make this distinction since early diagnosis and treatment for depression may spell the difference between life and death.

Unlike depression, grief tends to ebb over time, although it can arrive unexpectedly with occasional prompts. Over time, you can move on from grief, feel positive emotions, and remember the good experiences you shared with your loved one. On the other hand, depression tends to be more persistent, requiring additional help, medication, and support systems. 

Physical Manifestations Of Grief 

The adverse impacts of grief are not limited to the mind. Since your mental health and physical well-being are closely linked, your grief can physically manifest in various forms. 

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You might feel aches and pains all over your body since stress hormones can cause your muscles to tense up. Your immune system can also make tissues swell as part of its anti-threat response, which increases the risk of developing heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and asthma. 

There’s also some evidence that suggests that persistent grief can impair your body’s ability to defend itself against illness and infection, showing the close link between our mental state and our body systems. 

Final Thoughts

Grief is a complex and personal experience, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to processing the emotions that come with it. 

If you have persistent grief, it’s best to seek help from a therapist or a counselor who can provide focused treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy. 

If your grief is acute, some strategies can reduce stress, like staying active, maintaining a healthy diet, and going to bed at a scheduled time. Don’t forget to make an effort to reach out to your family and friends and maintain meaningful connections. 

It may be challenging to find the energy for these activities when your grief is at its most pronounced, but know that you will overcome grief and healing will take its course. Someday, you’ll be able to move forward and commemorate your loved one in one of the best ways possible: making the best out of your own life.  

Realities Of Dying Due To COVID-19

A friend of mine got diagnosed with COVID-19 four weeks ago. When I heard about it, I gave her a call immediately, and she assured me that she was already getting treatment at the hospital. A couple of weeks after that, the doctors said that she already tested negative for the coronavirus. Several more tests resulted in the same thing, and she was finally able to go home last week.

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Of course, it is against the rules right now to visit my friend, but it has not stopped me from calling her via FaceTime. As we were chatting, she was telling me about her experience with the COVID-19. My friend said that it was the scariest illness because she found it challenging to breathe on her own. Then, she talked about how being alone in one room for weeks, and only seeing nurses in Hazmats from time to time could genuinely mess up your psyche.

My friend said, “I only laid there on my bed most of the time. I would want to sit up, but everything ached. I felt so weak that I thought I was going to die.” Still, the realities of dying due to COVID-19 had helped her somewhat combat the coronavirus. She did not seem afraid of death specifically, but several facts surrounding it bummed her.

Your Family Cannot Visit Even During Your Last Days

When you are at least suspected of having coronavirus, even if you do not feel any symptom yet, you need to go into self-isolation. It typically lasts for 14 days for most people. If your test comes back positive, it can move up to a month or until you are free from the virus.

In case your body is too weak to survive, though, none of your loved ones will get to see you in person again. Letting it happen can jeopardize your health, and the doctors won’t risk it.

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No One Can Hold A Funeral For You

Have you ever thought of what you want to happen during your funeral? For instance, what songs should play throughout the occasion? What colors can your family and friends only wear?

Well, if you die because of the coronavirus, your chances of ever having a funeral will not occur. Your loved ones cannot visit you at the morgue or claim your body, given that the virus is still there. They can do nothing but hold a memorial for you.

You Have No Say About What Will Happen To Your Body Post-Mortem

Pre-coronavirus, people have had a choice about what happens to their bodies when they die. One may say, “I will donate my organ to individuals who need them.” Another person may utter, “I want to be buried next to my parents.”

This freedom, however, goes out of the window if coronavirus is the cause of your death. The body goes straight to the crematorium so that the virus will (hopefully) die in the extreme heat. To further ensure that, they keep the ashes’ container completely sealed for several weeks before the family can take it.

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Final Thoughts

As I recall what my friend has shared, I still think, “Wow, it’s very dark to use death as a motivation to live.” At the same time, however, it feels justified, given the news about what happens to people who perish due to coronavirus. The only way to avoid the same fate is to recover from COVID-19, which my friend has done.

In case you are dealing with a similar issue, looking at the situation in this point of view may push you to fight the virus harder than ever, too.

Letting Go: Finding An Outlet For Grief

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Losing a loved one can cause several overwhelming emotions: unexplainable anger, deep loneliness, and great disbelief. The devastation that comes after the loss can be so unbearable that you start to question the point of life anyway.

Having these feelings is normal and valid when you’re going through the different stages of grief. While recovering from the pain may take some time, there are ways to begin your healing slowly. Finding healthy coping mechanisms and emotional outlets can gradually help you get back on your feet.

Manifestations Of Grief

Grief is not only felt on an emotional aspect, but it can also affect your physical well-being and reflect on your health. It is essential to recognize the manifestations of grief as a way to make sure that you are taking care of yourself. As Edna M. Esnil, PsyD says, “Prioritizing daily self-care and making efforts to take action. Accepting that daily self-care is hard work and challenging.”  Here are some of the symptoms:

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  • Body aches and fatigue. Your body feels stressed when you are going through a challenging time. As a result, your sleep is interrupted, which makes you constantly tired and prone to having muscle aches.
  • Difficulty in breathing. This symptom can be a result of either of these two things: heart problems or anxiety. If you are prone to cardiac disease, be sure to check with your doctor. Otherwise, you can try meditation and breathing techniques to cope with anxiety.
  • Change in appetite. Due to high stressors, your appetite can drastically increase or decrease. You are more likely to experience digestive issues as a result.
  • Lack of focus. You may feel distracted and zoned out from reality as you deal with heavy emotions of loss. It is possible to be forgetful and unorganized during this time too.
  • Prone to sickness. Apart from the body pains and headaches, your immune system also weakens as a result of stress. If you are not eating correctly or getting proper exercise, that can affect your health, too

Finding An Outlet For Grief

“Acknowledge and accept the feelings: The first step is to learn to bring the feeling out,” explains Roya R. Rad, MA, PsyD. Despite the confusion and heartbreak, you may feel, remember that life goes on. Dealing with grief may not have a specific duration, but it is essential to find healthy ways to get through every day.

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One way to cope is to express your thoughts and emotions. You can do this through writing in a journal or engaging in art or music therapy. There’s no need to be a master in the craft; you only have to let go of what you’re feeling inside.

Staying busy can also give you a sense of purpose and motivate you to get out of bed. Try to take on a new hobby that you’ve always wanted to try. This way, your mind is preoccupied with productive things instead of wallowing in sad thoughts. An excellent activity is learning recipes in the kitchen that you haven’t done before. You can develop new skills while making sure that you get enough nutrition.

According to Tali Yuz Berliner, Psy.D. “Individuals may avoid discussing the loss as well as avoid people or places that are associated with their grief. This experience can put an individual in a vulnerable position with regard to their mental health.” Being locked up in your room all day can also increase your feelings of depressions. For now, avoid places or reminders that can trigger negative emotions. Change your scene by going outside for a quick jog or a relaxing walk. Including exercise in your activity can increase your positive mood.

Lastly, do your best to reach out to trusted people who you can talk to about your feelings. Having a supportive company will remind you that you are not alone as you grieve.

Like any other feeling, grief needs release. Choose an outlet that best suits your needs. It will only get better from now on.

Psychologist Explains Complicated Grief

When we lose a person so dear to us, we grieve. That is the natural reaction we experience. With all the buildup sorrow and extreme sadness, grieving becomes our way of healing our body and mind. The whole process of it sometimes takes over a couple of days, weeks, moths, and even years. However, grief is not that consistent. There are times that it presents a whole lot of different thoughts, and emotions, as well as physical symptoms. That is why we need to understand that grief, while it seems to feel so awful, it can still become an adaptive process of emotional and mental healing. However, when it comes to the complicated state, everything is different. Let’s check out what a psychologist has to say about the complicated one.

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What Is A Complicated Grief

Complicated grief, though it may appear the same as ordinary grief, is entirely a disruption. It keeps us away from the normal process of accepting a loved one’s loss. While grief involves positive memories and feelings, the complicated one makes it impossible for us to access the remaining memory from the sad experience. With that, the complicated grief hinders us from being able to create a positive and balanced feeling.

Since grief is a normal response when losing someone of value, it requires emotional and mental strength. Ashley Curiel, PsyD once said, “Understand that grief comes in waves. It is natural to feel numb at times and “normal” at others. You might continue to grieve for months or years. It is okay.” But when there is a complicated version of the grief we currently undergo, everything becomes negative. That is the reason why we often view the loss as something unfortunate at all cost. That whatever it serves deliberately, we assume that it will never benefit us entirely. We see no good about it, and that is what makes it harder for us to understand the process of healing. In a complicated manner of grief, there is this unexplained sense inside of us that brings nothing but overall negativity.

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How It Affects Us

One of the unfortunate things about grief is its potential to get stuck along the process of emotional and mental recovery. Debbie Augenthaler, LMHC, NCC used to say, “No one is born knowing how to cope with the wave of grief that follows the death of someone we love. As a psychotherapist who’s worked with many grievers, I know when faced with overwhelming grief, many people feel like they are alone in what they’re experiencing and can feel like they’re going crazy.” It creates unavailability to achieve the kind of healing we deserve. That somehow explains why some of us talk about loss as if it is some physical wound. The whole idea of it is comparable to the process of cleaning and taking care of the injured part of the body. It can be hard at times, and when triggered, it gets more painful. But once we are used to the kind of pain, little by little, it becomes tolerable. And in the end, it pretty much goes away. So t, hat means both the experience of the physical and emotional pain appears entirely associated because of the characteristic of the healing process that these two share.

However, complicated grief when compared to a wound is the stage where the injury gets infected. That instead of recovering, the infection slows the progress of healing. And during this stage, there is still pain and confusion that linger. That is because the uncomfortable sensation is not from the wound itself, but instead coming from the infection. So comparing the injury to complicated grief, the emotions, thoughts, and behavioral responses are uncomfortable because something is triggering it. Let’s say there is often a negative reminder of the particular loss, which makes it hard to forget and ignore.

Another reason why grief tends to become complicated is when we focus the whole process into ourselves. That instead of thinking about how essential it is to bring things back to the way it used to, we become the reason why it couldn’t. Instead of accepting things and trying our best to become happy, we look at ourselves as a cause of the unfortunate situation. With that, we involve statements like “This is my entire fault” “I am weak, and I deserve this” “I’m not worthy of being part of his or her life” and so on. The questions’ focus is only at us. Those are the unhealthy thoughts that often make the grieving process more complicated.

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Insight

The process of accepting the loss of a loved one is different from one person to another. But that does not mean that all of us can’t handle things better. Yes, the way we manage to look at the unfortunate event will be different as well. But it does not necessarily mean we have to stick with the complicated process. Grieving helps us in understanding our emotional and mental capabilities. Therefore, we should not allow it to reach a point where it will cause us an overall deterioration. “Acknowledge and accept the feelings: The first step is to learn to bring the feeling out,” says Roya R. Rad, MA, PsyD.