What is Grief and How Do You Deal with It?

Losing someone or something you love can be very painful and overwhelming. Extreme sadness mixed with other surprising emotions such as shock, anger, and guilt are normal but distressing reactions to loss. Everyone grieves differently, but allowing yourself to experience grief is important and necessary in order to heal.

Stage or Symptoms of Grief

Grief is multifaceted with emotional, physical, social, behavioral, and spiritual aspects. Researchers have moved away from the conventional view that grief moves through orderly and predictable stages in a linear fashion. Instead, we now understand that grief is spread out and repeated several times, and will become more intense as the shock dissipates. Some days you will even feel like you’re moving backwards. Although Western culture likes to impose one, there is no timeline to grief. There are however, symptoms common to all of us.

Shock and disbelief

helping-handFollowing a traumatic event, many people report feeling numb. Trauma causes us to feel disconnected from ourselves and others, so one of the goals of therapy is to help people reconnect and integrate this part of their story. Marsha Linehan coined the phrase “radical acceptance” because accepting loss and finding a new normal is very vulnerable and can sometimes require what feels like herculean effort.

One of the ways people are able to find their new normal is by having meaningful rituals. Unfortunately, most people do have these rituals built into their family culture, and will need help creating them.


The most universal symptom of grief is the deep sadness that comes after an important loss. Feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning, feeling lost, guilty, deep sadness, and loneliness are natural but can be very distressing. Tears is one form that sadness can take but tears can also mean many things. Even though sadness is probably the first thing that comes to mind when we think of loss, we work hard to avoid it. Grief counseling can help a person connect with their heartache and become better aware of their defenses against painful emotions.


Guilt and rumination over past events is very common or even feeling unworthy which is shame based. It’s normal to feel frustrated or mourn the fact that they won’t get a second chance, and may ruminate over past events. Probably even more common though is missing ordinary events. Because grief is far more emotional than logical, people will need to forgive themselves and the one they lost for things where no one is at fault. For example, people may feel guilty for not doing something to prevent a death that they could not have possibly stopped from happening. These illogical feelings are normal and must also be grieved.


Often the loss of someone or something can leave us feeling angry or resentful. Anger is a normal part of grief and most experienced when we feel powerless. Powerlessness, fear, and anger can be distressing and we often attempt to rid ourselves of these painful emotions through blame. For many, working through grief is an exercise in forgiveness and letting go of what we cannot control. If a person’s anger becomes disruptive to their relationships or work, it’s important for them to seek professional help.


A significant loss can trigger feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and insecurity. You may even have panic or anxiety attacks. The death of a loved one may cause you to feel your own mortality or feel anxious about your life and the responsibilities you now face without them. If you were involved in the same traumatic accident or event that killed your loved one, you may experience post-traumatic stress disorder or replay the fear of the situation over and over in your mind. You may experience vivid thoughts where you imagine the same event as if it had happened to you. You may fear for the safety of your remaining family and friends and imagine terrible things happening to yourself or your loved ones. These feelings of fear and insecurity are a normal part of the grieving process.

Physical Symptoms

Due to the intense levels of stress associated with grief, the body often responds both physically and emotionally. Symptoms can include fatigue, nausea, illness due to less resiliency, changes in weight, inflammation, night sweats, heart palpitations, feeling faint or lightheaded, insomnia, forgetfulness, irritability, or difficulty concentrating.
Sometimes the pain feels like it is there to stay. Even though the grief may never completely go away, eventually it will not be your first or last thoughts of the day. Then there will be days you don’t think about it at all. Working through grief can feel exhausting and is uncomfortable, but allowing yourself to be in this discomfort with a trained and compassionate professional will help heal.

If you do not feel like you can move forward in your grief or it is severe and appears chronic, you may have complicated grief which requires professional help.


  • Enhanced self-awareness, motivation, courage, and joy
  • Reduced feelings of anger, sadness, and anxiety
  • Research proven stress-reduction techniques

Contact a Therapist for help with grief and loss
If you or a loved one is experiencing a significant loss, contact Debbie for a session today.


Therapist Reviews Marysville Washington

Sometimes I wonder if my life has changed since counseling, until I hear from my close friends and family and realize how much of a positive impact counseling has made in my own life physically and emotionally.

E January 6, 2015