Grief and Loss - Student Health Center

Losing someone or something you love is very painful.

Feelings

Depressed man.After a significant loss, you may experience all kinds of difficult and surprising emotions, such as shock, anger, and guilt. Sometimes it feels like the sadness will never go away. While these feelings can be frightening and overwhelming, they are normal reactions to loss.

Accepting them as part of the grieving process and allowing yourself to feel what you feel is necessary for healing. Give yourself the time to grieve and the understanding that there is no way out but through.

It helps to surround yourself with loved ones. And it is helpful to tell them what kind of support you need. Everyone grieves differently and some people may not know what to say or do to help you.

Collage of sad people.

Grief

Grief is a normal and natural response to loss. It is a universal experience.

Grief and loss are most commonly felt when there is a death of a loved one or friend. They are also felt when someone loses a meaningful and intimate relationship through divorce or separation.

Many times, significant life or work changes contain elements of loss that can be very powerful as well. Events such as downsizing, reduction-in-force, mergers, and even promotions can result in some grief-like symptoms.

Losing a pet can bring a great sense of loss as well. For many people, pets are a significant part of life, the loss of which can bring heartache as well.

Reactions to grief and loss are as different as the people who experience them; there is no right way to grieve.

Grief may be responsible for physical symptoms such as insomnia, appetite changes, malaise, or actual illness. Grief can affect our perception—the way we see ourselves and others and the way we make decisions. We may find it difficult to think clearly and feel a sense of confusion.

Grief may prompt some to withdraw from life and push others to stay too busy to feel. Contact with others who are experiencing the loss can help one to move through the grief process.

Just about every emotion can be part of the grief reaction: fear, anger, peace, despair, guilt, agitation, and a seemingly bottomless sorrow may all be experienced after a loss.

It is important to maintain contact with friends and family during this time.

Symptoms

The symptoms of grieving can look and feel similar to depression. They may include insomnia, poor appetite, and weight loss for some people. Others may sleep excessively or overeat as a means of coping with the loss. Others may go into a whirlwind of activity, staying busy so as to avoid the painful feelings.

If your symptoms persist for two months or more, professional assistance is recommended.

Stages of Grief

In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.” These stages of grief were based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness, but many people have generalized them to other types of negative life changes and losses, such as the death of a loved one or a break-up.

The experience of grief is often described as happening in five or six stages: Shock, Denial, Bargaining and Self Blaming, Anger and Anxiety, Depression, and Acceptance.

  1. Shock occurs in the first hours after a loss is experienced and has various physical symptoms as shortness of breath, tightness in the throat, a need to sigh, muscular limpness, and loss of appetite. As the shock abates, the physical symptoms lose their intensity and we begin to absorb reality. If there is a persistent wish during grief, it is that the loss could be reversed.

  2. Denial allows for the slow assimilation of the loss. At first, there is often the feeling that a mistake has been made or that the person will walk through the door any minute. As time passes and preparation for change or for the funeral begins, reality is faced.

  3. Bargaining and self blaming requires a greater level of acknowledgment that the loss has occurred, but resistance lingers to the extent that we attempt to make deals to reverse fate. There is a litany of "I should haves," such as, "I should have paid more attention, said something positive, been more patient, etc."

  4. Anger and anxiety are emotional signals that our psychological equilibrium is out of sync. A loss stirs feelings of rejection and powerlessness that lead to feeling anxious. In the first hours or days, feeling restless and unable to sleep is common. Anger at the loss, the one who is gone, or the people who made the decision, are all normal reactions to loss. Anger often causes anxiety as it is an emotion with which many are uncomfortable. In reality, anger is a healthy indication that we are beginning to accept the facts.

  5. Depression is a normal response to the loss. Sometimes people describe it as being numb. Some people physically or emotionally isolate during this phase. This depressive stage feels as if it will last forever, but try to remember that it will not. This is an appropriate response to a great loss. We withdraw from life, left in a fog of intense sadness, some people even wonder if there is any point in going on alone.

    Depression after a loss is too often seen as unnatural: a state to be fixed, something to snap out of as quickly as possible. Often the people around you may want to get you out of your depression. But this grief is a process of healing, and depression is one of the steps along the way. It is important to allow the sadness and to talk about it and not block it. It will eventually go away. As one begins to heal lightness gradually returns. That’s how grief works.

  6. Acceptance occurs with time. The realization sets in that the situation is not going to be the same as before, or that the person is not going to return and there is nothing that could have been done to change the outcome. There will be moments when a return to any or all of the stages occurs, yet accepting the loss allows us to move forward in the grief process.

There is no exact order, scale, or time limit for these emotions. But if you feel that there is no relief, seeking assistance from a counselor can be helpful in putting your grief reaction into perspective.

(Credit given to University of Michigan online resources and helpguide.org.)

Get Help at Ohlone

For free, confidential counseling or more ideas on how to manage grief and loss please contact the Ohlone College Student Health Center, Personal Counseling and Life Coaching Services. To make an appointment, please call (510) 659-6258, or stop by the Student Health Center in Building 7, third floor. We are open Mondays through Thursdays; closed between 2:00pm and 4:00pm and on Fridays.

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