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What are the 7 Stages of Grief?

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Clinically Reviewed by:
Lindsey Rae Ackerman, LMFT

Written by:
Alex Salman, MPH on June 7, 2024

The grieving process is often long and complex. When we lose a loved one, we feel can feel extremely disoriented, like our whole world has been turned upside down. Sometimes, it can be helpful to utilize a framework for understanding our grief. One commonly proposed framework that helps many people gain control over their bereavement is called the “7 stages of grief.” By breaking up the grieving process into seven stages of grief, the bereaved person may be able to more easily conceptualize their loss and experience feelings in a more manageable way.

While the grieving process is different for everyone, one thing is certain – these seven stages are difficult for anyone to handle, much less someone without support. To help you move through the stages of grief, it’s important to be prepared for the physical and emotional symptoms of grief. It’s okay to receive help from family, community, and grief counseling. The grief process is never easy, but the 7 stages of grief model can help immensely.

Stage 1 – Shock or Disbelief

When the healing process begins, you will likely feel shocked or in disbelief. This is the first natural reaction to experiencing grief and it can be overwhelming. You may not believe the news at first, even if it’s true. All the emotions involved with grief may be incomprehensible during this first stage of grief.

During the shock stage, it’s vital to remain aware of your thoughts and feelings and try to focus on the present. It’s important to stay in control, as this stage can be dangerous if you let yourself become overwhelmed.

During this stage, a grieving person might be more susceptible to illness. For instance, high levels of stress can lead to a weakened immune system, leaving a person vulnerable to illnesses like the common cold or the flu. Research also shows that you have a higher chance of developing heart attacks and strokes during this stage.

As such, it’s important to practice self-care. Make sure to get plenty of rest, eat healthy meals, drink lots of water, and take time for yourself each day.

Remember that the shock stage can come in waves. For instance, you may feel fine one moment and then suddenly be filled with sadness the next. Acknowledge these feelings and take some time to yourself if you need it.

Stage 2 – Denial

Just like the five stages of depression, denial is part of the stages of grief. During this time, you will likely try to deny that your loved one has passed away, even if it’s undeniable. This can be a difficult and confusing time for many people as they struggle to accept the harsh reality. While this is one of the early stages of grief, it’s also one of the most difficult to deal with for family members.

During denial, you may try to convince yourself that everything is still okay or that death is reversible. This is a normal reaction to loss and it’s important that you don’t push yourself too hard or expect too much from yourself during this time.

It’s also critical to accept your feelings of denial and try not to force yourself into another stage of grief. Allow yourself to grieve in your own way, at your own pace, no matter what other people may expect from you.

It’s also important to get help if needed during this time. Talk with a grief counselor or therapist who can provide support and guidance through the grieving process. They can help you work through your feelings of denial and focus on more positive thoughts moving forward.

Stage 3 – Anger

The anger stage is one of the most difficult stages to come to terms with, especially for people who have lost family members to suicide. Sadly, blaming yourself or others for the death is a normal response to grief.

You may find yourself feeling angry at the world or even your loved one for leaving you behind and ask yourself “Why does grief happen in the first place?”. During this time, it’s important to remember that anger is a natural emotion and it’s perfectly okay to feel that way.

However, try not to lash out in your anger and instead find constructive ways to express your emotions. Writing in a journal, talking with friends or family, or engaging in physical activities can be beneficial during this stage.

It’s also important to get professional help if needed. Grief counseling can provide you with the tools and resources necessary to work through your feelings of anger and learn coping mechanisms for dealing with anger. These coping skills can include:

  • Deep breathing or meditation to help calm emotions
  • Journaling to express and release emotions
  • Exercise to reduce stress and anger
  • Talking with a therapist, counselor, or spiritual leader for guidance

Learning to control your anger might seem difficult at first, but it’s possible with a little patience and understanding.

Stage 4 – Bargaining

The bargaining stage of grief is characterized by trying to negotiate with the universe in hopes of getting your loved one back. For example, you might think that if you had done something differently, then your loved one would still be here.

During this stage, it’s important to accept that bargaining won’t bring your loved one back. Instead, try to remember the good times you shared and focus on all of the love that person provided.

It’s also important to practice self-care during this stage. This can include:

  • Engaging in physical activities such as yoga or tai chi
  • Attending support groups
  • Talking with friends or family members who are going through a similar experience
  • Seeking professional help from a grief counselor or therapist

The bargaining stage is a little different for everyone, but it’s important to remember that you don’t have to go through this process alone. Reach out and find support systems so that you can get the help and guidance you need.

Stage 5 – Guilt

After the bargaining stage, you might experience different forms of guilt which are all completely normal, yet very difficult to manage. Some types of guilt researchers have found are common in the grieving process include:

  • Survivor’s guilt: Feeling guilty for being alive when your loved one is dead.
  • Causation guilt: Feeling guilty about not doing something differently that could have potentially prevented the death.
  • Self-blame: Blaming yourself for not helping or noticing signs of depression earlier.
  • Role guilt: Feeling as if you could have been a better support system for your loved one.
  • Moral guilt: Feeling as if you’re being punished because of something you did.

It’s important to note that all of these forms of guilt are cognitive distortions that come with grief. Try to be kind to yourself during this time and remember that you’re not responsible for your loved one’s death.

Rather than dwell on the guilt, focus on finding ways to honor your lost loved one. This can include anything from sharing memories or stories about them, creating a memorial, fundraising in their name, and so on.

In addition, there are certain therapies that can help reframe your thinking and cope with the guilt. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that can help you manage your thoughts, challenge irrational beliefs, and learn ways to cope with difficult emotions.

Stage 6 – Depression

CBT can also help with one of the final grief stages — depression. Grieving can take a toll on your mental and emotional health, causing you to feel overwhelmed with sadness and despair. It’s important to remember that these feelings are normal and it’s okay to cry or grieve in whatever way feels right for you.

While it’s normal to feel sadness, for some people, situational depression might arise. This type of depression might be accompanied by feelings such as:

  • Hopelessness
  • Low energy
  • Emotional pain
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Loss of appetite and difficulty eating

It’s important to remember that depression is a real mental illness and can be treated with the help of a therapist or mental health professional. Treatment often involves talk therapy, medication management, lifestyle changes, and creative expression.

Stage 7 – Acceptance and Hope

The final stage of grief is acceptance. Many people find that this is the longest and most difficult stage, but it’s also the one where you can finally start to heal and move on with your life. If you’ve been struggling with depression and other painful emotions, you might notice the physical symptoms lessen as time progresses.

During this time, you might feel a sense of peace and calm as you come to terms with the loss. An upward turn in mood may start to occur as you accept the reality of the situation and begin to adjust your life accordingly.

At this point, it’s important to remember that hope still exists. Although you might never be able to fully move on from your loss, you can find ways to honor and remember your loved one while continuing to live a meaningful and fulfilling life.

Get Help With the Grieving Process Today

By understanding the grieving process and reaching out for help if needed, you can find ways to cope with your loss in a healthy way. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but it doesn’t have to be something that you go through alone. With the right support systems and coping mechanisms, you can learn how to manage your emotions and improve your overall well-being.

You can also find help if you’re experiencing complicated grief and don’t seem to find a way out. At Clear Behavioral Health’s Virtual IOP for grief, we offer telehealth services and virtual support groups to help you cope with grief and loss. While there is no right or wrong way to deal with a loved one’s death, we can help you get through this difficult time and teach you ways you can prosper after their loss.

Contact us today to learn more about our services. In addition to virtual treatment, we also offer in-person treatment options including residential mental health treatment for severe mental health conditions and mental health outpatient programs providing ongoing support.

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