Grief is the body’s emotional and physical response to loss. Many associate grief with the death of a loved one, but grief encompasses many other types of loss and heartbreak that we all inevitably experience in life.
Grief affects us all differently, and there are many types of grief that can be experienced for the same loss.
Keep reading for insight into the different types of grief that can affect individuals and their mental health who experience a loss of any kind.
Causes of grief
While most associate grief with the loss of a family member or friend, grief includes any type of loss or significant change, including the following:
- End of a relationship or a divorce
- Job loss or retirement
- Change in financial stability
- A miscarriage
- Change in or loss of health
- A serious medical diagnosis
- Loss of a friendship
- A pet dying
How we experience grief
You may be aware of the emotional responses to grief, but there are physical symptoms that are common too. These include:
- Shortness of breath
- Overtired, lack of energy
- Dry mouth
- Throat and chest tightness
- Nausea and stomach hollowness
- Lowered immunity
- Body aches and pains, headaches
- Brain fog
Such feelings and symptoms are the body’s physical and emotional reaction to unresolved grief and can sometimes lead to substance abuse, such as alcohol or drug abuse, as individuals try to cope with their feelings by self-medicating.
Types of grief
Because grief is so personal, there are many different ways of experiencing grief. Keep in mind that there’s no right way to mourn losing a loved one, or navigate any kind of grief.
Here are some of the common types of grief:
Abbreviated grief refers to short-lived grief where a person moves on quickly after they’ve recently lost someone. Those who re-marry quickly after the death of a spouse or divorce are examples of abbreviated grief.
Abbreviated grief is often a sign of delayed grief, where the feelings and emotions in response to death or less come months or years later.
When a person shows minimal signs of normal grief, this is known as absent grief. Absent grief occurs when we fail to acknowledge or accept the loss of a loved one. Some people feel like they have to be the strong ones leading the family through the loss, so they prolong grieving until it is convenient.
While psychologists agree that some avoidance and denial during the grieving process is normal, absent grief often leads to emotional breakdown months or years later as you finally process the loss and let yourself grieve.
If you have a loved one with a terminal illness or chronic disease, anticipatory grief is a common feeling of distress leading up to the impending loss from a prolonged illness.
This type of grief is often experienced by family members, caretakers, and friends who are aware of the situation and are expecting the loss, whether it’s days, months, or years in the future.
While experiencing anticipatory grief, a person may begin to imagine the future without the dying person. Some studies have shown that anticipatory grief may help individuals to better cope when the person does die, because they’ve been able to make peace, say goodbye, and begin to accept the loss.
Collective grief occurs when a community or nation experiences grief as a whole, the way the United States did after September 11, 2001. This national tragedy spurred feelings of lack of control and unpreparedness for what could happen next.
Rather than living with our own grief, collective grief makes us aware of others’ grief reactions and mourning. This type of grief can be complicated and overwhelming and is often alleviated by grief counseling.
Many experience complicated grief, where they exist in a state of heightened state of mourning that prevents them from moving forward. Complicated grief, also known as prolonged grief or chronic grief, symptoms intensify as time passes and can affect the person’s ability to function normally.
If your grief seems to be getting worse and you are struggling to function on a daily basis, contact a mental health professional for grief counseling.
Cumulative grief is defined as the experience of multiple losses or deaths occurring in a short period of time, which prevents an individual from properly processing or grieving each individual’s loss.
Also known as bereavement overload, cumulative grief can be difficult to navigate without the support of a grief counselor.
You may expect to start grieving immediately after a loss.
For some, the grieving process does not begin for weeks or months. This is known as delayed grief, when we subconsciously hold off on grieving to deal with practical things, like the end-of-life process or divorce papers.
Shock and denial play a role in delayed grief as it’s very difficult to come to terms with the fact that you’ve lost someone close to you, whether it’s a death or the end of a relationship.
People with delayed grief describe the process as a sudden, out-of-nowhere intense sadness.
Disenfranchised grief occurs when a loss is not widely acknowledged or supported as acceptable to grieve. This includes a pet dying, a canceled vacation, or missing out on an event you’ve been looking forward to.
Because grief is a reaction to loss, not only death, it looks different for everyone. You may watch a friend grieve as they move out of their long-time home and not understand their emotional response, but shaming them for their grief is not helpful.
Distorted grief occurs when a person gets stuck in one phase of the grieving process for a prolonged period of time.
Those with distorted grief are often angry and may be dealing with self-harm, self-destructive behavior, and hostility toward themselves and others.
When a person avoids facing a loss, this is known as inhibited grief. Rather than working to acknowledge and accept the loss, people with inhibited grief actively try to distract themselves in order to avoid grieving.
Those with inhibited grief will show physical manifestations of their emotional need to grieve, including muscle tension, headaches, digestive problems, and insomnia.
Traumatic grief typically occurs in response to a sudden, unexpected loss of someone close to you, like a child, partner, or parent.
Traumatic grief often triggers strong emotions and physical symptoms that mimic survival mechanisms, particularly after a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or accident. The feelings of sadness are very intense and persistent and can be experienced along with intense, abnormal fears for yourself and others.
Normal grief includes common emotions and symptoms associated with loss, like crying, a change in appetite, inability to function normally, and feelings like anger, guilt, sadness, and loneliness.
Those with normal grief struggle but eventually find a new routine that includes ways to cope so they can function and move forward.
Coping with grief
Strong feelings of grief are completely normal, and emotional responses to grief can be unpredictable—one day, you may feel like you are falling apart, and the next, you might feel better. This can continue for many weeks or months as you process the loss and emotions.
However, if you feel like you need additional support for your grief, there are many local resources and support groups available.
Seek support from family members and friends who care about you. They can provide emotional support as you endure the grieving process and provide distractions when you need them.
You can join a grief support group, where you’ll meet people who are also grieving the loss of someone. A grief support group can provide hope and give you a sense of belonging. In support groups, you will meet many individuals who have walked in your shoes that have valuable insight and advice to help you.
Meeting with a trained therapist who specializes in grief is a very effective way to continue the healing process and get support in your grief experience. Grief therapy won’t speed the grieving process along, but it will help you understand the emotions you’re feeling.
A mental health professional can help you forge a path forward without your loved one by leaning on the memories you have and the love you feel for them.
Find grief support when you need it most.
The strong emotions associated with grief can sometimes lead to self-destructive behavior, self-harming thoughts, and even panic attacks. When left untreated for an extended period of time, grief can lead to mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
At Clear Behavioral Health, our virtual mental health treatment program is designed to navigate the grief experience for individual patients. If you are constrained by time, travel, or other barriers, our grief counseling programs offer convenient, at-home treatment to help you forge a path forward.