Loss is an inevitable part of life. At some point, we will all lose something or someone we care about, whether through death or another traumatic event. When this happens, it’s normal to experience grief. Everyone handles grief differently, but many find that talking with a therapist helps them with their symptoms. At New Transitions Counseling Center, one of the most common services we offer is grief counseling.

What is Grief?

Whenever we experience loss, we experience grief. Grief is emotional suffering in response to the loss of something or someone you love. It involves a whole spectrum of emotions which can often be unexpected and difficult to cope with, such as anger, shock, disbelief, guilt, shame, or sadness. Oftentimes, grief also has a physical impact on our bodies, manifesting in sleep problems, body pains, loss of appetite, headaches, and difficulty concentrating. It is completely normal to experience these symptoms in response to loss, and everyone grieves differently. That being said, there are some ways to cope with the sadness that are healthy and help you move on with your life, and there are others that are likely holding you back.

Most people associate grief with the death of a loved one, but any experience of loss can trigger grief. Bereavement refers to grief in the face of death, whereas grief is an umbrella term for the emotional reaction after any loss.

Some common reasons people grieve are:

  • Loss of a job
  • Divorce/breakup
  • Loss of a friendship
  • Miscarriage
  • Loss of a beloved pet
  • Retirement
  • Loss of health
  • Loss of a long-term dream
  • Loss of health of a loved one
  • Selling the family home

What is Grief Counseling?

Grief counseling is a type of therapy that aims to help people who are suffering from a loss, whether it is the death of a loved one or another type of loss. The focus of grief counseling is on helping you cope with the stressors of grief by equipping you with the tools necessary to manage your symptoms. In therapy, you have the space to process your emotions and use the experience and education of your counselor to find out what works for you as an individual. There is no one way to grieve; therefore, each grief counseling session will look different. The most important part is that it helps you learn how to navigate grief. You will find more tips for coping with grief below.

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Do I Need Grief Counseling?

Grief is a normal part of life. Anyone who experiences loss will naturally feel sadness, anger, confusion, and despair. Over time, they still feel this loss, but they learn healthy ways to cope and move on. However, this is easier said than done, and for many, grief paralyzes them and makes it impossible to function on a daily basis. If you feel that your grief is preventing you from living your life, grief counseling can help you come to terms with your loss and learn coping mechanisms that help you move through your day-to-day with more ease. If you want to learn more about our grief counseling services, contact us for a consultation.

Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief

There are several models of grief, but the one with which most people are familiar is the Kubler-Ross model. It was originally developed in 1969 by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. According to Kubler-Ross, the five stages of grief are:

  • Denial: Denial is a temporary defense mechanism that most commonly occurs early in the grieving process. People cannot accept the new reality of the situation so they cling to the idea that the loss isn’t real.
  • Anger: Upon realizing that they cannot live in denial anymore, many grieving individuals become frustrated. They often become angry at the people around them, looking for someone to blame for their loss. They may think or say things such as, “This is so unfair!”, “Why is this happening to me?”, and “How could this happen?”
  • Bargaining: During the bargaining stage, a grieving person looks for ways to avoid their loss. They may literally try to negotiate with a higher power to reverse the cause of their grief. It’s typical for them to promise that they will change their lifestyle in some way if only they don’t have to face this loss. For example, they might say, “I’d give anything to bring him back to life” or “If I can just have her back, I promise to be a better person.”   
  • Depression: Upon realizing that their bargaining cannot reverse their loss, many people become despondent and depressed. This stage is probably the one most people associate with grief. It’s typical to experience many symptoms of depression, such as sadness, numbness, difficulty concentrating, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, loss of interest in activities, and withdrawing from friends and family. Common thoughts include, “Why bother going on?”, “What is the point of living life without them?”, and “I miss them so much, I just can’t imagine living with this loss for the rest of my life.”
  • Acceptance: In the last stage of grief, the individual embraces the reality of their situation. They understand that they can’t turn back time or change the tragedy, but they can change their perspective of the situation. They may have thoughts such as, “I can’t change what happened but I can move forward with my life” or “It’s all going to be okay.”

While she originally developed this model for bereavement, Kubler-Ross adapted the model to apply to any type of grief. While not everyone experiences every stage of grief, most experience at least two of the stages, and some may revisit the different stages at points during their life.

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Symptoms of Grief

Many people are surprised to find that they experience physical symptoms when they are grieving. While feelings of sadness are generally anticipated, other elements of grief can be shocking and more disruptive than you might expect. Here are some common ways grief can manifest:

Physical/Mental Symptoms of Grief

  • Profound exhaustion/fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Physical pains—headaches, back pain, chest pain, neck pain
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Appetite loss
  • Overeating (comfort eating)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Frequent crying
  • Feelings of heaviness and weakness
  • Preoccupation with death

Emotional/Social Symptoms of Grief

  • Sadness and yearning
  • Anger and frustration
  • Worrying and anxious thoughts
  • Guilt
  • Inability to feel or show joy
  • Detachment; feeling “numb”
  • Negativity/pessimism
  • Acting “out of character”—loved ones notice unusual behavior
  • Social isolation
  • Unable to feel connected to friends and family

Tips for Coping with Grief

When you’re grieving, it can be hard to know what to do or how to act. You might feel a lot of pressure to get “back to normal” as quickly as possible, but there is no fast forward button. There are certain wounds that cannot be healed with anything but time. In the meantime, here are some tips to allow you to better cope with your grief.

Feel the Pain

In our society, pain is something to be avoided. You take painkillers for physical pain, then find ways to cover up emotional pain, whether through alcohol and drug use, sex, binge-watching television, minimizing our pain, or staying busy. People often feel guilty or “broken” if they can’t just let go of their loss. However, grief isn’t as simple as taking a pill or thinking about something else. A healthier way to heal is to fully experience your emotional pain. Don’t run away from the sadness, anger, and loneliness you feel. Remember that these are perfectly normal emotions to be experiencing, and however they manifest, it’s better to accept them nonjudgmentally than try to change them. Of course, as much as you are hurting, you can’t spend all day every day obsessing over your pain. Instead, set aside time every day to privately reflect on your loved one and fully feel the emotions that come up for you.

Talk it Out

It can be difficult to open up about the emotions you are experiencing, particularly if you feel guilty for feeling them. Again, remember that it is normal to experience grief, and chances are, your friends and family can empathize with your pain. Even if they can’t, make it clear to them that you aren’t asking them to solve the problem; you just need someone to listen to you. If you don’t have anyone in your life that you feel comfortable talking to, that’s a compelling reason to think about grief counseling (anchor link to “What to Expect from Grief Counseling”).

Express Yourself

There is more than one way to express your emotions. Talking it out is great, but so is pursuing a creative outlet. Try using a creative activity you enjoy to explore the feelings you are having. Whether it is making music, drawing, painting, or writing, creating something can be cathartic for your grief and serve as a record to help you see how your feelings change over time.

Get Physical

You have heard time and time again that physical activity is good for you, and when it comes to grief, it’s no different. Find a way to get physical that you enjoy, whether it’s hiking, biking, walking, or lifting weights. If you are feeling any frustration or anger, hitting a punching bag or going to the batting cages may help you release your emotions. Try different physical activities and find one that best suits your needs and lifestyle.

Give Yourself a Break

It’s true that it’s important for you to feel your feelings fully in order to move on. Stuffing your feelings down will only cause them to present themselves in other ways. At the same time, it’s not healthy to be on the other end of the spectrum either. You cannot spend all of your time sitting with your grief. It’s important to take breaks to be present and enjoy your life. Go out with your friends, watch a funny movie, try something new, or enjoy some time in nature. Remember that it’s okay to be happy and laugh, even when you are experiencing a loss.

Maintain Structure  

When you’re grieving, it can be tempting to hole up in your house and never leave again. However, maintaining a routine can help you remain connected to your life and give you a sense of normalcy. This is not the time to make any big, life-changing decisions, such as a cross-country move or job change. This type of radical shakeup can only serve to add stress to your life. Maintain some structure for a sense of security and normalcy.   

Forgive Yourself

People who are grieving are often wracked with guilt. They think, “If only I had done this or that, everything will be different.” They may blame themselves for what happened, or what they didn’t get to say or do. If you feel guilt around your loss, forgive yourself. Let go of the regrets you have and focus instead on the happier memories you have.

Be Patient

Grief is painful, so it makes sense that you want to do everything in your power to just “get over it.” This line of thinking doesn’t show the compassion you need right now. You can’t rush these things. You will need to take as much time as you need to process what you are feeling and determine how to best move forward with your life. Don’t criticize yourself for not being able to heal in the blink of an eye. Everyone needs to grieve on their own terms.  

Attend To Your Needs

While you are grieving, you might be feeling out of touch with your body, particularly if you are feeling numb and detached. As intense and consuming as your emotions are right now, you still have basic needs that need to be cared for, particularly when you are experiencing physical symptoms. Do your best to get sleep, eat healthfully, and exercise.

Seek Help

There is nothing wrong with admitting that you aren’t okay. People often have the perception that going to therapy is something to be ashamed of, as if it means that they are too “weak” to just “get over it.” When you feel that grief is consuming your life, the stronger thing to do is to find the help you need. Finding a professional counselor you can talk to is ultimately the best thing to do for your health and for your loved ones.  

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What to Expect from Grief Counseling

If you have never been to therapy before, it’s natural to feel apprehensive, particularly when there are some emotions you would rather not face. However, grief brings up a lot of deep and difficult to process feelings. Having the aid of a licensed counselor can help you work through these emotions. This can help you let go and reconnect with your present life.

In your first session, your therapist will likely want to explain the grieving process so you understand what you can expect. They might go over the Kubler-Ross stages of grief (anchor link to “Stages of Grief”) or common symptoms of grief to see what you are experiencing. More than likely, they will ask you about your current life, your loss, and how your grief is impacting your functioning. As you get more comfortable, your therapist will want to talk about the emotions surrounding your grief and help you open up about them more. It’s possible that you will experience an emotional outburst during this time, and you may find yourself crying or yelling. If that’s the case, don’t worry about your therapist judging you or thinking you are “crazy.” As a professional counselor, they have seen plenty of expressions of emotion; you don’t have to feel self-conscious about it in front of them. It’s better not to censor those feelings if your therapist is truly going to help you. One of the most therapeutic aspects of grief counseling is that you have a nonjudgmental space in which to frankly express your feelings. That’s why there is always a box of tissues within arm’s reach in any therapist’s office!

It’s possible that you will feel like you are going over the same thing over and over again when you are in grief counseling because you can’t help but continuing to talk about your loss. This is part of the process of grieving, and is a totally normal process of letting go. You might need a lot of reassurance that everything is going to be okay, or assistance with seeing the enjoyable and exciting parts of life. It’s your grief counselor’s job to help you navigate the emotions that come up and give you the tools necessary to live your life to the fullest.

We would love to help you through this difficult time. If you are interested in grief counseling in Palatine, contact us to schedule an appointment.

Resources

  1. Find a Grief Support Group
  2. Open to Hope Articles About Grief
  3. National Alliance for Grieving Children
  4. The Grief Recovery Method
  5. Suicide Grief Support
  6. Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors