Symptoms of grief
Grief is a normal part of coping with a loss, however the symptoms vary from one person to another. It’s important to note that while the pain of loss can feel overwhelming, there are healthy ways to cope with your grief and learn to heal.
Grief and loss can be experienced as a result of many things, including death, (either of a person or a pet), a breakdown of a relationship, loss of a job, moving to a new suburb, state or country, diagnosis of a chronic or terminal illness and loss of dreams.
A person may experience intense feelings, which can feel all-encompassing making it seem hard or even impossible to think about anything else. For some people, these overwhelming feelings or thoughts may be so difficult to sustain that they push them down or mask them, either all or some of the time.
You may experience an intensity of shifting levels of emotional pain in relation to the loss and grief, as though you are on a roller coaster ride of feelings and thoughts. Often this emotional pain is also experienced as physical symptoms. Here are some of the symptoms you may experience when dealing with grief and loss:
- extreme tiredness
- heart palpitations
- feeling like your heart is aching or literally breaking
- a sense of physical unreality
- feeling distracted
- finding it hard to follow conversations
- stomach cramps
- butterflies in the stomach
- overall body tension
- loss of appetite
- sleeping for long periods of time
- feeling very foggy
- feeling like a lightbulb has been switched on in your head making it difficult to relax or sleep
You may also experience loneliness and alienation from others and may feel yourself withdrawing and decreasing social contact during this time. It might seem like other people don’t understand or that there is a perceived pressure to move on or get back to how things were prior to the experience of loss and grief. This may leave you feeling angry, confused, resentful and withdrawn.
You might also experience feelings of guilt or regret or a yearning for a time passed when the grief didn’t exist. These conflicting and/or unexpected emotions and thoughts can be very confusing so it is helpful to know that everyone grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
How to support someone who is grieving
It is a natural and common experience to feel unsure, uncomfortable or overwhelmed about what to say when someone is grieving.
People want to say and do the right thing but are afraid of saying the wrong thing and causing greater distress. Others feel the need to come up with a solution for the grieving person which of course is impossible. Or perhaps they feel as if there is nothing they can do or say. They feel that they want to avoid the grieving person because it is so painful. They might think that they will catch up with them in a while when things are more settled however the longer there is no contact the harder it might be to reconnect with the person.
These are all very natural responses.
It is important to know that everyone grieves differently and expresses it in different ways and in different time frames. For example, one person may present as doing fine for the first couple of months following the experience of grief and loss and then unexpectedly become withdrawn and distressed. This can be a confusing reaction if you thought they were over the loss. Another person may initially respond with intense grief for several months and then appear fine until there is an anniversary or a meaningful time that reminds them of their grief or loss and makes it all quite raw again.
As a person supporting a person who is grieving, it is very common to feel:
- Focus on solutions
These feelings and thoughts are very common and natural responses to wanting to take away another person’s pain and not knowing how to do this.
Recognise these responses in yourself and know that the person you are supporting is also feeling overwhelmed and that you don’t need to come up with solutions or avoid speaking about the loss. Recognise that you can sit with your own feelings of discomfort, knowing that they will decrease with time.
Your natural fears and worries do not to have to get in the way of supporting someone. Being able to acknowledge a person’s loss and their grief does help.
Let the person know that you don’t know what to do or say but that you are there for them to listen, support them and if they need your help with any practical tasks, you are more than happy to help.
Knowing that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, nor a timeline for the grief to run its course and that there will be times where the person expresses extremes in emotions should help you to understand more about the grieving process.
If the grieving person is wanting to talk about the situation that has led to their loss and grief you can discuss it with them but don’t push them to do so – they will in their own time.
Just checking in with them regularly, being there, listening and supporting them in ways that work for them will make a difference.
You can contact Griefline and speak with one of our trained, skilled and empathetic volunteer counsellors to speak about your experience or concerns in supporting someone who is grieving. Our team of volunteer counsellors are available 7 days a week, 365 days a year.