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Signs and Symptoms of Grief

Coping with grief

Grieving is a personal process. Different people may grieve in different ways, and these may vary by families and culture. Some people may express their sorrow openly by crying, whereas others believe certain aspects of grieving should remain private.

The emotional and psychological symptoms of grief include:

  • Sadness and low mood
    • Sorrow, regret and a sense of mental discomfort are common in grief. The grieving person may sigh, sob, cry out or yearn for what was lost. There may be a feeling of having a lump in the throat.
  • Shock, disbelief and confusion
    • The first response to a major loss is often the denial that the loss has occurred. Individuals may not be able, or may refuse, to grasp the truth of the loss. When the actuality of the loss sets in, the grieving person may be confused and unable to comprehend how or why it has happened.
  • Anger and irritability
    • After denial, anger may set in. Grieving people may be angry at themselves or others for allowing the loss to occur. They may lash out and seem enraged at the world.
  • Guilt
    • Guilt generally follows anger in the grieving process. People who are grieving may feel as though they failed to prevent the loss. They may also experience a mild reduction in their feelings of self-worth, but any severe decline in self-esteem may be a warning sign that major depression is developing.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
    • Many people who are grieving lose interest in daily activities.
  • Passive wish to “join the loved one.” 
    • This should not be confused with actual suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide) and does result in suicidal behavior or attempts. Actual suicidal behavior is a serious warning sign that grief has progressed into major depression and requires immediate treatment.
  • Anxiety
  • Obsession with what was lost

Grief can negatively impact on physical health, as well. Existing medical conditions may worsen and new conditions may develop.

Other physical symptoms of grief include:

  • Numbness and emptiness.
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite and sleep disturbances. People who have experienced a major loss may eat too much or lose their appetite. They may sleep too little (insomnia) or too much (hypersomnia) and may have nightmares.

Grief is a healthy and necessary process. It is not healthy to avoid grief or to deny a loss for a long period of the time. Avoidance of grief may lead to serious physical or emotional problems later in life.

Other Useful Links regarding Grief

  • Overview of Grief
  • How long does grief last?
    • People grieve for different periods of time and in different stages. Read more about how long grief lasts.
  • Types of Grief
    • Read more about the various types of grief that include nonfinite, anticipatory, anniversary reactions, and complicated grief.
  • Tips for Individuals struggling with Grief
    • Tips for helping children, loved ones, and others struggling with grief.
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