Grief is a natural, emotional response to a significant loss. Each person’s grieving process is unique, and it may be unclear when to seek professional help. For people struggling with persistent feelings of intense grief that interfere with daily life, grief counseling can help manage and process the strong emotions associated with loss. We explore the symptoms, types of grief, and treatments that can provide support.
What is grief?
Grief is a powerful emotional response to loss. It’s natural to feel grief, and the feelings should become more manageable with time. If you are having trouble processing your grief or if it significantly impacts your daily life, professional care may help.
Symptoms of grief
Grief can lead to various symptoms, both emotional and physical. Common symptoms include:
- Decreased appetite or overeating
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep, including insomnia
- Intense sadness
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Numbness or emptiness
- Physical discomforts, including headaches or nausea
What causes grief?
Grief occurs after a significant loss. While often used to refer to the loss of a loved one, this isn’t the only event that can cause grief. Other events that cause grief include:
- Death of a pet
- Ending of a significant relationship
- Financial instability
- Loss of a job
- Miscarriage or pregnancy loss
- Relocation or displacement
- Serious or chronic illness diagnoses
- Significant life transitions, like moving away from home, retirement, or aging
- Surviving or witnessing a traumatic event
Types of grief
There are several types of grief that people may experience. Some of the most common types of grief include:
Normal grief can cause powerful emotions such as sadness, anger, and anxiety. People experiencing normal grief might cry, have trouble sleeping, or lose their appetite. However, they will continue to function in their daily lives.
Complicated grief is a constant, heightened mourning that keeps you from healing. Signs and symptoms of complicated grief include:
- Extreme focus on reminders or excessive avoidance of reminders
- Focused on loss and reminders of the loved one
- Inability to concentrate on anything but your loss
- Intense and persistent longing
- Intense sorrow and pain at the thought of your loved one
- Lack of trust in others
- Numbness or detachment
- Feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
- Inability to enjoy life or think back on positive experiences
Anticipatory grief occurs before an impending loss. People experience anticipatory grief when a loved one is expected to pass from a terminal illness. Symptoms include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Frequent crying
- Irritability or angry outbursts
Mindpath Health Grief Resources
How is grief diagnosed?
A mental health clinician diagnoses grief through your conversations. They will ask about your loss, feelings, and how it affects your life.
Therapy, medication, or a combination can treat symptoms of grief. Your therapist or psychiatrist will discuss your condition, answer questions, and explain treatment options.
When to seek treatment
Talk with your doctor or mental health clinician if you are concerned about your grief. Possible signs to watch for:
- Avoidance of reminders
- Difficulty with reintegration (problems engaging with friends, pursuing interests, or planning for the future)
- Emotional numbness
- Feelings of disbelief
- Feeling that life is meaningless
- Intense and persistent longing
- Intense emotional pain, such as anger, bitterness, and sorrow
- Intense loneliness or feeling alone or detached from others
- Significant distress or problems performing daily activities
Even if your grief is manageable, a clinician can address minor problems before they develop. Treatments include:
Complicated grief therapy, a type of psychotherapy, often treats grief. Complicated grief therapy uses similar techniques used for depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. This treatment can be effective when done individually or in a group format.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is also commonly used to treat grief. CBT focuses on the beliefs and attitudes that shape our lives and on maladaptive behaviors that reinforce grief.
Your clinician may suggest and prescribe medication to treat your anxiety. They will discuss the risks and benefits of different medications and coordinate with your therapist.