When grief undermines your health

Most of us have felt grief at one time or another, whether it was over the death of a loved pet or the loss of a treasured relationship.

Now as we move on from our middle age, we are increasingly likely to experience a deeper mourning as our older family members and friends pass away.

While we have all heard that grief is experienced differently by individuals and that in time the emotional pain will pass, the truth is that when it hits us, it turns our world upside down.

Doctors believe grief can weaken the immune system, making people prone to infections such as colds or shingles.

The sadness may take many forms and, when left unmanaged, could lead to debilitating depression.

Learning how to cope with grief is a preparation we should all probably undertake, to protect ourselves from the darkest of thoughts when the unexpected happens.

According to WebMD, grief has five stages:

  • Denial: When you first learn of a loss, it’s normal to think, ‘This isn’t happening’.
  • Anger: As reality sets in, you’re faced with the pain of your loss. You may feel frustrated and helpless. These feelings later turn into anger.
  • Bargaining: During this stage, you dwell on what you could’ve done to prevent the loss and you may also try to strike a deal with a higher power.
  • Depression: Signs of depression include crying, sleep issues and a decreased appetite. You may feel overwhelmed, regretful and lonely.
  • Acceptance: In this final stage of grief, you accept the reality of your loss. Although you still feel sad, you’re able to start moving forward with your life.

In rare cases, some people struggle to lift themselves out of a melancholic state. It is important to talk to your doctor if time has not helped you cope with the grief and you are struggling to return to a normal routine or work.

An inability to stop blaming yourself, feelings of hopelessness or depressive thoughts are red flags that you need professional medical or counselling help. To avoid falling into this rut, crisis support organisation Lifeline suggests the following:

Let yourself grieve
Express your feelings to a trusted family member, friend or health professional, rather than bottling them up.

Take care of yourself
Eat healthily, exercise and develop good sleeping habits. Even if you don’t feel like it, do some of the things you used to enjoy.

Don’t self-medicate
Avoid alcohol and drugs, as they numb your feelings and make it harder to heal.

Take your time
Postpone major life decisions – it takes time to get back into life. There isn’t a set time limit on grief, so try not to put pressure on yourself or others to ‘move on’ or ‘get over it’.

Say goodbye
Each person has a different way of remembering the person or thing that has been lost. For some people, having belongings that remind them of the deceased can help. For others, putting these things away until they are better equipped to face them is easier.

Let people help
Explain to family and friends how you feel and what you would like them to do to help. Often, others want to help but they do not know what you need or want. Tell them. It can help to talk to a professional, or to talk to someone who has been through a similar experience, and can understand what you are going through.

Allow yourself to heal
You may feel guilty about ‘forgetting’ a person and not wanting to move on. This is a normal part of healing. Don’t feel guilty about moving through your grief and trying to get back to your life.

You’ve got this
You can survive a big loss even if you feel like you can’t. Take one step at a time. Know your limits and expect some setbacks. It may be hard but you can and will heal.

Prepare for memories
Anniversaries associated with your loved one or stressful or sad events such as funerals have the ability to trigger your original grief. Prepare for these events and your reactions to them.

Make it about you
Do things just for yourself – taking ‘time out’ to do the things that you used to enjoy is important. Even when you’re feeling down, try to connect regularly with family and friends.

Do you have any advice to share about coping with grief? Are you concerned that you may not know how to cope during mourning?

Disclaimer: Australian readers seeking support and information about suicide and depression can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. For more information on treating depression, please visit Beyond Blue.

Related articles:
Grief vs depression
How to memorialise
A long journey’s lessons

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Olga Galacho


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