Grieving the loss of a loved one is an inevitable part of life. Our emotions can naturally overwhelm us when faced with loss, leading to sadness and emotional distress. Bereavement, the period of grieving, can be a challenging journey that impacts everybody differently. In addition to dismay, grief can manifest as anger, denial, guilt, or despair. In this blog post, we’ll explore common types of grief, when to seek professional help, and helpful tools for healing from grief.
Coping with Grief: Normal Reactions and Mechanisms
When we lose someone or something we value deeply, like a loved one, a beloved pet, or even our sense of safety after a traumatic event, we experience grief. It’s a natural response causing intense emotional and physical suffering. Confusion, shock, or disbelief may prevail during this time, especially with unexpected deaths. Grief can take many forms, and coping depends on support, treatment, and circumstances.
Types of Grief: Traumatic and Anticipatory
Grief varies based on situations. For example, anticipatory grief often occurs when a loved one faces a terminal illness or has limited life expectancy. It prepares us emotionally, allowing us to express ourselves before it’s too late. Traumatic grief results from sudden, violent, or unexpected deaths, making it especially painful to overcome.
Traumatic Grief: The Attack on 9/11
An illustrative example of traumatic grief is the tragic attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The sudden and violent loss of thousands of lives left families and friends grappling with immense emotional pain and trauma. This event exemplifies the profound impact of traumatic grief on individuals and communities.
What is Prolonged Grief?
Prolonged grief disorder (PGD) – sometimes called complicated grief – is a newly recognized condition listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). While many people adapt to loss, some individuals experience disabling chronic grief. Research suggests that about 7%-10% of bereaved adults and 5%-10% of children and adolescents who have lost a loved one may develop PGD, with symptoms that mimic those of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
For adults to be diagnosed with prolonged grief disorder, the loss of a loved one must have occurred at least a year ago, or for children and adolescents, at least six months ago. Additionally, the grieving individual must have experienced at least three of the following symptoms nearly every day for the last month leading up to the diagnosis:
- Feeling as though part of oneself has died (identity disruption.
- Marked sense of disbelief about the death.
- Avoidance of reminders of the deceased person’s absence.
- Intense emotional pain, including anger, bitterness, and sorrow related to the death.
- Difficulty reintegrating into daily life, such as engaging with friends, pursuing interests, or planning for the future.
- Emotional numbness.
- Feeling that life is meaningless.
- Intense loneliness or detachment from others.
Moreover, the person’s bereavement lasts longer than what is considered “normal” based on social, cultural, or religious norms. It is essential to be aware of the symptoms of prolonged grief disorder and seek appropriate care if you or someone you know is experiencing chronic grief after a loss.
Recovering from Grief
Part of the pain of grief is learning to let go of attachments to the person, or thing lost. Bonds persist even after loss, causing grief pangs—temporary periods of distress and yearning. Accepting the irreparable loss involves a period of disorganization and despair as we cope and rediscover ourselves. There are treatment methods available that can help you navigate this path.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Grief
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a treatment option that can be highly beneficial for coping with prolonged grief. By combining CBT with other approaches, such as Complicated Grief Therapy (CGT), you can work with a therapist to accept the reality of loss and focus on restoration or striving towards personal goals in a world without your loved one. Moreover, studies suggest that CBT can be helpful for children and adolescents experiencing symptoms of prolonged grief. Seeking CBT support can provide valuable assistance during the grieving process.
Ketamine-Assisted Therapy as a Treatment Option for Grief
While ketamine is not typically administered during the initial phase of grief, it can be beneficial if grief progresses into complicated or prolonged grief. One of the advantages of ketamine in treating grief is its ability to offer a fresh perspective on the emotions one is experiencing. It can facilitate a paradigm shift in how individuals address their sadness and pain. Another significant benefit is the rapid alleviation of depressive symptoms that ketamine offers. Some individuals may experience improved symptoms within hours to days after the first infusion, with sustained progress seen after a few infusions. This is a groundbreaking development in treating grief compared to more traditional treatments like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which often require 4-6 weeks to show improvement.
More Proven Tips for Recovering from Grief
While grief can be challenging to navigate, there are several things you can do to foster continued improvement and healing.
1. Seek Support
Don’t hesitate to lean on friends, family, or support groups to share your feelings and experiences.
2. Express Emotions
Allow yourself to grieve and express emotions in healthy ways, such as through writing, art, or talking.
3. Take Care of Yourself
Focus on self-care, including proper nutrition, exercise, mindfulness activities, activities that bring you joy, and rest to support your emotional well-being.
Embracing Healing and Relief
Grieving is a deeply personal and challenging journey. By embracing the healing, support, and therapeutic options available, those suffering from grief can navigate the complexities of bereavement and loss with resilience. Remember, healing is a journey, and it is okay to seek assistance in finding relief from grief’s difficult symptoms.