It stands to reason that people experience grief in different ways. No matter if the loss was sudden or expected, there is a feeling of abandonment and, sometimes, anger. Those who are left behind have to deal with emotions and feelings that may be unfamiliar.
There are a multitude of types of losses. You may have experienced a loss through death, through relocation, or even through job termination. No matter why you are dealing with loss, the grief you feel is very real. Even though people react to grief in different ways, there are frequent reactions to loss.
20 Common Reactions to Grief and Loss
Many people are surprised to discover that grief can manifest itself in physical ways. From feelings that mimic illnesses to truly becoming physically ill, grief is not solely a mental condition to be dealt with. Here are seven of the most common physical reactions to grief:
1. Gastro-Intestinal Issues – Gastro-intestinal issues can range from frequent nausea to diarrhea. You may experience stomach cramping, excessive gas, or other stomach ailments. These issues are lingering; they should not be confused with single events.
2. Lack of Energy – Grief can bring about a lack of energy similar to what one experiences with the flu or other illness. You may feel tired, your muscles may weaken quicker than normal during activity. It can be difficult to even get off of the couch.
3. Skin Tightness – When you are experiencing grief, it’s not abnormal to feel tightness in your skin. The most common places that this sensation is felt in the forehead, across the chest, and in the throat. You may feel as though your skin has been stretched too tightly across your frame.
4. Hypersensitivity to Light and Sound – Similar to what migraine sufferers experience, you may find yourself more sensitive to light and sound. Your senses may be overwhelmed by normal levels of light and noise. You may find yourself retreating to a darkened, silent room in order to find solace and comfort.
5. Breathlessness – At times, you may find that it becomes difficult to catch your breath. This will not always occur when it makes sense. You may feel short of breath during normal activity or during no activity at all.
6. Dry Mouth – When you are moving through the stages of grief, you may find that you do so with a persistent dry mouth. No matter how much you drink or how much candy you suck on, that dryness will not dissipate.
7. Change in Eating Habits – For some people experiencing grief, the only way to drown their sorrows is with food. For others, food is the last thing on their mind. You may find yourself with a decrease or increase in your food intake.
Emotional reactions are often the ones that people most associate with grief. Even though they are thought of as typical, these reactions can vary in intensity from person to person. The seven most common emotional reactions to grief are:
1. Shock – The feeling of shock most often occurs in the case of traumatic, sudden or violent death. People have no time to prepare for the unexpected loss, leading to shock and bewilderment.
2. Sadness – Sadness is the reaction to grief with which people are the most familiar. Sadness is one of the emotions that helps to protect us from our loss. When the people around us know that we are sad, they react with support and protection.
3. Anger – It is not unusual to feel angry when a person dies. You may be angry at the person for leaving you. You might be angry with the person who caused the death. You may even be angry for no reason that you can pinpoint.
4. Guilt – Guilt is another emotion that is quite common when dealing with grief and bereavement. Guilt is ultimately irrational, and the feeling lessens with time. In fact, guilt often recedes more rapidly than any other emotion.
5. Loneliness – Your loved one has left you. It really is that simple. Someone with whom you were used to speaking and sharing your time is no longer present in your life. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
6. Helplessness – The loss of a loved one brings about feelings of helplessness. You were unable to stop the death; everything about the situation was out of your control. This only serves to heighten the feelings of sadness and loneliness that you are experiencing.
7. Yearning – For some time after your loved one has passed away, you will feel an intense yearning for that person. This feeling will gradually diminish as time goes on.
Behavioral reactions are often the most difficult to cope with. Not necessarily for the grieving person, but for the people surrounding them. Here are six of the most common behavioral reactions in the bereaved:
1. Crying – Crying jags are not uncommon during the grief process. Tears can help us to heal; do not be ashamed to cry.
2. Object Worship – It may be an exaggeration to call it “worship,” but it is not unusual for those grieving to carry mementos or special objects that hold meaning as a way to remember the decedent. The objects may be used to control an underlying fear that the deceased will be forgotten.
3. Overactivity – Overactivity or restlessness is not uncommon. You may feel as though you can’t settle yourself.
4. Searching – You may find yourself searching for your departed loved one in time’s of forgetfulness. Do not be alarmed by this; it is normal.
5. Isolation – You may isolate yourself for a time. As long as you have plans to get back into society, you should accept this as a typical response.
6. Absent-Mindedness – Absent-minded behavior is to be expected but not allowed to get out of control. This behavior can be dangerous in certain situations.
Grief manifests itself in many different ways. You can expect to feel emotionally, behaviorally and physically challenged as you work your way through the grieving process. At any time you feel as though you need help coping, please seek that help immediately.
Updated: October 2, 2014