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  • Writer's pictureHeather Steele

Grief: How to Heal Through Counseling

Grief is a perfectly natural response to loss. The grieving process can be difficult and overwhelming for most people. Still, with the help of a mental health counselor, individuals can learn to cope with their grief and eventually find a sense of acceptance and peace.

What is Grief

Grief does not refer to a singular emotion triggered by loss — it refers to a combination of emotions that an individual feels in relation to the loss of a loved one or the ending of a situation. Of course, sadness and yearning are the most commonly linked emotions with grief. But these aren’t the only feelings that a grieving person goes through.

Grief can also look like a combination of anger, anxiety, confusion, fear, frustration, guilt, numbness, resentment, and other dark emotions that come with loss.

To some people, grief could be tinged with gratitude, hope, joy, and relief that a loved one is no longer suffering or that a difficult situation has ended.

Whatever combination of emotions you are feeling, you don’t have to feel guilty about your personal grief. There is no one way to grieve the loss of something or someone — it’s a case-to-case matter, even for people who are grieving together.

It’s also important to understand that grief has no timeline. The healthiest way to deal with grief is to be aware of the different stages, the tentative impact on an individual, and the different ways to manage it.

The Five Stages of Grief

There are five well-known stages of grief — denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. While these stages are helpful in identifying an individual’s current state of mind, the reality is that these stages are not a step-by-step roadmap.

Instead, the five stages of grief serve as markers of what type and level of intensity of grief an individual is dealing with at the moment.

From there, they can work with a counselor on taking effective measures to move forward in a healthy manner.

Truth be told, there are only two accurate stages when it comes to a linear timeline of grief. The first stage is who the individual is before the situation; the second stage is who they are after the circumstances. In this regard, remember that your grief is your own and that it’s okay to move on at your own pace, in your own way.

The Physical Effects of Grief

The grieving process feels heaviest in the heart, then in mind. However, this doesn’t mean that grief has no physical symptoms. In fact, it’s a full-body experience with many physical effects. These are some of the most common effects of grief on the body:

  • Appetite changes

  • Digestion issues

  • Energy fluctuations

  • Fatigue and exhaustion

  • Joint and muscle pain

  • Headaches and migraines

  • Sleep pattern disturbances

  • Weight loss or weight gain

Grief can also manifest in the physical symptoms of anxiety disorders. These include fatigue, muscle tension, restlessness, sleep disturbance, and panic attacks. Other symptoms include irritability, concentration issues, social anxiety, and phobias.

However, it’s worth noting that grief-related anxiety symptoms that last for over six months after losing a loved one or the end of a situation might be a sign of complicated grief or an actual anxiety disorder. This is all the more reason to consult a grief counselor or a mental health professional.

The Impact of Grief on the Brain

New parents are familiar with the concept of the “baby brain,” wherein they can experience particularly strong absent-mindedness, memory lapses, and other cognitive effects of bringing home a baby. It’s partly due to the changes in their everyday life. Similarly, there is the “grief brain” concept, or “grief fog.”

The grieving process undoubtedly has a considerable effect on the human brain. It’s normal for grief to affect individuals’ ability to concentrate, analyze, think things through, and make decisions. Grief could also make it challenging to recall items, remember things, and think clearly. Just like with baby brain, a grief fog could result in items being misplaced, tasks being left undone, and some names simply being forgotten.

Grief often comes with confusion, forgetfulness, memory issues, and an altered perception of time and memories. Some individuals might have difficulty thinking clearly or processing information. In this scenario, the best thing to do is to surround oneself with gentle, patient, and supportive individuals who want to help.

What is Grief Counseling?

Remember — when you lose a loved one, you also experience secondary losses. These could include the loss of financial stability, human relationships, sense of belonging, sense of security, and support systems. Some individuals might feel like they have lost their hopes, dreams, identity, and self-worth.

Secondary losses could become apparent immediately after the loss of a loved one, or they could unravel themselves over time — similar to how people experience different stages of grief at different points in their life. The first step toward recovering these second losses is acknowledging them, then reaching out to get help.

Grief counseling is a form of psychotherapy designed to help individuals cope with grief's emotional and psychological effects. Many types of grief counseling are used to help individuals deal with the aftermath of a heavy loss. These include:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

This encourages individuals to accept the circumstances and embrace the negative emotions to kickstart healthier coping behaviors.

  • Art Therapy

This uses creative techniques to communicate emotions and promote healing.

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy

This involves actively working on improving thought patterns and behaviors.

  • Group Therapy

This form of grief counseling involves sharing thoughts, emotions, and insights in a group setting so you can work on recovering together.

Grief counselors are trained to understand the complex emotions and reactions that people experience during grief. They can provide support and guidance to help individuals work through their emotions in a healthy and productive way. Consult our team if you feel like you or a loved one could benefit from counseling for grief.

What Does Grief Counseling Look Like?

One of the main goals of grief counseling is to help individuals understand that grief is a process and that it is normal to experience a wide range of emotions, including sadness, anger, guilt, and even numbness. Through counseling, individuals can learn to accept and validate their feelings. It also helps individuals realize that it is perfectly normal to grieve in their own way and at their own pace. Learn more.

Let Grief Counseling Help You Find Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Another important aspect of grief counseling is helping individuals find ways to cope with the practical and emotional challenges of grief. This might include helping them to navigate logistics like funeral arrangements and estate planning or providing support for dealing with the emotional fallout from a loss.

Counselors may also work alongside individuals to develop strategies for managing intense emotions and triggers, such as anniversaries or holidays that could be a difficult reminder to the individual about their loss.

Talk Through Your Grief with a Sympathetic Professional

Many people find it helpful to talk through their grief with someone who understands what they are going through. Grief counseling provides a safe and non-judgmental space for individuals to share their thoughts and feelings. By talking through their grief with a therapist, individuals can better understand their own emotions and the grieving process, which can help them work through their grief more effectively.

Additionally, grief counselors can help individuals find ways to keep the memory of their loved one alive. This may include incorporating memory rituals or finding new ways to honor and remember the person who has passed away.

Overcoming Grief — Even With Counseling— Takes Time

Grief is a complex and ongoing process that can last for months or even years. It ebbs and flows, so it could feel milder at the moment and stronger in the future. In other words, grief doesn’t have a linear timeline for people to follow. But although the process is not within people’s control, counseling can make its effects more manageable.

While many individuals will begin to feel better with time, some might find that they need ongoing support to help them work through their grief. Grief counseling can provide this support, help people heal, and find ways to move forward.

Begin Your Healing Process With a Grief Counselor

Overall, grief counseling is a valuable resource for anyone struggling with the emotional and psychological effects of grief. With the help of a mental health counselor, you can learn to understand and accept grief, find healthy ways to cope with your emotions and begin to find a sense of peace and acceptance as you navigate the grieving process.

But remember: Grief is an individual journey. So how you feel and react to it will naturally be different from someone else’s reactions and coping mechanisms — even though you are grieving the same person or situation.

Reach out to our counselors in Morrisville, NC, for a free 15-minute consultation.

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