Grief is a complex response to the loss of someone or something that has died to which you had formed a caring attachment. In addition to being an emotional response to loss, grief can include physical, cognitive, behavioural, social, spiritual, and philosophical dimensions. Bereavement refers to the state of loss; grief is the reaction to loss and can include profound longing for the departed.
While grief is a natural response to loss and can be associated with the death of a loved one, it can also be experienced in connection with a variety of other losses, such as unemployment, ill health or the end of a relationship.
Early symptoms of grief could include powerful emotions, including sadness and longing as well as physical sensations. Emotional reactions such as disbelief, despair, shock, anger, guilt, regret, emptiness and confusion are often experienced. Common physical reactions to grief include headaches, numbness, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, agitation, and fear.
Most people report that their grief comes in waves and that its intensity decreases over time. During the first few months after a loss, many signs and symptoms of normal grief are the same as those of complicated grief. The difference is that, while normal grief symptoms gradually fade over time, the symptoms of complicated grief linger and can get worse. Complicated grief is like being in an ongoing, intense state of mourning that prevents you from healing.
Complicated grief could include intense sorrow and pain at the thought of a loved one,
a narrowed focus on the loved one’s death or on reminders of the loved one, excessive avoidance of reminders, intense and persistent longing for the deceased, problems accepting the death as well as bitterness, irritability and agitation. Complicated grief could also be experienced as an inability to enjoy life or think back on positive experiences with your loved one.
Consider contacting a professional if the intensity of your grief prevents you from functioning in daily life or if intense grief doesn’t improve over time.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) interventions can be used to help individuals deal with grief or complicated grief. Individuals would be guided to gradually return to their daily routines. In fact, an important component of CBT for complicated grief is graduated exposure to situations they might have are avoided for fear of the distressing memories. Ongoing avoidance maintains strong emotions, whereas exposure to these situations leads to the gradual decrease in the intensity of the emotions. Cognitive behavioural therapy based on cognitive restructuring and exposure techniques to overcome avoidance has been shown to be more effective than supportive counselling.
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