The Seven Stages of Grief & its Effects on Mental Health

Image of a box of tissues on a table. The image indicates tissues needed to wipe tears.l

Death is a natural part of our life and we all lose our loved ones at some point in life. The loss of a loved one can be one of the most difficult experiences in life. When we lose something or someone close in our lives, we experience intense sadness and emotional suffering which is referred to as grief.

Grief is a natural response to loss. This loss needn’t always be in the form of death. Any significant loss that impacts us in a deep way can cause feelings of grief. It could also be due to the end of a relationship or a job.

Grief impacts our mental health severely. If we are unable to control our suffering, it can even trigger mental illnesses. We have decoded the relation between grief and our mental health in this article. Scroll down to know more.

The connection between grief and mental health

Sad young man sitting in the corner of the room. He is experiencing grief.
Grief is a natural human response to loss

When we experience grief after losing someone or something, we mourn the loss and go through a feeling of emotional numbness. This is our brain's natural process to cope with the sense of loss. Mourning is a very personal experience, and it can last for a few weeks, months, or sometimes even years.

Every person has their own way of expressing grief. Sometimes the feelings of grief can be so powerful that one may feel that the pain will never end. But it's important to understand that eventually, coping with the pain will become easier if we deal with it in a healthy way.

However, when we fail to deal with grief, it directly affects our mental health. Our mind and body are interlinked. Uncontrollable grief can cause headaches, stomach aches, insomnia, body aches, loss of appetite, and other such symptoms.

Grief affects not only our physical health but also our emotional health. One can suffer from fatigue, anxiety, stress, depression, and sometimes suicidal thoughts. It can trigger an existing mental illness or can lead to a new condition.

The seven stages of grief

Image of a signpost showing the 5 stages of grief.
This image is a condensed version and shows five of the seven stages of grief

Grief can affect our minds in several ways. Psychologists have identified that we experience grief in stages. There are different models of the stages of grief. Below are the seven stages of grief as identified by Kübler-Ross.

  1. Shock and Denial: Emotional responses are most profound at the initial stage of grief. It is normal to experience shock after losing someone, especially if the loss comes unexpectedly. Shock and disbelief are the brain's way to protect us from being overwhelmed. One can experience physical symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, difficulty in sleeping, numbness as a reaction of shock.
  2. Pain and Guilt: Once we overcome shock we start to experience pain. The pain can be extremely difficult to cope with. We also start to feel guilty thinking about what we could’ve done for the person or situation. These feelings are difficult to deal with, but it’s important to acknowledge that these are natural emotions and an important step towards the healing process.
  3. Anger and Bargaining: Anger is a normal part of our grieving process. When we lose someone we love, the first thought that comes to our mind is, “Why is this happening to me?”. We may get angry at someone who we believe caused the loss. Some people may feel anger towards God, while others may even feel anger towards the person for leaving them. We may get a lot of “If only...” statements in our minds as well, such as “If only I had asked her to stay home” (in the case of accidental death) or “If only I had not taken him for granted when we were together” (in the case of a divorce), and so on. These are examples of bargaining. This is a form of defence against grief and helps postpone the hurt, sadness, and pain.
  4. Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness: At this stage, we start to accept our loss but are unable to cope with it. We withdraw ourselves from social life. One of the hardest things to do is feel alone in a bad situation. Although personal time is important, it is essential to have people you can lean on during this time. Loneliness can cause depression. In this stage, we start to reflect on our past and start to accept the harsh reality of loss.
  5. The Upward Turn: In this stage, we begin to accept the reality and learn to cope with grief with each passing day. It’s not that we feel happy all of a sudden, but the pain starts to ease.
  6. Reconstruction and Working Through: During the reconstruction stage, we start to work through the process of grief. At this stage, we are able to better control our emotions and begin to regain control over our life.
  7. Acceptance: Acceptance is the final stage of the process of grieving. Acceptance doesn’t mean we get over the feeling of loss. It means that we start to cope with reality and learn to move on. In this stage, we find it easier to talk about our loss without experiencing unbearable pain.
A girl sitting alone, forlorn outdoors in a meadow. The picture is black and white. It indicates she is going through one of the stages of grief.
It’s not necessary that people experience these seven stages in the same sequence

How to cope with the seven stages of the grieving process?

In order to deal with these seven stages of grief, we have to make efforts. If we are supporting someone else through their grief, we have to be patient and understanding. Here are some basic pointers for dealing with grief.

Accept our feelings

It's natural to feel pain and sadness when we lose something or someone close. There's nothing to be ashamed of being stressed and upset about losing something or someone significant. The more we accept our feelings the healthier it is.

Allow time to heal

It’s not easy to get over a significant loss within just a few days. One needs time and space to heal from within. The amount of time differs from person to person. Being patient with oneself and others, and allowing time to heal is an important aspect of the grieving process.

Hand reaching towards the sun at sunset against the background of the sea; picture indicates healing
Time, space, and compassion are needed for a person to heal from grief

Self-care is mandatory

While going through the grieving stages, one may forget to care for the self. But, it's crucial to maintain a healthy eating and sleeping routine during this time. It is challenging to maintain a routine during the grieving process, but self-care is necessary to recover from grief.

Be open to expressing our feelings

Sharing our feelings with close friends and family can be therapeutic. Grief is normal, and one should not be judged for being vulnerable during this phase. We should hence allow ourselves to talk through the grieving process.

In case friends and family aren’t accessible, it is important to reach out for professional help in the form of a therapist or counsellor. Some form of a support system can be a very valuable asset.

It’s okay to feel happy

Often people feel guilty if they find themselves feeling happy in spite of a major loss in life. However, it's perfectly fine to feel happy and experience the other things that life has to offer. It doesn't mean one has forgotten the loss. Instead, it means that healing is in progress.

To sum up...

Grief is a natural and normal emotion that humans feel after experiencing a significant loss. It’s an inevitable phase that everyone encounters at some point or the other in life. It’s a phase we have to see ourselves and others through, we can’t wish it away.

However, if grief takes over the normal functioning of our lives or that of someone we care about, reaching out for professional help would be the right step.

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Disclaimer: The content provided here is for informational and educational purposes only. Lokyatha has observed best effort due diligence and all health related content is reviewed by a trained professional before publishing. However, this should not and can not replace personalized medical help. Please refer to a professional in all cases of need.