Before we delve any further into grief fatigue, it is important to understand the difference between bereavement, mourning and grief. What is bereavement? Bereavement is an emotional response to loss. Then, what is mourning? While grief is what we feel inside, mourning is an outward expression of grief. Mourning helps with healing. Finally, what is grief? Grief is a response to loss.
When we hear the term grief, we tend to associate it with the loss / death of a loved one.However, grief is not just limited to the physical loss of a person. Grief is a typical response to the loss of something with which one has formed a strong emotional bond. People may grieve loss of a job, the end of a relationship, or any other change that alters the ordinary circumstances of a person.
Apart from the emotional discomfort that grief brings, it can also take a toll on the body. Grief is invariably associated with pain. Pain, as we know, is both a physical and an emotional experience. More often than not, it is quite common to feel fatigued while experiencing pain.
While grief is a natural reaction of profound sadness arising from loss, grief fatigue is the emotional or physical exhaustion that comes with grief. It is well established that emotional pain activates the same brain regions as physical pain. Therefore, at some point in the grieving process, people feel exhausted and lethargic from dealing with a significant loss. Some people feel more tired and may even be prone to developing health conditions.
Changes in sleep patterns such as difficulty falling asleep, loss of appetite, nausea, and other disruptions caused by grief, can lead to fatigue.
Grief may also temporarily increase risk of cardiovascular conditions. A research study found that a heart attack is 21 times more likely to occur within 24 hours of losing a loved one.
People who are grieving develop vulnerable immune systems leading to increased risk of autoimmune disorders. In some cases, intense grief is reported to have resulted in a breakdown of the central nervous system.
The shock from a loss can trigger the release of stress hormones causing tiredness, headaches, dizziness, body aches and pains.
Grief is an emotional roller coaster or an emotional turmoil; it involves going through various emotions (not in any particular order) before learning to live without who or what one has lost. Though every individual grieves differently and follows a unique grieving trajectory, there are some commonalities in the order of feelings experienced during grief. These stages, as highlighted by Elizabeth Kbler Ross in her book “On Death and Dying”, was developed to portray people with terminal illnesses where death was imminent. It was soon adapted as a typical response to loss.
In the early stages of grief, people typically feel shocked and numb when there are many things to sort out. Denial is a defense mechanism while grieving because it takes time to realize how much has changed due to a particular loss.
Once the initial emotional numbness wears off, it is not unusual to feel anger directed at other people, family members or even inanimate objects. While this anger exists, it is possible to say or do irrational things from intense emotions. Once it subsides, however, there’s space to think more rationally.
This stage is full of “what if” and “if only” when one would give anything to go back in time and turn the tide. In this stage, it is possible to find fault in oneself while dwelling in the past and trying to negotiate a way out of the pain.
Grief and depression are not the same. However, entering into a depressive state while experiencing intense grief and emotions is common for a lot of people. This is when the loss fully settles in, and then comes the realization that a loved one didn’t get better and is not coming back. Here, one can work through the emotions in a healthy manner rather than deflecting.
Acceptance does not mean being completely healed or okay with the idea of loss. This is the stage of gradually coming to terms with the reality of the loss. One doesn’t have to like this new reality but accept it as the new norm. In grieving the loss of a loved one, Acceptance signifies readjustment and learning to live again, knowing it is impossible to replace what is lost.
The stages and types of grief are nonlinear, and so is the timeline.
There is no time limit on how long grief should last nor a threshold that determines how a person should feel about loss after a specific period of time.
Everyone’s grief is different, and each person feels differently than the other as time passes. The intensity of the feelings may lessen over time, depending on different variables. Some people experience what is known as complicated grief, which is a more significant and longer-lasting level of grief, while others experience acute grief, characterized by feelings of yearning, longing and sadness, anxiety, bitterness, anger, remorse, guilt and/or shame. Essentially, It takes time to grieve and work through the feelings associated with it.
There’s no denying how all-consuming and painful grief can be. However, these feelings are a part of the grieving process, and it’s extremely helpful to go through the process. Starting with the basics, here are some coping mechanisms for the physical symptoms of grief.
The body needs the time to rest, so it can heal from fragility and tiredness. Nonetheless, It becomes necessary to speak to a mental health professional when grief fatigue persists for a long period, despite efforts to get better.
Grief may last for what seems like forever. However, with time, the intensity of the feelings of sadness and their effect on daily activities will adjust. This doesn’t mean the pain will vanish completely. Sometimes, it might look like these feelings are overwhelming, but with new experiences and meeting new people, one can slowly begin to find new moments of happiness, and the moments of dwelling on the pain become less frequent and less intense.
At Bloom Clinical Care Counseling and Therapy Services, we are Social Workers registered with the OCSWSSW. We have 25+ years of experience in supporting people experiencing grief & bereavement, depression, anxiety, guilt, anger, low self-esteem, stress, relationship issues and other mental health challenges. We do not require any referrals and are always welcoming new clients.
If you are looking for therapists near you in Toronto, Bloom Clinical Care is located at 1200 Markham Road, Suite 306C, M1H 3C3. We also offer virtual therapy options by phone or video call across Ontario. Help is available, and we may be able to help
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