Losing someone or something you cherish can be devastating. It can leave you feeling lost, alone, and struggling to make sense of what has happened. Grief is an incredibly complex emotion that affects everyone differently. However, there are five universal stages of grief that almost everyone experiences after a major loss. Understanding these stages can help you cope with your feelings and find a way to move forward. In this article, we will discuss the different stages of grief and how to cope with this experience.
The 5 stages of grief
The 5 stages of grief model was first introduced by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book "On Death and Dying" in 1969. The model describes the emotional stages people go through after experiencing a significant loss. She identified five stages of grief that were common among these patients.
These five stages are:
Although originally intended for those facing death, these stages have since been applied to grief after any significant loss, such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, miscarriage, or the loss of a job.
Each stage of grief can help individuals process their emotions instead of suppressing them. By allowing oneself to feel and go through each stage, a person can start the healing process and learn to cope with their emotions in a healthy way. Not everyone may experience each stage in the same order or timeframe. Every individual's grief process is unique and personal to them. Understanding the five stages of grief can also help someone support those who are grieving. Empathy, patience, and listening are essential qualities when supporting someone through their grieving process. Taking the time to listen and being present is the greatest gift one can offer to help someone through their grief journey.
Denial is the first stage of grief and the initial reaction to a loss or an event that challenges one's beliefs and values. The concept of denial refers to the act of not accepting or acknowledging the reality of the situation. In the context of grief, it involves the refusal to believe that the loss has occurred or that one's personal circumstances have changed irreversibly. People in denial may avoid facing the facts, downplay the seriousness of the situation, or resort to wishful thinking to avoid distress.
Denial may offer some initial relief, but it is not a sustainable way of dealing with grief. The longer one remains in the denial stage, the more difficult it becomes to move forward. It is essential to recognize that denial is a normal part of the grieving process, but it should not be the endpoint.
Some of the most effective coping strategies for dealing with denial in grief are:
- Seeking comfort from loved ones
- Talking openly about emotions
- Engaging in activities to bring comfort to oneself
- Keeping a journal or writing letters to the person who has passed away
- Finding support groups that share similar experiences
Anger is the second stage of grief and a natural and expected emotional response when someone experiences loss. Anger can manifest in different ways, such as feeling frustrated, irritable, or resentful. It can also lead to lashing out verbally or physically. People may feel angry when they feel that they have been wronged or when they feel that they could have done something differently to prevent the loss. Anger can also mask other emotions that an individual may be experiencing, such as sadness or guilt.
Anger serves as a healthy outlet for processing the loss. Suppressing or denying anger can be harmful to one's physical and emotional well-being, leading to resentment, and bitterness, and eventually impacting one's relationships and overall quality of life. However, if left unaddressed, anger can become destructive and harm the individual grieving as well as those around them.
Here are some healthy coping strategies to manage and express anger constructively:
- Engage in physical activities that can help release pent-up energy and tension
- Engage in activities that can serve as an outlet for expressing emotions creatively
- Seek support from loved ones, a grief support group, or a mental health professional
- Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques
Bargaining is the third stage of grief. People in this stage may make promises or bargains with a higher power in the hope that they get their loved one back or get rid of their disease, or they may make bargains with themselves to do certain things if their situation improves. These bargains become a coping mechanism to try and control the feelings of loss and the overwhelming emotions that come with it.
Bargaining can be a source of comfort and hope during the grieving process. However, it can become problematic when a person denies the reality of their situation. This can lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointment when the bargains prove ineffective.
To cope with bargaining in grief, there are a variety of strategies that can be used such as:
- Focusing on acceptance rather than bargaining. This means accepting the situation and the emotions that come with it, rather than trying to change the outcome
- Practicing mindfulness techniques — such as deep breathing and meditation — to help manage anxious or negative thoughts associated with bargaining
- Finding healthy outlets for coping with grief, such as expressing emotions through journaling or talking to a trusted friend or therapist
- Setting realistic goals and expectations for oneself during the grieving process, as bargaining can often lead to feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by the lack of control
Depression is the fourth stage of grief and is often experienced when someone is coming to terms with the loss of someone or something they deeply valued. Depression can occur after an extended period of sadness, a lack of energy, and feelings of hopelessness. It can come and go in waves, strike suddenly, or slowly build over days or weeks.
Depression can show itself through feelings of isolation, irritability, sleep disturbances, poor appetite, aches & pains, and difficulty thinking or concentrating. It is a debilitating condition that affects people from all walks of life, regardless of their background or social standing.
Depression is one of the most common outcomes of grief and there are numerous coping strategies that can help one manage it such as:
- Keeping the mind occupied and preventing it from wandering to negative thoughts
- Engaging in daily physical activities like exercising or going for a walk
- Seeking professional help
- Talking to others and sharing feelings. This can help one feel less alone in the grieving process and receive support from others who are going through similar experiences
- Getting enough sleep
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Identifying and avoiding triggers of negative emotions
Acceptance is the final stage of the grieving process, where individuals come to terms with their loss and understand that they cannot change it. Acceptance is about acknowledging the reality of the situation and finding a way to live with the loss. It does not mean that the individual is no longer sad, but rather that they have found a way to live with their feelings and become more at peace with the situation. It is characterized by a sense of calmness, a willingness to face reality, and a desire to move forward. By finding acceptance, individuals are able to find a way to move forward in their lives.
Acceptance is not a linear process, and people often experience a range of emotions even after reaching acceptance. It is natural for individuals to hold onto memories of their loved ones or the situation that caused their grief. Acceptance is about finding a way to live with the loss and finding peace rather than trying to erase the memory.
Accepting loss can be overwhelming, emotional and even feel impossible at times. It is important to begin by:
- Allowing yourself to feel all the emotions that come with mourning
- Not suppressing the pain, letting it out by talking to someone about your feelings, crying or screaming
- Finding solace in creative outlets such as painting, writing, or music
- Surrounding yourself with positivity, whether it be by reading, watching, or listening to uplifting material
- Honoring the memory of the person you lost by doing activities that remind you of that person, such as making their favorite meals or visiting a special place they enjoyed
There is no set timeline for how long each stage of grief may last. It's common for individuals to experience other emotions outside of these stages, including guilt, anxiety, and confusion. But understanding and being aware of these stages can provide comfort and a sense of normalcy as one navigates the complicated emotions that come with loss.
Seeking professional support during the grieving process can be incredibly helpful, providing a safe space to express feelings and receive guidance. It can help you understand and accept your feelings, find ways to cope with pain and stress, and move forward in a healthy way.
Seeking support is not a sign of weakness or failure, but rather a brave and proactive step towards healing. Through professional guidance, those in grief can learn to identify and express their emotions, explore strategies for self-care, and develop a sense of hope for the future. Click the button below to schedule an appointment so we can help you find comfort, understanding, and the tools to move forward on your journey toward healing.