Grief is an inevitable part of life, and something that everyone experiences at one time or another. It can be an incredibly overwhelming, consuming and complex emotion to process - so much so that renowned psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross created the 7 stages of grief in order to help people to understand their own emotions and make sense of what they are feeling.
This comprehensive guide covers all aspects of the 7 stages of grief, starting with a brief overview of the process itself and why it is important. Then, it defines each of the 7 stages in detail and provides advice on how to work through them, as well as advice on when to seek professional help if necessary.
Our aim is to provide readers with the knowledge and tools to effectively navigate their grieving process. So, without further ado, let's take a closer look at the 7 stages of grief and how they can help.
Grief is a natural response to the experience of loss, and it can be triggered by a variety of different life events. It is typically a mix of sadness, confusion, emptiness, and anger. Grieving is a process in which individuals attempt to come to terms with the loss they have experienced and adjust to the new reality. The term Kubler-Ross is often used in relation to grief and refers to the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — that were identified by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969.
There are many different types of grief, including anticipatory grief (experienced in advance of an anticipated loss), complicated grief (when the grieving process is prolonged and unresolved), traumatic grief (caused by sudden unexpected loss), and delayed grief (when the grief response is significantly delayed). Symptoms of grief can vary among individuals but commonly include sadness, guilt, regret, yearning, helplessness, confusion, irritability, physical ailments, difficulty concentrating, and psychological distress.
The process of grieving and the length of time it takes to resolve grief can vary depending on individual circumstances and characteristics, such as the individual’s support network, their coping skills, any pre-existing mental health issues, their spiritual beliefs, age, and gender.
Defining the 7 Stages of Grief
The 7 stages of grief were first described by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying. She proposed that grieving people go through five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – to be able to cope with their loss. Later, two additional stages – shock and testing – were added to the model.
Each stage of grief has its own unique set of emotions and characteristics. It's important to realise that these stages don't always happen in a linear order. People may not experience all stages or they may experience them in a different order. Here is a breakdown of each stage:
- Denial: This is the first stage of grief and is a defense mechanism that helps people cope with the sudden shock of a loss. People in denial may try to ignore or deny the reality of the situation. This stage can last for hours, days, or weeks.
- Anger: Anger is a natural emotion and part of the healing process. People in the anger stage may lash out at friends and family or blame themselves for what happened. This stage can be destructive if it's not managed properly.
- Bargaining: In this stage, people may try to make a deal with fate in the hopes of preventing the bad outcome they fear. They may start to think in terms of ""if only"" or ""what if"" in order to regain some sense of control over the situation.
- Depression: After bargaining comes depression, a stage where people feel overwhelming sadness and loneliness. This is a normal part of the grieving process and it's important to allow yourself to feel these emotions without judgement. This stage can last anywhere from weeks to months.
- Testing: This stage involves looking back on the events that led up to the loss and analyzing them to see if there was anything that could have been done differently. People in this stage may also become more aware of their mortality and view life differently.
- Shock: This is a stage of numbness and disbelief, where people may feel temporarily disconnected from their emotions. This can last for days or weeks.
- Acceptance: This is the final stage of grief, when people have accepted the reality of the situation and are able to move forward with their lives. They may still feel sadness but they have learned how to cope with their emotions in a healthy way.
It's important to remember that grief is a personal experience and everyone will process it differently. Not everyone will experience all of the stages and the length of time spent in each stage can vary drastically. The important thing is to understand that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and confused during this time, and to be kind and patient with yourself.
Challenges During Grief
The grieving process can be a difficult and emotional journey. It is very common for people to experience both physical and mental barriers as they try to navigate through the stages of grief. These challenges can range from feelings of guilt and loneliness, to exhaustion and difficulty in making decisions.
During the early stages of bereavement, many people feel overwhelmed by strong and conflicting emotions. This can cause a person to become confused or frustrated, while others may spiral into a deep depression. Likewise, the intensity of these feelings can lead to outbursts of anger and even physical manifestations of pain.
While the mourning process may bring a sense of peace, it can also be extremely exhausting. Many people struggle to maintain their everyday routines and are too tired to focus on tasks and activities that were normally easy for them. As such, a person’s physical and mental health can take a toll as the grief progresses.
In certain cases, the grieving process can be prolonged, leading to a feeling of stagnation and a lack of progress. Additionally, there may be moments during the mourning period when a person may feel lonely and isolated, despite the presence of family or friends.
Although the journey of grief is never easy, it is important to remember that it is normal to experience challenges throughout – this is a necessary part of the healing process. As such, understanding and accepting these difficulties will help you in coping with and overcoming them.
Dealing with Grief
Grief can be a long and difficult process to work through. It is important to find coping mechanisms to help you along the way. There are many different techniques that you can experiment with to identify which one works best for you.
One of the most important aspects of coping with grief is communication. Find someone you trust to talk to about your experience and share your emotions. You may find this comforting or just need an outlet to express what you’re feeling. Although it is important to talk to someone, it is equally important to know when to take a break and relax.
Another useful technique is to keep a journal. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help put them into perspective and also help you gain insight into the grieving process. You may also benefit from engaging in creative activities, such as drawing or painting, which can help you express difficult emotions.
It is also important to find ways to relax your body and mind. Regular exercise and yoga can help alleviate stress and tension. Additionally, mindfulness techniques or other relaxation exercises can be beneficial. Lastly, spending time in nature can have a calming effect while also providing clarity.
Dealing with grief is a personal experience, no two people will go through the same process. Therefore, it is important to remember to be gentle and kind with yourself during this time. Identify which coping techniques work best for you and use them regularly.
When to Seek Professional Help
During the grieving process there are many challenges and difficulties that can arise, at times making it impossible to cope. It's important to know when additional help is needed to ensure healthy mourning and when to seek professional support.
If you find yourself unable to move forward and stuck in a particular stage of grief for an extended period of time, or if you experience any of the following it might be time to seek professional help:
- Signs of depression, including an inability to complete daily tasks, excessive sleeping, or changes in eating habits
- Disruptive behavior, such as difficulty focusing, lack of motivation, or withdrawing from day-to-day activities
- Substance abuse
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
There are a variety of treatment options available depending on your individual needs, including individual counseling or therapy, group therapy, or inpatient programs. Your doctor or healthcare provider should be able to refer you to the best option for you. Additionally, there are a number of online resources or organizations that specialize in grief and bereavement counseling.
Seeking professional help may feel intimidating or embarrassing, but it can be a hugely beneficial part of the healing process. Working with someone who is experienced in dealing with the complexities of grief can help you navigate the process more smoothly and reach a healthier state of acceptance.
Grief is an inevitable part of life that all individuals must face from time to time. This guide has provided an overview of the 7 stages of grief and explored various challenges associated with mourning. It has detailed specific coping strategies for dealing with grief and signalled when it may be appropriate to seek professional help.
The most important piece of advice we can offer here is that there is no single ‘right’ way to grieve. Each individual’s experience is unique and will have its own discouraging and encouraging moments. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and confused, and these feelings will pass with time. It’s also acceptable to laugh, and to reach out for support from friends, family, and professional resources.
Grieving can be a source of strength and emotional growth. As you traverse each stage of grief, remember that it may take considerable effort, but you are not alone. You have the capacity to find peace and healing in this difficult process.