Grief & Grief Management Guides & Articles

Ann Simmons, MS
Last updated:
Erin George, MFT
Medical Editor

What Is Grief?

Grief is a common and natural response to losing a loved one or something else of significant importance. 1 Grieving people often feel anguish, overwhelming despair, loneliness, sadness, and other emotions. Grief is also very personal. In the context of the passing of a person, even individuals in the same family may mourn the loss of a member differently based on their relationship with the deceased. Although people eventually move past deep anguish and despair after losing a loved one, the sense of missing them remains.

People also experience grief from other losses and anticipated losses. Some situations that may cause grief include:

  • Chronic or terminal illness for the individual facing the condition 2
  • Anticipation of a loved one's passing
  • Loss of a limb
  • Divorce
  • Retirement
  • The loss of a beloved pet
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Grief is often associated with the loss of a loved one, but it is actually the emotional reaction to any major loss. Job loss, the death of a loved one or a divorce can all trigger grief. While grieving is a necessary process, it can also develop into unhealthy mental and emotional states. Knowing how […]

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Dealing with death or the physical loss of a loved one can send you or someone you know down a path of devastating grief. Grief can last for shorter periods or turn into a prolonged disorder that could require professional help in understanding the disorder and treating it with a number of options. Understanding Grief […]

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Grief is a normal part of coping with a loss, but for some people, it can be far more serious. In some situations, normal grief can lead to a grief disorder, which can require professional help to overcome. What Are the Types of Grief Disorders? There are several names for recognized grief disorders, including prolonged […]

What Is Grief Management?

Grief management sounds like a way to control grief, but it means finding healthy ways to work through feelings. Managing grief can be healing because it allows a person to grieve in a way that is helpful to them. Strategies for managing grief include the following. 3

Be Patient

It is essential to be patient with both oneself and others when grieving. There is no timetable for working through the emotions that come with a painful loss. Rather than suppressing feelings, individuals need to allow themselves to grieve.

Recognize Grief Is a Common Emotion

Grief is a natural event that needs to run its course for a person to remain emotionally healthy. Everyone experiences it at some level, so recognizing that grief is universal and understanding that others have survived loss offers hope.

Put Feelings on Paper

Putting feelings on paper can be helpful when grieving, especially if unresolved issues exist between a deceased and the person experiencing grief. Conveying emotions in a letter to the deceased and journaling are ways to express thoughts about unresolved issues. Writing is also a way to remember joyful times. 3

Talk to a Trusted Friend

Sharing thoughts is another way people can work through grief. Talking to others about grief can be emotionally challenging. However, sharing feelings can bring relief, especially when the other party can relate to the same experiences.

Expect Grief Triggers

Intense emotions will subside over time, but something as simple as a song, a scent, or a thought can trigger sadness. Many people experience sadness at intervals. For example, it is common to miss deceased loved ones on birthdays and holidays. As time passes, these feelings still resurface but are easier to navigate with less emotion.

What Are the Stages of Grief?

In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, described five stages of grief. 4 Kubler-Ross suggested when dying, individuals experience:

The same model can apply to grief experienced by survivors. When a loved one dies, a survivor may deny the event, acting as if nothing has changed. They may be upset at their loved one for leaving or angry at health care providers and themselves for not preventing death.

Bargaining involves thinking about what may have prevented a loved one’s death. Individuals who experience depression may feel confused, hopeless, and sad. Accepting the loss and learning to live with it is the last stage of grief. As implied by more recent grief stage models, stages do not imply that feelings happen in a specific order. 5 People may experience any stage at any point during their grief journey.

What Are the Symptoms of Grief?

Grief includes a range of emotions, including those identified in the stages of grief. Individuals may be upset at a higher power or themselves for not preventing a loved one’s death. Anxiety and depression may lead to social isolation. Physical grief symptoms include fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, inability to sleep, and illness because grief can weaken the immune system. 6

How Is Grief Diagnosed?

People are familiar with the normal grief that comes with painful losses. However, some people experience complicated or prolonged grief. 7 This grief occurs when individuals struggle with a loss for 6 months or longer than expected, based on cultural norms. Characteristics of prolonged grief disorder include persistent sadness and hopelessness. It may seem impossible to cope without the loved one. People experiencing prolonged grief associated with sudden or unnatural death may turn to drugs or alcohol for comfort. 8

Best Treatment for Grief

According to the American Psychological Association, psychotherapy is the most effective treatment for prolonged grief. 9 However, different grief management treatments may be more effective for different people. When there is co-occurring anxiety or depression, a clinician may prescribe medications, but psychotherapy addresses the root causes. Treatment for prolonged or complicated grief includes cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. During grief treatment, individuals engage in self-assessment and goal setting. They may also reconnect with loved ones and revisit death circumstances through imaginary talks with the deceased person. Therapy also teaches strategies for dealing with blame and guilt. A clinician may prescribe medications for grieving individuals with a history of anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns.

How to Cope With Grief

Experts recommend that individuals grieve in the way that’s best for them and that they exercise flexibility. Some people grieve privately and quietly; others express feelings openly. Some cry. Others laugh as they recall funny moments or something comical a deceased person did or said. 10

Self-care is a must during grieving. Getting adequate sleep, eating healthy foods, exercising, and relaxing to reduce stress are all beneficial. 11 Remaining connected with friends and sharing feelings is essential for mental health. Keeping medical appointments helps grieving people avoid stress-related health issues like high blood pressure.

How to Help Someone Dealing With Grief

Supporting a grieving person requires compassion and patience. Acknowledging the death and expressing concern allows them to share their feelings openly. Saying the deceased person is “better off” or the death was God’s plan can be hurtful. No one knows for sure what a grieving person is feeling, which can make finding help treating grief a challenge. Asking people what they need, listening, and letting them grieve their way are respectful strategies to help them work through grief. 12