Grieving a loss can be an overwhelming process. When people talk about grief they often use the term in reference to losing a person, but in actuality grief can occur anytime a change occurs. We can grieve the temporary loss of friendships or changes in a friendship when a friend gets married, the loss of a place after moving, the loss of familiarity, or the loss of a loved one. Grief is an emotional process most people can relate to because grief is something we all experience at one time or another. In spite of how common the grieving process is, many are not familiar with certain “side effects” that can occur when we are in the middle of grieving a loss.
1. You may forget things - a lot. Grief can overwhelm our brains with intense feeling of sadness that can be difficult to process mentally and verbally. Our brains might be full to capacity with thoughts of the loss we have experienced and we may find we have little room left to remember important dates or things we promised we would do or attend to in the middle of our grieving. If you are going through the grieving process, take time to write down important things on a notepad or a note on your phone so that you can reference it later. If you do forget something, just offer a simple apology or be upfront with people about what you are going through and ask them to remind you about important promises. Most people can empathize with the struggle it can be to remember things in the middle of grieving.
2. You may find it hard to think about anything besides the loss. This can make it difficult to concentrate. Our brains can handle a lot, but grief can overwhelm our mental circuits and leave us struggling to remember how to proceed through everyday life. You may constantly catch yourself wanting to talk about the loss to others or that everything you see seems to remind you of the loss. This is normal. In the middle of grief it may seem impossible to think about other things or you may even feel guilty for having briefly forgotten the loss during mental breaks from thinking of the loss, but we do need those mental breaks in order to process grief. During grief it may seem like we cry an “ocean of tears,” but if we are needing to swim through that ocean we will need to come up for a breath of air throughout the journey. Taking mental breaks from processing the loss is needed in order to effectively grieve, because those breaks can give us the bit of mental energy we need to process what we are going through.
3. You may feel confused - like you don’t know what you need anymore. You might feel one moment like you need to be around people, but the instant you are around people you may feel like withdrawing and being alone. It can be confusing. You might become upset at yourself for snapping at people you know mean well or are just trying to be kind. Try to give yourself some grace and patience in the middle of this. Grieving is a complex process with no real end and no official set of rules because each person processes grief in a different way and time frame. When you are experiencing a loss, don’t belittle the loss or the feeling you have regarding the loss. It is okay to feel sad, angry, hurt. There is no “right” way to grieve.
4. You might feel numb or like you are just going through the motions. It might feel like you are moving underwater or in a fog. You may find it is hard or impossible in this time to feel happiness and wonder if you will ever feel happy again. Especially when a loss is sudden or final our emotions can hit us like a tidal wave and leave us feeling like we are swimming underwater in slow motion. Keep people around you who will check to make sure you are taking care of your everyday needs. Tell people to check on you to make sure you are eating, sleeping, exercising, etc. Keep a schedule as much as you can, but don’t pressure yourself to check off a to do list everyday. Stability can help in the middle of grief.
5. You might physically feel exhausted all the time or struggle with headaches and sore muscles. You might find your stomach never seems to settle or that you feel constantly on edge and anxious. You may find you’ve lost your appetite or have trouble sleeping. Maintaining a steady schedule as much as possible will be a good way to combat some of these physical side effects of grief. Talking to a counselor and friends or family can also help us process some of the feelings that are overwhelming us and allow us to stay healthy even while grieving.
These are just five of the many unexpected side effects that we may find occur when we are grieving. As we grieve we will likely discover even more unexpected side effects. Remember that each person grieves differently. So, while hearing other people’s stories may help give us some ideas of what to expect during the grieving process, there is no “right” way to grieve or exhaustive handbook on how to grieve. The next few blog posts will continue to explore more on grief and loss, and we hope they will be helpful to those going through the process of grieving a loss.