Many people who describe themselves as chronically tired, unable to get enough sleep, unmotivated, and generally unhappy in their lives, are dealing with grief.
The terms they use to define it may make the symptoms sound like depression, and in a way it IS like depression.
However, thinking of grief as an illness like a cold, instead of as a disease like cancer, can be the first step in addressing and overcoming the debilitating effects. People who have suffered deep trauma can nonetheless lead happy and productive lives.
The consequences of untreated grief
Grief, unidentified and untreated, is associated with many poor health outcomes.
People suffering from untreated grief often make poor eating decisions, and are more prone to become addicted to nicotine, alcohol, and harder drugs. This is true in part because the sleeplessness (or excessive sleep) and lack of motivation cause additional health concerns and a snowball effect.
The NIH study linked above found that up to 9% of the American population are experiencing bereavement at any given time. Individuals experience grief and manage it in very personal and different ways. This makes the effects of bereavement hard to study.
We do know, however, that grief is one of the adverse childhood experiences that can lead to all sorts of serious consequences, as shown in the chart in this article, including shortened life expectancy.
Causes of grief
There are many causes of grief. The effects are individual and unpredictable. The list below is not intended to be comprehensive, but instead to identify some of the primary causes in the population at large. This list is taken from this article from University Hospitals.
- Death of a close relative. The death of a close relative is considered by most people as the most stressful event one can experience, for obvious reasons. The significant change that comes with losing a nurturing life-long companion invades every aspect of life. It impacts routines, sets off waves of grief, and is triggered by everyday routines and events. Even if the relative was not beloved, like a demanding parent or overbearing sibling, the loss can still be traumatic. In fact, these deaths can be more difficult to process because the survivor is left alone to process complex emotions.
- Statistics show that roughly half of marriages end in divorce, and that this has held steady for nearly a generation. This has not, however, eliminated the stress that comes from losing a chosen life partner. A marriage ties together friends, families, finances, and communities. Tearing these apart, however gently and amicably, is complex and offers many chances to grief what was lost.
- Job loss. The sudden loss of income is just part of the grief caused by job loss. Jobs convey a sense of community and status unlike almost any other aspect of our lives. Losing that status is hard. And while losing a job suddenly and unexpected is understandably challenging, few people understand retirement also causes grieving. The second-most dangerous year for a person is the year after they retire as detailed in this article from AARP. (The most dangerous year is the year we are born.)
- Major illness or injury. Especially in the United States, where illness and injury are paired with significant expenses, a major health disruption causes grief. Illness and injury carry with them a loss of status and independence. They can also derail life-long economic plans or dreams for travel and other key goals.
- For some, moving is a surprising member of the top 5 causes of grief. However, closer inspection shows that moving disconnects us from social networks that used to provide support and a sense of being known and cared for. Moving can be expensive and is often associated with job loss, job change, divorce, or other causes of grief. Even without these other factors, the sudden loss of multiple friendships can cause deep mourning.
Dealing with grief when it is hiding
For some of the causes listed above, the grief is expected. We all know to support our friends when they share with us that a parent or sibling has died. The high divorce rate, however, might lull us into forgetting how tumultuous these separations are.
Likewise with hospitalizations, or the effects of moving, the passage of time lulls us into forgetting that there has been a significant transition. Perhaps the person has returned home from the hospital, or has become accustomed to the new community.
However, the grief may still be there, just not in the form of crying, listlessness, or other obvious symptoms. Tt may show up in other ways that are less inviting to aid, such as anger and lashing out, or fear that prevents socializing at all. These separate the person in grief from possible routes to healing.
We will explore the symptoms of grief, the grieving process, and how we can support ourselves and others in grief in later articles.
A counselor can help deal with grief
In the meantime, if you or someone you know has experienced one or more of these causes of grief, spend some time with them.
Or perhaps they are exhibiting some of the symptoms listed above.
They might not even know that they are grieving something or someone.
For this reason, reaching out and talking with a counselor is recommended. A therapist can help identify the source of grief and provide a path back to wholeness and health.
It is hard to do it alone, but possible. There are many books and articles that can walk you through the grieving process. In many cases, however, the fastest path to healing involves a counselor. A therapist can be a partner in your growth.
If you are interested in seeking help with sleeplessness, overeating, impulsivity, or other hidden signs and symptoms of grief, contact Sakina. She also offers insight on other self-growth topics like emotional regulation and understanding your limitations to set goals in the new year.