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Grief - Causes, Symptoms, Effects, Stages, Risk Factors

Written by
Dr. Sneha Kannan
and medically reviewed by Dr. Krishan Kumar Sharma

Published on Apr 18, 2019 and last reviewed on Feb 03, 2020   -  5 min read



Grief is the natural response to losing something or someone who you formed feelings for. You may feel sad and lonely, which can be due to the death of a loved one, loss of a job, after a breakup, or any other event that alters your life drastically.

Grief - Causes, Symptoms, Effects, Stages, Risk Factors

What Is Grief?

Grief is the natural response to losing something or someone who you formed feelings for. You may feel sad and lonely, which can be due to the death of a loved one, loss of a job, after a breakup, or any other event that alters your life drastically. Grief can also be caused by a chronic illness or moving to a new place or staying alone. Everyone grieves differently, you may cry, get angry, feel withdrawn, or feel empty, but with the right support and by getting help at the right time, you can heal.

What Are the Causes of Grief?

The following losses can result in grief:

  1. Death of a loved one.

  2. Divorce.

  3. Relationship breakup.

  4. Losing a job.

  5. Any illness.

  6. Miscarriage.

  7. Loss of friendship.

  8. Loss of a dream.

  9. Retirement.

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  10. Death of a pet.

  11. Changing jobs.

  12. Moving to a new place.

What Are the Emotional Symptoms of Grief?

Some of the emotional symptoms associated with grief are:

  • Irritability.

  • Numbness.

  • Bitterness.

  • Detachment.

  • Inability to show joy.

  • Problems in accepting reality.

  • Losing the sense of purpose.

  • Lack of trust.

What Are the Physical Symptoms and Effects on the Body?

Grief is not entirely an emotional response, it can have physical symptoms like:

  • Improper digestion.

  • Weakness.

  • Headaches.

  • Chest pain.

  • Muscle soreness.

If left untreated, grief can lead to mental and physical health problems. If you notice that your symptoms are getting worse, and if your loss is affecting your health, consult your doctor immediately.

What Are the Stages of Grief?

As everyone grieves differently, the phase in which you are depends on how you come to terms with your loss. There are five stages of grief, which are:

  • Denial - People often respond to intense and sudden feelings of loss by pretending that it never happened. It is a common defense mechanism, which makes people temporary numb to the severity of the situation. It also gives people more time to absorb and process the news. But once the person is out of the denial phase, all the hidden emotions come out, which can be hard to deal with.

  • Anger - Some people might not know how to express their emotions and pain, and end up getting angry at the person who died, the old boss, or the ex. You may realize that the person you are angry at is not to blame, but the feeling of loss is too great to be dealt with. Once the anger subsides, people start thinking clearly and feel the emotions that they have been pushing aside all this time.

  • Bargaining - In this stage of grieving, people look for a way to regain control or to change the outcome of the events that lead to grief. They keep thinking about the things they could have done or think about ways that the unfortunate incident could have been avoided. Most individuals make deals or promises with God in exchange for relief from their feelings.

  • Depression - This is a quiet stage of grief. Here, people try to isolate themselves to cope with the loss, which can be difficult and overwhelming. You may feel confused and foggy. Depression is inevitable after any loss, but you should come out of it eventually. If you feel stuck and start having suicidal thoughts, consult a mental health professional immediately.

  • Acceptance - Acceptance does not really mean that the person is happy or has moved past the grief or loss, but it means that the individual has accepted the loss to be a part of his or her life now.

What Is Bonanno’s Trajectories of Grief?

George Bonanno is a professor of clinical psychology, who conducted scientific studies on grief and trauma. He studied people who suffered loss from war, terrorism, deaths of children and spouses, sexual abuse, childhood HIV, and other traumatic events. The four trajectories of grief described by him are:

  • Resilience - It is the ability of an individual under normal circumstances who even after being exposed to a potentially highly disruptive event is able to maintain healthy levels of physical and psychological functioning.

  • Recovery - Here, after the symptoms of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the person returns to normal functioning after a few months.

  • Chronic Dysfunction - This usually lasts for many years, and is characterized by prolonged suffering and inability to function.

  • Delayed Grief or Trauma - Here, the person seems to be adjusting to the loss, but then months later, the symptoms increase.

What Is Complicated Grief?

Complicated grief disorder (CGD) or prolonged grief disorder (PGD) or persistent complex bereavement disorder, is a pathological reaction to loss. Individuals with CGD show symptoms of grief for more than 6 months. Here, the painful emotions are very long-lasting and severe that the person has trouble recovering and resuming a normal life. Complicated grief can be treated with complicated grief therapy, which is a type of psychotherapy.

How Many Suffer from CGD?

CGD affects individuals from all age group, and females are more susceptible than males. Roughly 2.4 % to 4.8 % of people have this disorder.

What Are the Risk Factors Of CGD?

Some environmental and biological factors that are linked with the onset of CGD are:

  • Poor social support.

  • Stress.

  • Mood swings.

  • Traumatic grief.

  • Females.

  • Taking care of a deceased prior to death.

What Are the Complications of Grief?

Complicated grief can cause mental, physical, and emotional complications like:

  • Depression.

  • Suicidal thoughts.

  • Anxiety.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

  • Sleep disturbances.

  • Heart diseases.

  • High blood pressure.

  • Alcohol and substance abuse.

How to Cope with Grief?

The following tips may help you cope:

  • Learn to manage stress.

  • Get enough rest, eat healthily, and exercise.

  • Physical activity will help relieve stress, depression, and anxiety.

  • Do not isolate yourself. Stay connected with your family and friends.

  • Join a support group.

It is important to acknowledge and accept the loss, as rejecting and trying to keep your emotions bottled up might be unhealthy. And if you feel you or a friend is not able to come to terms with the loss of a loved one, and if it is affecting the daily activities, get help from psychiatrists online.


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Last reviewed at:
03 Feb 2020  -  5 min read




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