The tragic death of Phil Walsh, coach of the Adelaide Crows, has shocked everyone who followed the case. The fact that his son is allegedly responsible for the brutal stabbing makes the news even harder to swallow. At Three Seas, we often help clients cope with grief after the loss of a loved one. Grief is a normal part of life, of course, not a medical condition. But grief can trigger feelings of anxiety and depression, and may even interfere with your health. Many grieving people find that counselling eases the pain of an unfathomable loss, but those who haven’t struggled with grief may not fully understand how grief can fundamentally and permanently change your life. Here’s what you need to know about grief—whether you’re a newly aggrieved person or a loved one trying to help a friend or family member cope with an unimaginable loss.
Grief Can Make You Sick
Particularly if you’ve never suffered through the agony of seemingly endless grief, grief might seem like little more than a minor inconvenience, a form of emotional exhaustion. But grief has profound effects on the body and mind, and research has consistently documented its surprising ability to wreck physical health. Some of the myriad ways in which grief can interfere with your physical health include:
- Chronic muscle pain and headaches
- Decreased immunity that makes you more likely to get sick
- Increased risk of obesity
- Increased risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and osteoarthritis
- Making poor health choices, such as inadequate exercise or poor nutrition, that can further compound grief-induced health problems
Grief Can Trigger Mental Illness
Many of our clients mistakenly believe that the difficulties they experience at coping with everyday life are solely the product of their grief. The truth, though, is that grief can actually trigger mental illness. Grief changes the way your brain and body function, so if you’re already vulnerable to mental illness, you may experience depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and even serious symptoms such as psychosis. Once mental illness rears its ugly head, it’s not going to go away on its own. Counselling, though, can help address the challenges of grief and the symptoms of mental illness, enabling you to move forward with sound mental health and hope for the future.
Grief Has No Set Timeline
Popular media reports about the “stages of grief” have left many of our clients with the inaccurate impression that grief moves according to a predictable timeline, neatly progressing from one stage to another. Though grief does come in stages, these stages are not predictable or orderly, and they often repeat themselves. Moreover, grief has no expiration date. There’s no set amount of time to grieve that’s “normal.”
Instead, the reality is that grief may last forever, particularly when the loss is a significant one. The pain may dissipate over time, but many grieving people find that their grief is re-triggered by life’s ups and downs. A woman whose husband dies may get back to normal after a year, only to find that their anniversary, his birthday, and the holidays are extraordinarily difficult. While we don’t promise to eliminate the pain of grief, we can show you more productive ways of dealing with it.
Grief Shows Up Unexpectedly
Grief is a fickle thing. Just when you think you’ve pinned it down, figured out when it’s going to rear its ugly head, it surprised you again. Many grieving people find that strange things trigger their grief. From happy events that remind you of the loved one who’s no longer there, to facing life’s biggest challenges alone, grief tends to come up over and over again. Grieving people don’t choose to feel bad, and their emotions are not cries for attention; treating them as such only compounds the isolation that grief so often produces.
Grief Changes and Varies
The grief you feel today might not look anything like the grief you experience tomorrow or next year. Grief tends to change over time. It also varies from person to person and loss to loss. For instance, a woman who loses her husband may eventually move on, particularly if he lived a long and happy life and did not die suddenly. But the loss of a beloved pet may spark unbearable emotions that trigger memories of many past losses. Likewise, one person might find the end of a marriage unbearable, while another may quickly recover. There’s no “normal” way to grieve, and applying external standards to your own grief—or to someone else’s—is a recipe for feeling worse, and needing longer to recover.