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Dr. Cassidy Blair, Psy.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist | PSY 22022

Dr. Cassidy Blair, Psy.D.

complicated grief
Finding Closure: A Guide to Complicated Grief and Dealing with Loss

You get the phone call that no one wants: a loved one has died suddenly. The initial feelings of sadness are intense, and you feel lost and hopeless.

But what happens when you can’t get over the loss of a loved one?

While it’s normal to feel deep sadness after a loss, sometimes that feeling lingers and interferes with your life. Feelings of sadness and anger can arise when you least expect it long after losing a loved one.

When grief is prolonged and intense, it is referred to as complicated grief syndrome. Let’s take a closer look at what this means, the symptoms, and how to deal with it.

What is Complicated Grief?

When you experience a loss, you typically go through the five stages of grieving that includes denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance. The order of these stages can vary for different people and entail a few months of profound sadness, known as acute grief.

Sometimes, a milestone such as a birthday or a holiday can bring back memories of the person and temporarily trigger the feelings again. But they typically subside relatively quickly.

However, with complicated grief, the symptoms of grief don’t go away on their own. In fact, they can not only stick around uninvited, but they can also get worse. Because you’re always in a state of mourning, you can’t follow the normal path of healing.

Symptoms of Complicated Grief

During the initial stages of grieving, it may be hard to tell normal grieving and complicated grief from each other. It’s not unusual to have outbursts of sadness and feel depressed for weeks or months after a loss.

When the feeling of grief continues beyond that without showing signs of improvement, then it becomes complicated grief.

Signs that you or a loved one is dealing with complicated grief include:

• A feeling of being detached from everyday life

• Loss of purpose in life

• Inability to enjoy the things you usually do

• Less trust in others

• Focusing on your loss until it becomes an obsession

• Bouts of insomnia

• Difficulty communicating with friends and family

• Being constantly irritable

These symptoms can have a profound effect on your life. If you’re only focused on your loss, then you may experience difficulty in relationships, and even taking care of yourself.

In some cases, people can turn to self-medication that leads to addiction. It can also make mental health issues more pronounced. These can include depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (more commonly known as PTSD.)

Experiencing these symptoms might mean that you cut off communication with people you normally confide in. It can also carry misguided guilt that you could have somehow saved the person if you had done things differently.

While sadness and detachment can put relationships and careers at risk, there are even more possible serious complications. For example, in some cases, you may have thoughts of suicide because your normal coping mechanisms aren’t working. You may even develop chronic health complications such as high blood pressure that can put your life at risk.

Who is At Risk?

It’s hard to say for sure why some people greave “normally”, and why others develop complicated grief syndrome. It could be a predisposition to mental health issues or family history.

Factors that can lead to complicated grief include the sudden loss of a loved one, including losing a child from illness or an accident. Other life pressures such as financial debt can make the problem feel more intense.

It can also be harder to deal with if you don’t have a social support network, or you’ve isolated yourself from people that can help guide you through the bereavement.

How Do You Deal With Complicated Grief?

Dealing with complicated grief is difficult enough on its own, without having outside pressures making it worse. If you have a profound sadness that has hung around long after a loss, then there are some things you can try to ease the pain and get back to a normal life.

First off, you need to acknowledge all the feelings you’re having. This can mean crying even if you don’t want to show any vulnerability.

You should also cut your consumption of alcohol, as it can lead to feelings of depression and create a vicious cycle. It’s important to stay active by exercising, which can naturally boost your mood. It doesn’t have to be high-impact exercise; taking a long walk in nature or practicing Tai Chi or yoga can have physical and mental benefits.

Eating healthy meals packed with nutrients at regular intervals is also essential to your recovery. Get the proper amount of sleep every night, because lack of sleep can bring a whole host of its own problems.

Try to engage in activities that distract you from thinking about your loved one. Join a recreational sports league, or take up a photography hobby. Do something you enjoy that gets you outside of the box that’s holding you in.

Just as importantly, you need to talk to people that can ease your pain. That means letting friends back into the fold or joining a bereavement support group that you can relate to. Professional therapies such as crisis intervention can also be beneficial in the recovery process, and lead you in the right direction.

You Don’t Have to Face It Alone

Dealing with the loss of a loved one can be one of the biggest challenges in life, but almost everyone will experience it at some point. It’s important to know there are support and resources to help you through the darkest times when dealing with loss.

While you should keep the door open to close friends and family that can help you process the grief, you can also turn to an expert that employs strategies to help you cope and rebuild relationships. For example, the loss of a child can often cause a strained marriage.

To find out more about the therapies available to deal with complicated grief and other mental health issues, contact us today.

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