How to Tell When Grief Becomes Unhealthy
When a loved one dies, it is normal to feel a wide range of grief-related emotions—most of which run along a huge spectrum of possibilities. You might feel emotionally disconnected from the loss and not show any immediate signs of grief…or you could be hit hard and unable to stop crying. You might lose your appetite and be unable to think about eating…or you could turn to comfort food as a way to handle your feelings. You may find yourself feeling physically ill and stuck in bed…or maybe you may be hyper-focused and productive as a way to work through your feelings.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and how you move forward with your life will depend largely on your situation and your personality. However, there are times when grief becomes more than just a part of your life—it becomes your entire life.
Note: You should always consult with a healthcare practitioner if you feel as though you might be suffering from excessive or prolonged grief or are unable to cope with your emotions.
Common Grief Symptoms
Although not everyone experiences grief in the same way, some of the more common and natural signs include:
- Low energy
- Lack of interest in regular activities
- Inability to sleep
- Loss of appetite
- Feelings of lethargy/exhaustion
- Strong emotions (which can range from guilt and sadness to anxiety and fear)
- Lack of focus
- Poor memory
These can continue for some time after the death of a loved one, and can often crop up unannounced. Even months or years later, triggers like a scent, a song, or even just a memory that pops up out of nowhere can bring on emotions you thought you had put behind you. This is a normal part of the grieving process and may never go away.
Unhealthy Grief Symptoms
Grief becomes unhealthy when it starts to affect your physical and mental health, as well as your ability to function in your everyday life. Look for things like:
- Significant weight gain or loss
- Panic attacks
- Development of phobias or fears
- Excessive anger
- Self-destructive behaviors
- Isolation or lack of contact with other people
- Substance abuse
- Chronic pain
These signs, especially over a prolonged period of time (six months or more), often indicate that your grief is more severe than what is typically expected. In these cases, you may need counseling, group therapy, medication or additional social support.
Even if you do not experience any of the symptoms on this list, never hesitate to reach out if you feel your grief has reached a level that you cannot handle on your own. Your emotional, physical, and mental well-being are never more important than after a loved one dies.