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Stages of Grief

writtenByWritten by: Leah McCabe
Leah McCabe

Leah McCabe

Leah likes writing about health and science subjects. Through her writing she hopes to help people of all backgrounds have equal access to information and quality healthcare.

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reviewBy Reviewed by: Melissa Dowd (Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist)
Reviewer

Melissa Dowd (Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist)

Melissa Dowd received her Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Dominican University of CA and is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. In addition to her work as a clinical therapist, Melissa is passionate about promoting emotional wellness through leading workshops, guest appearances, and across social media platforms.

January 10, 2021 Read Time - 7 minutes

What is Grief?

Grief is a normal part of coping with loss, and it is an emotion we will all experience in various ways throughout our lives. Grief can manifest as an emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral and social response. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Grief is a strong, sometimes overwhelming emotion for people, regardless of whether their sadness stems from the loss of a loved one or from a terminal diagnosis they or someone they love have received.”

There is no right or ‘normal’ way to experience grief, and mourning may last for weeks, months of even years. Typically, grief is tempered as more time passes. One popular model for understanding the progression of grief is the “five stages of grief.”

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What Causes Grief?

There are lots of different events that can cause grief, such as:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Marital separation
  • Imprisonment
  • Personal injury or illness
  • Dismissal from work
  • Retirement
  • Marriage
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Change in financial state
  • Relationship problems
  • Child leaving home
  • Change in work, school or social habits

These are just some of the many events that may cause grief however, the emotion is a very personal experience and the causes for each individual may vary.

The Five Stages of Grief

Not everyone will experience grief the same way. The five stages of grief are a broader guide to the general trends that many experience while grieving, but they are by no means the only or proper way to grieve. The five stages of grief include:

These stages serve as a tool which can help identify emotions and provide assistance in the process of working through grief. If you or a loved one is in a period of grief, understanding these stages can help you provide support for others or even allow you to examine your own emotions.

Stage One of Grief: Denial

Denial is the first stage of grief. In this stage, a person denies the reality of the situation and may experience sensations of meaninglessness. Thoughts such as “this can’t be happening” are very common during this stage. 

The world outside us begins to feel numb, as we isolate ourselves from the pain. The stage of denial is out of our control as our mind reacts to the initial shock of loss and suffering.

Denial can make a person consider if it’s worth trying anymore or if what is happening is real.

Denial, albeit painful, is a critical stage in loss. It allows us to pace our grieving, as we let in only as much as we can handle.

Denial is the stage in which we begin to question the things around us and from this, we begin the process of healing.

Stage Two of Grief: Anger

As the masking effects of denial begin to wear off, reality reemerges. The following sensations of anger play a critical role in the grieving process.

It is important to know that you are allowed to feel angry, even if it feels endless. By embracing your anger, you will allow yourself to move past it.

Anger is an emotion we are equipped to deal with, and it is something that dissipates as we allow ourselves to accept it.

The anger you feel may be directed towards many people surrounding you, including friends, family, doctors, or the world in general.

Although anger feels painful underneath, it is a healthy step towards recovery. Anger is the first step in grounding us back into meaning–that is to say–we are angry because we care.

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Stage Three of Grief: Bargaining

A normal reaction to feelings of helplessness is the idea that you could’ve done something differently to avoid the situation.

A person in this stage of grief may think to themselves, “If only I had done this sooner…” We call these bargaining attempts, as we try to rethink our reality and experience deep regret.

Unfortunately, such a mechanism is strictly a mental practice and serves as a weak defense to protect us from a painful truth.

Guilt is a common sensation in the bargaining stage, as we may recount the many hypothetical ways we could’ve avoided reaching this very moment.

Stage Four of Grief: Depression

After our attention shifts squarely to the present, empty feelings begin to present themselves. During our confrontation with a new reality, we may feel lost, hopeless, and depressed.

Unlike denial, depression is an acceptance of our new existence, but in no way is it easier. The depressive stage may feel like it will last forever, as our life has now forever changed.

Depression is a natural state to experience while grieving, and it should not be thought of as a stage to break free from.

We may withdraw from life, be overcome with feelings of sadness, and may even wonder if it is worth waking up in the morning..

Depression is an appropriate response to loss, and should be understood as necessary pain that will get better with treatment and time. Remember, it is not a sign of weakness to feel unhappy, beaten down, or depressed.


Read: Get Depression Treatment Online


Stage Five of Grief: Acceptance

As time progresses and we work our way through depression, our new reality becomes more familiar.

Acceptance is not the idea of waking up one morning and being okay with our situation. Acceptance is the acknowledgment of the new reality we must live with.

You may never feel okay with what has happened, but eventually you will accept that it is a part of you from which you can grow.

Living in a world with loss is inevitable, and in response we must reorganize the roles in our lives. Doing so can be hard, and at times you may feel like you are betraying someone who has passed.

However, finding acceptance with what has happened means you must also let yourself make new connections, forge new relationships, and cherish that which is a part of you forever.

Getting Help With Grief

When dealing with grief, it is expected that some days will be harder than others. It’s important to have a support system you can turn to on the days when you feel low.

Additionally, there are professionals out there who can counsel you through the stages of grief and help you cope with your emotions.

How PlushCare Can Help With Grief

If you are dealing with loss, online platforms like PlushCare offer convenient help available at the touch of your fingertips. At PlushCare, we’re proud to offer virtual therapy sessions that you can attend from the comfort of your home.

Our licensed therapists will listen to your story and help you work through the grieving process. Therapy sessions with PlushCare cost $119 per session or $99 for weekly sessions. You get a $20 discount for booking weekly therapy sessions, and you can cancel at any time.

  • Browse our network of top therapist to find one that matches your needs.

  • Get private and secure emotional support weekly from your dedicated therapist.

  • Experience comprehensive care with unlimited access to your care team and primary care physician.

Talk to an Online Therapist PlushCare-App-Steps

If our therapists believe you will benefit from medication, such as antidepressants, they may recommend you book an appointment with one of our virtual doctors.

PlushCare offers convenient, reliable, and affordable doctors appointments you can access from the comfort of your home. Together, our therapists and doctors will work together to ensure you get the help and support you deserve.

Click here to book an appointment with one of PlushCare’s trusted doctors.


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Sources

Psychcentral.com. The 5 Stages of Loss and Grief. Accessed on December 26, 2020 at https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/

Griefrecoverymethod.com. Causes of Grief. Accessed on December 26, 2020 at https://www.griefrecoverymethod.com/blog/2013/03/over-40-life-experiences-you-might-have-cause-grief

mayoclinic.org. What is grief? Accessed on December 26, 2020 at https://www.mayoclinic.org/patient-visitor-guide/support-groups/what-is-grief

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