Grief-Related Stress

What is Grief-Related Stress?

Grief-related stress can occur when you experience a loss. This may be the loss of a friend, a parent, a child, or even a pet. It is unique because there is no change that can return your loved one. However, learning how to cope can help you adjust.

You can experience grief-related stress due to negative life events as well. For example, ending a relationship, moving away from home, or receiving a medical diagnosis. Instead of grieving for a person, you are grieving the loss of a home, your health, and so on. The symptoms and consequences are similar.

What Can Happen if Grief-Related Stress is Unmanaged?

The symptoms of grief can include:

  • Increased likelihood of illness

  • Weight loss

  • Loneliness and social isolation

  • Decreased life satisfaction

  • Difficulty carrying out daily activities

Unmanaged grief can lead to:

  • Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD), or grief that lasts longer than six months. Those with prolonged grief disorder experience heightened emotions and difficulty accepting their loss. Those with PGD may withdraw socially and lose interest in their normal activities. PGD is sometimes referred to as Complicated Grief (CG).

  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. PTSD is characterized by feelings of intense fear.

  • Depression, a mental health condition that can involve feelings of sadness or hopelessness; a lack of motivation; irritability; loss of appetite, etc.

What Causes Grief-Related Stress?

Anyone can experience grief-related stress, but some people are more heavily impacted than others. If your loved one was young, you are more likely to experience heightened grief symptoms.

Those who lost multiple loved ones or had multiple negative life changes are more likely to have greater levels of grief-related stress.

If you have witnessed a major traumatic event, you may experience grief. First responders who witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attacks experienced Complicated Grief alongside PTSD.

What Can You Do?

Build Resilience

Research shows that those who have a “tolerance to stress” are more likely to recover quickly. 

For parents who lost a child due to cancer, those who display signs of resiliency were more likely to show a healthy adjustment to their loss. Factors that contributed to their resiliency were a positive perception of themselves, a positive emotional bond with other family members, and a strong support system.

Here are some ways to build resiliency to your grief-related stress:

  • “Meaning-making”: It can be difficult to find a reason for why you have experienced your loss, but exploring your feelings about how the loss has affected you can help you heal.

  • Create a positive, hopeful outlook: Consider what parts of your life after this loss are within your control, and allow yourself to feel the loss of what cannot be changed.

  • Rely on your values and/or spirituality: You may find peace in prayer, meditation, or even music. 

  • Showing compassion to others who are grieving can help your own grief. This can tie together all three of the above components: your values, creating a positive outlook, and building meaning from your loss.

Develop a Support System

Reach out to your family and other loved ones during periods of grief. Sharing your memories and experiences about your loved one can be healing.

If you are experiencing grief due to a disaster or a traumatic event, the Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration (SAMSA) offers some tips:

  • Limit exposure to news and instead focus on relaxing activities

  • Maintain a routine

  • Avoid making big decisions

  • Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep

Grief support groups allow you to give and receive support from those who have also lost a loved one. Here is a resource where you can search for one near you.

Practice Gratitude

A “gratitude practice” can help lower the intensity of your grief. Practicing gratitude means recognizing the good in your life, and realizing that those good things are common. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Write down some memories you are grateful for.

  • Reach out to your loved ones and tell them one reason you appreciate having them in your life.

  • Develop a meditation practice. You can use this time to work through your feelings of loss, or find things about your life that you are grateful for, no matter how small.

Resolve “Unfinished Business”

If you experienced conflict with your loved one, you are less likely to cope well after the loss. This conflict may be due to things left unsaid, or arguing shortly before their death. Signs of unfinished business can include feeling regret, anger, or guilt after the loss. Grief therapy that focuses on resolving this type of conflict can help.

If you feel you need additional support for your grief, your Goodpath coach can help guide you.