Losing someone or something important to you creates specific physical and emotional manifestations of grief. Grief is a natural response to loss, and it affects almost everyone who experiences the death of a loved one or another type of significant loss. People experience grief for many different reasons that aren't limited to the physical death of a person close to them.
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A person can suffer different types of grief after a divorce, the end of a relationship, or the loss of a job. Even the loss of tangible property due to a natural disaster or theft causes grief in many people.
When you're grieving, you may experience different thoughts and feelings that are new to you. How we react to these losses is different for everyone. Individuals suffering through grief will experience the grieving process in their unique way. These physical and emotional manifestations of grief are a true expression of where you are right now in your distress.
What is a Manifestation of Grief?
The way grief shows up after a loss and how a grieving individual responds to it is a simple way of explaining the manifestation of grief. It’s the physical, emotional, social, behavioral, and spiritual responses to loss. All reactions to grief are normal at the onset and vary from person to person.
With an increasing number of people suffering from grief, it's crucial to understand how grief manifests or shows up in suffering individuals. Specific categories demonstrate normal grief and separate it from complicated or prolonged grief. Here, we'll focus on the manifestation of normal grief and the common physical and emotional responses to it.
While everyone's grief reactions are different from the next person's, some common signs and symptoms are associated with the grieving process. These include feelings, physical sensations, and behaviors that are typical signs of grief in a bereaved individual.
Common Physical Manifestations of Grief
Although the grief experience is unique to each individual, grief shows up in certain ways that are common to the grieving process. The physical process a person undergoes when grieving may be a key indicator of how well a person is coping with their grief.
These manifestations begin at the onset of grief and can last for several weeks, months, or years. Grieving individuals commonly report physical sensations that interfere with their daily lives. Here are some of the more common physical manifestations of grief.
Wrenching gut feeling
Very often, a person who’s experiencing gut-wrenching pain and grief will double over in pain and sorrow. This is one of the initial reactions to grief soon after learning about a loved one’s death or other significant loss. Classic spontaneous gut-wrenching reactions are manifestations of grief that are difficult to control. Many people who experience this type of grief manifestation will also fall to their knees in sorrow, compounding the reaction to their loss.
Tightness of the chest and throat
Almost everyone who's ever received the devastating news of a significant loss knows what this feels like: the uncontrolled tightness of the chest and throat makes it feel as if you can't survive the news. Many people describe this as a feeling similar to that of having a heart attack. But in reality, it's more of a defense mechanism that your body uses to force you to take a step back from the initial shock of the news to focus on your breathing and wellbeing.
Oversensitivity to outside noise
When a person's grieving, they can become overly sensitive to outside distractions, with noise being one of the more common annoyances. Grieving individuals who experience this physical manifestation of grief liken this feeling to having a mental breakdown when otherwise normal noise levels become unbearable.
If you've noticed, hospitals, nursing homes, and funeral homes keep the noise level at a minimum so that patients and visitors won't feel any added stress of unwanted noise.
Lethargy and weakness
When a person suffers through the death of a loved one, processing the emotions that come from receiving the news tends to drain them physically. For several days or weeks afterward, they're unable to move about as before. Grief takes a physical toll on a person's body and emotions.
Because of this added energy expenditure during the grieving process, many people find it challenging to find the energy to resume their normal daily activities. It's not uncommon to see a mourning person spend extra time sleeping or simply lying around doing nothing.
Experiencing dry mouth during grief is a result of dehydration. An individual who is grieving often experiences changes in their eating and drinking habits. Mainly, a person who feels profoundly sad will not have an appetite or desire to eat or drink anything. When combined with the constant shedding of tears, dehydration can happen rather quickly.
Emotional responses to loss send a grieving person's body into a severe state of shock and stress. The sudden surge of stress hormones in the body is what causes the body to react in shock. The duration and intensity of the symptoms will depend on how well a person can manage their stress as they process their loss.
Experiencing extreme stress, such as the kind that comes after the loss of a loved one, is associated with changes within the heart muscle cells. Sometimes grief-induced stress affects both the heart and blood vessels, preventing the vessels from contracting effectively. This condition is called stress-induced cardiomyopathy or broken heart syndrome.
The symptoms can mimic those of a heart attack, including chest pain and shortness of breath. Broken-heart syndrome is real and can eventually lead to death when the signs are left untreated.
Common Emotional Manifestations of Grief
In addition to the physical manifestations of grief, a bereaved individual may experience emotional expressions, as well. Emotional outpourings of grief are generally linked with mental health conditions that eventually manifest into additional physical symptoms whenever they're left unrecognized and untreated.
Often, people who are grieving miss the signs of when their emotions go off-kilter. Friends and loved ones may also not recognize what's happening because of a lack of understanding of how grief works. The following are some common emotional manifestations to look out for and what causes them.
Sometimes instead of a grieving person being overwhelmed with strong emotions, they feel nothing at all. A lack of emotion isn't an indicator of how they feel about the person who died or the loss experienced. Numbness is a normal grief reaction when someone suddenly loses something or someone they're close to.
The numbing effect is the mind's way of shielding that person from extreme sorrow. But at the same time, feeling emotionally numb after a significant loss can rob a grieving individual of the chance to mourn their loss properly. If the person fails to move through this numbness to mourn their loss, it may be necessary to seek professional help.
Sadness is probably one of the most common emotional manifestations of grief and plays an essential role in the grieving process. The pain of grief can be overwhelming for many. Because pain and sadness are the hallmarks of grief, we often think of sadness and love as inextricably linked. Sadness forces a suffering individual to turn inward and regroup.
While sorrow is everlasting, sadness is transient. Sadness manifests and retracts; then it shows up again at unexpected times and in ways we sometimes can't understand.
Yearning is an emotional manifestation of grief that focuses on having a strong desire to reconnect with a person, place, or thing that the person misses dearly. Yearning is a defining feature of grief.
While yearning is considered a normal part of grief, it’s also the most prevalent emotion that can potentially create a negative response in the grief process. This emotion most clearly reflects on the absence of a loved one and serves a very defined role in processing grief.
The role of crying in the grief process is to release pent-up emotions while allowing a person suffering through loss to feel a sense of physical relief. Crying can be cathartic or cleansing, depending on where and when people choose to let out their emotions. When a grieving person cries in public or in front of their support group, they show vulnerability. And this indicates they might be willing to accept help from those around them.
Grief can unfold as anger, too. Anger is even one of the emotional manifestations of grief outlined in the five stages of grief. Feeling strong emotions after suffering a significant loss doesn’t always have to be a negative experience.
The anger stage of the grieving process serves to help a person suffering through loss redirect their emotions away from the situation or events leading up to their loss. People who experience anger during grief should explore the root of their bitterness to heal from it effectively.
Grief has the power to make a grieving individual feel vulnerable. Fear sets in when the reality of loss starts to sink in. There are several reasons why a person who’s suffered a loss can sense fear. Some ways that fear affects the bereaved are:
- Feeling a lack of control
- World events seem random and unpredictable
- Feelings of abandonment and isolation
- Fearing the people around them
- Re-experiencing same or similar losses
Coping with feelings of guilt after loss is a common yet complex part of the grieving process. Guilt, much like regret, is one of the most painful parts of grief that can add layers of complexity to the other manifestations of grief as they arise. A person can experience guilt for several reasons.
One of the more common reasons is feeling relief that a loved one has died after suffering through illness or disease. Another is because a person may unrealistically blame themselves for the events leading up to their loss. They may feel directly responsible or like they didn't do enough to prevent their loved one's death or the loss from occurring.
Understanding and overcoming grief-related hopelessness is crucial in correcting this potentially dangerous emotional manifestation of grief. Regardless of how long grief lasts, when a person starts to feel hopeless in their existence, it can lead to more complex reactions. The feeling of hopelessness is defined as a lack of hope accompanied by a state of despair.
People grieving a significant loss, such as the death of a spouse or child, may think that their life is no longer worth living. The longer these feelings fester, the more those feelings of hopelessness can begin to feel inescapable.
Grief Manifestations in the Bereaved
Every grieving individual has a unique timeline for grief. The physical and emotional manifestations of grief vary and are unique to every person mourning the loss of a loved one or another major loss of something dear to them. Recognizing the way grief shows up can help the suffering individual, and the people around them, better understand and process their grief.