Could This Be Grief?


BY: Margaret D. Bossaller, MA, MSW, LSW


“I have so much to do, but I can’t focus on anything.”

“I’m just so irritable and on edge these days.” 

“My stomach always feels unsettled.”

“I find myself snapping at everyone. Even when I know they don’t deserve it.”

“I just can’t seem to rest.”

Do any of these experiences sound familiar? If so, they may be part of your grief response. 

Grief impacts people in every aspect of their lives. We feel the effects of grief emotionally, physically, cognitively, behaviorally, spiritually and socially. But it can be easy to forget the impact of grief as time passes and the demands of life require us to shift our attention. This is especially true when grief crops up in areas we might not associate with the person who died. For example, we might not connect irritability with traffic and other drivers on our daily commute to the grief we feel after a parent or spouse has died. Or we might fail to recognize that we find ourselves getting more anxious when we go out of town, because we have been so accustomed to needing to be available to provide care for the person who died. 

Throughout your grief journey it can be important to ask yourself, “could this be grief?” When you experience emotions that seem out of proportion to the events that triggered them, this can be a good time to consider the role that grief is playing in your response. When you notice yourself engaging in behaviors that are new or different for you, or avoiding activities that you typically enjoy, this could also be a grief response. Other important times to check in on your grief response include birthdays, anniversaries and holidays; when you or others in your family experience significant life events; or when you have a new experience of loss.

When you think you have identified a grief response, take the opportunity to think about it and process it. One of the most important things you can do is to pay attention to these signals. Often grief cues that begin as something subtle can become more problematic if we don’t create space to explore our reactions and express our emotions. There are many ways to process how grief impacts you. You could talk to someone you trust.  You may be more comfortable writing down what you observe about your experiences and their connection to grief. Or you might spend time away from the hustle and bustle of life to remember the person you are grieving and to honor your relationship with them. Whatever you decide, try to choose something that allows for both self-expression and self-soothing.

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