Grief: Emotional, Physical and Cognitive Reactions

What is your response to Grief?

What is your response to Grief?

No one is ever prepared to lose a loved one. Whether it was expected or not, it still comes accompanied by shock. Even though we know rationally that death is inescapable we always hope that it won’t or won’t yet happen.

Even though grief is an experience that feels like you are going crazy, there are a range of reactions and responses that are normal. Some of the possible reactions may be on the emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral and spiritual level. ‘Normal’ does however not mean that they are in any way easy to experience.

In the following article we will look at the emotional, physical and cognitive reactions.

Emotional reactions may include

  • Sadness
  • Shock
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Jealousy
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Shame
  • Relief
  • Feeling powerless and hopeless or helpless
  • Feeling irritable and frustrated
  • Loneliness
  • Yearning/Longing
  • Numbness
  • Depression
  • Lack of control
  • Resentment
  • “Grief Attacks”

Often, it is normal that as a bereaved person you experience all kinds of emotional reactions, even contradictory ones at the same time. You might not know yourself reacting in that way normally and struggle with self-judgment.

The main and important point to stress here is that emotional reactions are just one way in which grief may be expressed. It does not have to be the best and only way to work through the grieving process.

Physical reactions may include

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Sensitivity to various stimuli, in particular noise
  • Muscular tension
  • Exhaustion
  • Pain
  • Lack of energy
  • Tightness in chest
  • Shortness of breath

Physical pains are often a way to channel grief’s energy. Most people experience one or many of the physical symptoms and some even predominantly experience grief physically. Again, physical reactions are just one way and neither better or worse than emotional reactions.

If you experience physical ailments it is advisable to get them checked out and exclude any other causes. Also remember that exercise is a good means to deal with stress.

Cognitive reactions may include

  • Disbelief
  • Obsessive thinking
  • Apathy or numbness
  • Being unable to concentrate and remember
  • Looping thinking and continuous ‘what if’ scenarios
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Lack of motivation and focus
  • Impaired judgment
  • Thinking about wanting to find a culprit or damage something to ease the pain
  • Dreaming
  • Diminished self-concern
  • Emptiness
  • Replaying images of loss

Cognitive reactions are another way to try and make some sense of the loss. Asking yourself the “Why?” questions is part of this level and it very common, not just in the immediate time after the loss of your loved one.

Talking, whether that is with your partner, a friend or family member or with a professional has been found to be helpful in reducing and dealing with obsessive thinking.

Often people who show cognitive reactions but lack emotional responses have been thought not to grieve ‘properly’. This is not the case. Neither way is better or worse, they are just different. Be mindful not to impose your way of grieving onto another person.

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