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Grief and Grieving - Symptoms

Your experience of grief is likely to be different from another person's. Similarly, you will probably grieve somewhat differently each time you experience a significant loss. Your reaction to loss is influenced by the relationship you had with the lost person and by your general coping style, personality, and life experiences. How you express grief is influenced in part by the cultural, religious, and social rules of your community.

Grief is expressed physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.

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  • Physical expressions of grief often include crying and sighing, headaches, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, weakness, fatigue, feelings of heaviness, aches, pains, and other stress-related ailments.
  • Emotional expressions of grief include feelings of sadness and yearning. But feelings of worry, anxiety, frustration, anger, or guilt are also normal.
  • Social expressions of grief may include feeling detached from others, isolating yourself from social contact, and behaving in ways that are not normal for you.
  • Spiritual expressions of grief may include questioning the reason for your loss, the purpose of pain and suffering, the purpose of life, and the meaning of death. After a death, your grieving process is influenced by how you view death.

Grief can cause prolonged and serious symptoms, including depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and actions, physical illness, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Intense grief can bring on unusual experiences. After a death, you may have vivid dreams about your loved one, develop his or her behaviors or mannerisms, or see or hear your loved one. If you feel fearful or stressed by any of these experiences, talk to your doctor and a mental health professional or clergy person experienced in grief counseling.

Age and emotional development influence the way a person grieves a death.

  • Children younger than age 7 usually perceive death as separation. They may feel abandoned and scared. And they may fear being alone or leaving people they love. Grieving young children may not want to sleep alone at night, or they may refuse to go to day care or school. Children under age 7 usually are not able to verbally express their feelings. Instead, they tend to act out their feelings through behaviors, such as refusing to obey adults, having temper tantrums, or role-playing their lives in pretend play. Children younger than age 2 may refuse to talk. And they may be generally irritable. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 may develop eating, sleeping, or toileting and bed-wetting problems.
  • Children between the ages of 7 and 12 often perceive death as a threat to their personal safety. They tend to fear that they will die also and may try to protect themselves from death. While some grieving children want to stay close to someone they think can protect them, others withdraw. Some children try to be very brave or behave extremely well. Others behave terribly. A grieving child may have problems concentrating on schoolwork, following directions, and doing daily tasks. Children in this age group need to be reassured that they are not responsible for the death they are grieving.
  • Teens perceive death much like adults do. But they may express their feelings in dramatic or unexpected ways. For example, they may join a religious group that defines death in a way that calms their feelings. They may try to defy death by participating in dangerous activities, such as reckless driving, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, taking illegal drugs, or having unprotected sex. Like adults, preteens and teens can have suicidal thoughts when grieving. Warning signs of suicide in children and teens may include preoccupation with death or suicide or giving away belongings.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 12, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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