Grief is inevitable. The silence of a pet’s passing, the unraveling of a once-cherished relationship, or even the void of a job loss—it comes in many different forms.
As universal as it is unique, grief touches each of us differently. Yet, the question remains the same for all: How do we find our way through its maze?
Knowing how to grieve is a testament to our capacity for growth. And embracing its lessons and seeking guidance can transform these moments of pain into pillars of strength and understanding.
More Than Just Sadness, What Is Grief According to Science?
Grief is a complex emotion that can disrupt our physical well-being and emotional balance. Here are a few scientific studies looking into how it can affect us:
- Research shows that 7–10% of people who have lost someone might feel strong grief symptoms for a long time. This can include the heartache from the death of someone close, the breakup of a relationship, losing a job, or even facing severe health issues.
- Research by Mary-Frances O’Conner, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona suggests that significant losses can lead to changes in brain activity, particularly in regions associated with emotional regulation. And this may even influence immune response and hormonal balances.
- Another study shows that when grief gets too strong and lasts too long, it can mess up the chemicals in the brain that make us feel good. This can lead to bigger problems, like depression.
Understanding how to deal with this sadness can help you take the first step toward moving through it with compassion and resilience.
As Agapi Stassinopoulos, a world-renowned spiritual teacher and trainer of Mindvalley’s Speaking with Spirit Quest, says: “Grief is like a soil that is untilled, and if you allow it to, Spirit can come in and plant new seeds, and then those new seeds will start to sprout, and they become the fruits of your life.”
The Types of Grief You May Encounter
Grief, or bereavement, as it’s often termed, is a complex emotion, and everyone feels it in their own way. However, not all grief is the same. Different losses lead to different feelings.
Let’s look at some examples:
- Grieving the death of a pet. Losing a beloved animal takes away joy and leaves your home feeling silent and empty.
- Grieving the death of someone close. This could be a parent, sibling, or friend. Their absence feels like a giant hole in your life.
- Grieving a breakup or divorce. You mourn the shared dreams, moments, and future once envisioned together.
- Grieving a job, health, or security loss. This can shake your sense of belonging and purpose.
- Grieving the loss of a friendship. Some bonds weaken or break and can leave you grappling with the absence of shared laughter, secrets, and support.
- Grieving missed opportunities. Be it a dream college, a job opportunity, or a missed life event, “what could have been” weighs heavy.
- Grieving a miscarriage. A silent pain where you, as a parent, mourn the dreams, love, and future you had envisioned for your unborn child.
- Grieving one’s own health. Diagnoses like chronic illnesses, disabilities, or sudden health downturns can lead to grieving a previously known way of life.
- Grieving the death of a famous person. They might have inspired you, made you laugh, or provided comfort through their art. Even if you never met them, their death can hit hard.
The bottom line is, dealing with loss is a part of life. And while it’s hard, it also shows how much you value and care about the things and people in your life.
Recognizing the Phases and Symptoms of Grief
Understanding grief isn’t just about identifying its triggers; it’s equally essential to recognize how it manifests in our lives. Both the symptoms and stages of grief provide insight into your emotional journey, helping you find your way through the haze.
Symptoms of grief
Here are some notable symptoms that often accompany grief:
- Emotional numbness
- Intense sadness
- Sleep disturbances
- Appetite changes
- Physical discomfort (e.g., stomachaches, headaches)
- Anxiety or unease
- Irritability or agitation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling isolated or detached
- Guilt or remorse over past interactions
- Desire to avoid reminders of the loss
- Crying spells
- Withdrawal from social activities
Grief doesn’t only manifest emotionally; it also surfaces in various physical and behavioral ways, altering your day-to-day. According to the organs and emotions chart, your body has distinct reactions to different emotions.
Scientifically speaking, every thought you build with your mind sends a message to your entire body, as Dr. Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist, explains in her Calm Mind: A Scientific Method for Managing Anxiety and Depression Quest on Mindvalley.
“So your mind is embodied,” she adds. “Every experience you have is embodied. And that’s why we feel that when we remember something traumatic, we feel—our heart feels—like it’s going to stop.”
And so embracing these feelings, rather than pushing them away, can be the first step towards healing.
Stages of grief
Your journey through grief is not a straight path but rather a winding road, with its duration varying from one person to another.
Many often ask, “How long does it take to grieve?” The truth is, there’s no set timeline. Your emotional evolution through grief is captured in stages, as highlighted by Kübler-Ross:
- Denial. A disbelief in the reality of loss.
- Anger. Frustration and resentment towards the unfairness of the situation.
- Bargaining. Hopeful compromises or pleas to reverse the cause of grief.
- Depression. Overwhelming sadness and despair.
- Acceptance. Coming to terms with the new reality.
These grief stages may mix, match, and repeat. Agapi explains, “If you are attached to your grief and if your judgment is that ‘this should’ve never happened to you,’ then you will not expand to make new room for the new to come in.”
But with the right guidance, you can move through them, finding your balance once again.
Learning How to Process Grief Effectively & Transform Your Pain
Grief touches every corner of your heart. Yet, within this vast landscape of emotions, there are ways to find healing and move forward with strength.
Here are a few scenarios in which you may encounter grief and how to work through your sadness.
It’s important to note that seeking support from friends and family or engaging in grief counseling can be immensely beneficial in managing this profound loss.
How to grieve a death
Losing someone dear is an irreplaceable loss. The void, the silence, and the memories can be overwhelming.
But according to Neale Donald Walsch, the author of the Conversations with God series and trainer of Mindvalley’s Awaken the Species Quest, look at it in this sense: death does not exist.
“The soul lives past the end of the body and the mind,” he explains. “You might mourn your loss, but not their death. In fact, you’ll actually celebrate their death by celebrating both the moments of love and joy that they shared with you and the fact that they’re now continuing to live in the free and wondrous expression of their evolutionary process.”
So while the pain might seem insurmountable, it’s essential to remember that mourning is a part of the natural healing journey.
What you can do: Engage in shadow work. This self-reflection technique helps you face, understand, and embrace the hidden or suppressed parts of your emotions.
A great way to do this is through journaling, answering questions like “What memory hurts the most?” or “What haven’t I allowed myself to feel?” These shadow work prompts can help guide you through this healing process.
How to grieve a relationship
When you’re in a relationship, it becomes a big part of who you are. Research has looked at how couples see themselves as a team. One study, for example, found that when they have a clear idea of this, they usually stay together longer.
That’s why, when it ends, it can feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself. And according to Katherine Woodward Thomas, a renowned relationship expert and author of the best-selling Conscious Uncoupling, along with that loss comes shame.
“We’re all somewhat under the spell of the happily-ever-after myth,” she explains in her Mindvalley Quest, also called Conscious Uncoupling. “Many of us will feel socially embarrassed or humiliated at the end of a relationship for this reason.”
So it’s no wonder that a breakup feels like a big deal. And the mourning of shared memories and the future plans you made together can weigh heavily on your heart for a long time.
What you can do: Consider exploring ancestral healing. This philosophy suggests that emotional patterns, even those observed in relationships, might be inherited from past generations.
By recognizing and addressing these generational imprints, you can better navigate healing and find closure. The great thing is, Mindvalley has numerous guided meditations available that can help you let go of the past and open yourself up to the future.
How to grieve a pet
The bond between humans and their pets is profound. Without a doubt, pets provide companionship, love, and countless memories.
So it comes as no surprise that the grief experienced after losing a pet can be as intense as that after losing a human family member, according to research. And the pain you feel can be overwhelming, reminding you of the depth of your attachment.
What you can do: Use tools like the emotion code chart. This chart helps identify specific emotions you’re feeling and points out the potential physical responses your body might be having.
“What we have to do is rewire the mind-brain-body connection,” explains Dr. Leaf in her Mindvalley Quest. By mapping out your emotions and understanding how they might be impacting your body, you gain a clearer picture of your emotional state.
How to help someone grieve
Seeing a loved one in pain can be heart-wrenching. And the thing to remember is, coping with grief is a personal journey; there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
Offering support, patience, and understanding are vital during such times. And while you can’t walk the path for them, you can walk beside them, providing solace and a shoulder to lean on.
What you can do: “If there is anyone around you who is suffering loss,” says Agapi, “maybe the way to expand is to extend your love and your heart to them.”
One way to do this is through grief meditation. It’s a calming practice that you can do with them, and it can help them center their thoughts and find a semblance of peace amid the turmoil.
From Sorrow to Strength
Grief isn’t something to merely survive. It’s something to learn from and grow with. And when you’re able to do this, it’s a testament to your resilience as a human.
And if you need some help to bolster it, you can find insights and wisdom from experts at Mindvalley. If you’re a Mindvalley Member, you can explore these quests:
- Speaking with Spirit Quest with Agapi Stassinopoulos: Connect deeply with yourself and Spirit/God for a joyful and fulfilling life.
- Conscious Uncoupling Quest with Katherine Woodward Thomas: Learn effective techniques to heal and find peace after a breakup.
- Awaken the Species Quest with Neale Donald Waslch: Be guided to connect deeply with your spiritual self and to find peace, clarity, and growth in all areas of life.
- Calm Mind: A Scientific Method for Managing Anxiety and Depression Quest with Dr. Caroline Leaf: Discover emotional freedom using her researched Neurocycle® process.
If you’re not yet a Mindvalley Member, there’s a way to get a glimpse of their expertise.
When you sign up for a free Mindvalley account, you’ll unlock access to the first few lessons of their quests. What’s more, you’ll also get daily meditations to help bolster your personal transformation journey.
And if there’s one thing to leave you with, it’s this nugget from Agapi: “There is no light at the end of the tunnel; you are the light. What happens then will be an immersion into your presence. You expand; you let go.”
Images generated on Midjourney.