Seven Most Common Symptoms of Grief

By Tracy Renee Lee

March 2, 2022

Sadness is Often Confused With Depression By Survivors

The seven most commonly reported symptoms suffered by survivors during grief are sadness, shock, disbelief, guilt, anger, fear, and physical ailments. There are numerous other symptoms; however, these are the seven most common.

Sadness is the most universally experienced symptom of grief. You may also have feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning, or deep loneliness.

Sadness is often confused with depression by survivors. However, when suffering sadness, survivors do not experience the loss of self-worth as those who suffer depression. Sadness is transient and will lessen as time passes. Survivors will begin experiencing normal happiness levels as they adjust to their new reality of life without their loved ones by their side.

Unlike depressed individuals, survivors suffering sadness are also able to be distracted. They can set their dismay aside and participate in important and uplifting events. Of course, their participation in such events may be less animated and more of an obligatory nature than usual; nevertheless, they are able to participate to a degree.

Although you may be expecting your loved one to die, the actual moment of death seems to shock you into an awareness of the depth of your loss.

No matter how anticipated or expected the passing of your loved one is, the actual time and date remain a mystery. For that reason, death seems to shock your awareness of the finality of death and usher in the reality of other ailments.

You may feel numb, have trouble believing that the loss is real or permanent, or even deny the truth.

Disbelief is there for your protection. The shock of surviving your loved one signals the stress hormone cortisol production. The production of this hormone in excess can cause severe complications to your health. Extended production of this hormone may lead to your death if you do not engage in grief recovery. Disbelief is not denial.

You may feel guilty about things you did or didn’t say or do, or about feelings (e.g., feeling relieved when the person dies after a long, complex illness).

Survivors may feel guilty upon the death of a loved one that they perhaps treated poorly. It is important to realize that these feelings are usually regret rather than guilt. These feelings are normal and may motivate the survivor to change their ways to treat others more kindly and politely. Doing so assists the survivor in overcoming their negative feelings toward themselves.

Feelings of guilt over a person dying after a long or complex illness are feeling of relief. These feelings are generated through kindness between human beings and should not distress you. It is the love that you have toward another that brings on these feelings.

You may be angry with yourself, God, the doctors, or even the person who died for abandoning you.

Anger is a normal symptom that should pass as the survivor accepts the reality of their new existence. You may feel angry toward your loved one for things they left undone, or for new skills that you must now learn in their absence. You may feel angry because you suffer loneliness or because you didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. Perhaps you are angry at yourself because you left things unsaid, or you are frustrated and afraid. Whatever brings on your anger, understand that as you adjust to your new life, anger will diminish and be replaced with loving memories of your loved one (if they were a lovable person).

The death of a loved one can trigger fears about your mortality, of facing life without your loved one, or the responsibilities you now face alone.

Fear is a common symptom of grief. If you have lived with your loved one for decades, being without them beside you can cause you to fear being at home alone or perhaps going to the grocery store alone. The fact is that we are social beings and suddenly being without your companion is frightening.

Perhaps your loved one was a child. If you are a parent who suffers the loss of a child, you may have fears that other of your children might also die, especially if the cause of death were genetic. Maybe your children were involved in an activity together that caused the death. In such a case, your fears that your other child may suffer from the activity may be valid. If you have lost a child, my sincerest condolences go out to you.

Grief often involves physical ailments such as fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or weight gain, aches and pains, and insomnia.

Physical symptoms often accompany the loss of a loved one. If your symptoms are persistent, it is suggested that you seek out your physician for consultation. If you have pre-existing conditions, you should likewise consult your physician. Sometimes these physical ailments are associated with the inability to rest due to a pre-occupation of your decedent.

Often physical symptoms may be related to your lack of self-care while suffering such enduring stress. It is suggested that you keep a journal of your self-care while enduring bereavement. In your self-care journal, track your medications, the times you eat, and especially write down the amount of water you drink. The physical ailments of grief are often related to dehydration. Once dehydrated, you will feel terrible, and it can become hazardous very swiftly. Please keep yourself well hydrated.

Each of these seven common symptoms accompanying grief usually lessens over time as you adjust to your new reality as a survivor. If you find that these symptoms remain persistent (lasting over six months), it is suggested that you consult your physician. If at any time these symptoms become severe, or you fear that you may harm yourself, immediately seek out medical intervention.

Additionally, your usual health care practitioner may not be educated in grief recovery. For this reason, I suggest that if these symptoms persist or become ailments, you also seek out a grief recovery specialist. Grief recovery specialists are schooled to recognize coping discrepancies and will be able to assist you in applying strategies that are geared directly toward grief recovery.

My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a Certified Grief Counselor (GC-C), Funeral Director (FDIC), published author, syndicated columnist, Podcaster, and founder of the “Mikey Joe Children’s Memorial” and Heaven Sent, Corp. I write books, weekly bereavement articles, Podcasts, and Grief BRIEFs related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award.

It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.

For additional encouragement, please visit my podcast “Deadline” at https://open.spotify.com/show/7MHPy4ctu9OLvdp2JzQsAA or at https://anchor.fm/tracy874 and follow me on Instagram at "Deadline_TracyLee"