What is grief?

Grief is experienced after the loss of someone or something you loved. Although it is a normal part of life, the event can still be a shock and can lead to periods of sadness.  Grieving is an important step for overcoming loss and these feelings.  Overcoming grief may be complicated, especially if there was a tumultuous relationship with that person.

Who is at risk of developing grief?

Everyone acts differently in response to a loss.  This is due to everyone having different coping mechanisms.  Although grief is commonly associated with death, any loss can cause grief such as:

  • Ending a relationship or divorce
  • Loss of a friendship
  • Loss of health
  • Loss of a job and financial security
  • Retirement
  • Miscarriage
  • Loss of a pet
  • Coping with a serious illness
  • Loss of a home
  • Loss of safety after a traumatic event

Can grief cause depression?

Grief is not the same as depression.  Sometimes the two can be confused.  People commonly experience traumatic events such as the loss of a loved one, job, or a relationship.  These are normal feelings.  However, grief and depression can coincide after a major traumatic life event.  Grief can lead to depression which causes grief to last longer and be more severe than usual cases. 

How do I know if I am grieving and not depressed?

If someone is only experiencing grief, they may still experience periods of happiness.  In contrast, depression involves constant despair and may impact a person’s daily life.

How long does grief last?

The time it takes for someone to come to terms with a loss may be months to even a year.  It is extremely important to understand that there is no “normal” time limit for grief.  Everyone must heal at their own pace.


What causes grief?

Loss of anything important may cause grief.  This may even be subtle life changes such as leaving an old job, leaving your old home, or even graduating high school or college.

What is the grieving process?

The grieving process is very personalized and may depend on personality types and a person’s coping skills.  There is no normal time frame for grieving.  Patience from yourself and loved ones is needed while grieving.


What are symptoms of grief?

There may be both physical and emotional symptoms of grief.  These include:

  • Physical symptoms:
    • Insomnia
    • Body aches
    • Fatigue
    • Weight loss or gain
    • Nausea
  • Emotional symptoms:
    • Sadness
    • Guilt
    • Shock
    • Disbelief
    • Anger
    • Fear


What are the stages of grief?

Some popular symptoms during the grieving process have been categorized as the five stages of grief.  They include:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Not everyone will go through all five stages, nor will they be in sequential order during the grieving process.


How do you diagnose grief?

Grief may be difficult to distinguish from depression.  The best way to receive an accurate diagnosis is from a licensed healthcare provider.  They will perform a complete analysis of symptoms and medical history to provide a diagnosis between the two.

Is there a test to confirm grief?

Currently, there are no specific tests to confirm grief.


What are some strategies that may be used to overcome grief?

  • Talk about your loved one and their death.  You may suffer from isolation if you avoid talking about them and their death which prolongs the process.
  • Develop a support system with those also coping with a similar loss as you.  This may be beneficial for everyone suffering from the loss.
  • You may experience a wide range of feelings and emotions, so acceptance is needed.
  • Continue taking care of yourself by eating healthy, exercise, and getting plenty of rest.
  • Having anniversaries to remember your loved ones may be difficult but may also be a way of honoring them.
  • Draw support from your faith if you have a religious tradition that offers comfort with its mourning ceremonies.

What happens if grief never goes away?

Pain from losing something or someone you love may not ever completely go away.  However, if this grief is interfering with returning to your everyday life, you may be experiencing complicated grief.

What is complicated grief?

Complicated grief is being stuck in severe mourning.  These symptoms may include:

  • Extreme anger about the loss
  • Feeling of emptiness
  • Avoiding memories or images of the loss
  • Looking for the loved one
  • Denial of the death or loss
  • Belief or imagination that your loved one is still alive
  • Intense sadness
  • Irritability

Complicated grief can also manifest as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if the death was sudden or violent.

When is professional help needed?

As discussed, grief is a normal process needed to overcome the loss.  Individuals suffering from severe grief will benefit from seeing a licensed healthcare professional such as our trained specialists at the Specialty Clinic of Austin.  If there is a feeling that life is no longer worth living, seek help immediately.



American Psychological Association. (2020, Jan).  Grief: Coping with the loss of your loved one.

HelpGuide. (2020, Sept). Coping with Grief and Loss.

Neimeyer, R.A., Burke, L.A., Mackay, M.M. et al. Grief Therapy and the Reconstruction of Meaning: From Principles to Practice. J Contemp Psychother 40, 73–83 (2010).

NEIMEYER, R.A. (1999) NARRATIVE STRATEGIES IN GRIEF THERAPY, Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 12:1, 65-85, DOI: 10.1080/107205399266226

Wetherell J. L. (2012). Complicated grief therapy as a new treatment approach. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 14(2), 159–166.


Medically reviewed by:

Charles Sweet, MD, MPH

Dr. Sweet is a native Texan and attended The University of Texas at Austin for undergraduate studies. He earned his Doctor of Medicine and Master of Public Health degrees at the University of Illinois and then did residency training at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Sweet came back to Austin, TX for specialized training in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and has been in practice since 2009.

Dr. Sweet believes strongly in working with, and training Physician Assistants to treat the behavioral health needs of adults, children and adolescents.

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