Everyone feels low from time to time, so it’s not always easy to know when it is part-and-parcel of daily life, and when it’s time to seek help. In most cases, it is short-term and self-correcting, but for a significant minority this is not the
case. For those individuals, it is important to seek treatment just as you would any other health condition. Here we discuss six warning signs which, together, might indicate that it’s time to seek professional help.
1. You are not yourself
Your loss will leave you feeling empty, confused, and overwhelmed. You are simply not yourself at the moment. The process of grieving may leave you feeling disconnected from family, friends, your usual work activities and hobbies. Life does not feel the same…you feel numb. This is normal. Grief wants you to step back from your usual life for a while…as you have a lot of work to do: Grief work.
2. You have a one track mind
You will have flashbacks, conversations repeating in your mind, words you ‘should have’ said, things you ‘could have’ done. Then you will be tortured by the ‘What if’s’. ‘What if I was there for you that day, that night?’ What if we did this…did that? You may see images, over and over. You keep shutting them out, but your mind keeps replaying them. This is your mind trying to come to terms with the events you have just been through. Your mind is busy reconciling and processing huge emotions, uncommon events, and possible trauma. This is usual soon after loss.
3. Your body is weak
Your body is hurting, as grief is a physical process. It is common to feel aches and pains, as the body is being impacted by the abrupt changes. All these roar emotions take up a lot of energy, as does speaking to people about all the intricate details of the events. The loss is exhausting. You may also be in shock, traumatised, in fight, flight or freeze stage. To help your body, keep in mind that simple foods will make digestion less complicated, so your body can work at maintaining homeostasis. When I am with a client who has just lost a husband, I assure them that toast for tea is fine, for the moment, while they recover. Keep hydrated; avoid alcohol as it is a depressant. Allow others to help you with your responsibilities. If you feel like hiding from the world, conserving energy for a few hours here and there, then do it. Similarly, if you feel like a walk, do it! The neurotransmitter boost from gentle exercise, as well as much needed endorphins, will help your mood and body, and assist sleep. Listen to your body, and never push yourself while grieving, as it is very easy to become over-fatigued.
4. You are angry
In this fragile state, you will also experience Anger. Grief can make you angry at the world, or you may feel cheated. You could become furious about the flowers at the funeral, your sister, the weather! The anger is helpful; as it gives you a constructive way to channel your heightened emotions…it gives you a purpose, when all your work/hobbies have been stripped away. In my couples counselling, I have seen this anger hurt marriages…so try not to take this anger out on your spouse. This anger is a normal part of grieving, so when you feel like kicking something, make sure it’s a football, not the family dog.
5. You can’t concentrate
Your brain is ‘foggy’, and this is frustrating. Be extra careful, as you are not as alert as usual. Your pre-occupation with loss has changed your ability to focus. Some people find themselves becoming frustrated at themselves because they can’t concentrate, when they are shopping, or back at work. Grief won’t let you concentrate…not for long. Why? If you could think clearly, then maybe you could sit and comprehend the enormity of your loss. Grief wants to protect you from this.
6. You can’t sleep
So why are you having trouble sleeping? Well, your whole body and mind is in chaos! You swing from too much adrenalin to complete exhaustion, and naturally your brain is impacted. You try to suppress distressful thoughts during the day, so your mind replays them for you while you sleep. Or maybe you over-focus on your loss all day. You may even have a little PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), if you have witnessed the death, seen your loved one just prior to, or after death. Try to take some time out, each day, to switch off, read a magazine or book, watch television, thereby giving the conscious mind a much needed rest.
7. You are depressed
Depression sets in. This is a normal part of grief. Depression causes insomnia, fatigue, negative thinking and anger at self. (So now you have anger at self AND anger at the world). Your neurotransmitters are impacted, your serotonin and dopamine are most likely out of balance; you are definitely not yourself. You may feel like you have lost some faith in life, and fearful of the future. (As a crisis counsellor, I have noticed that most clients with depression had unresolved grief at the source and clients with anxiety had unresolved trauma at the source.) If the depression, anxiety or sleep issues persist, see a doctor, psychologist or counsellor.
8. Your ‘to do’ list in this grief process
Talk about your loved one, and the experience of the loss, with others and allow yourself to be immersed in this sadness. Make photo boards, talk to the loved one, and celebrate their life in any way you feel. Write letters, record messages on your phone to your loved one, keep communicating to your friends, family AND loved one. Put photos around your home. Have they really left you? Or are they simply in another form? Your loved one is in your heart, they are part of you…and their spirit – their love – is with you when you most need them.
9. Your goal in the Grief Process
The good news is, if you allow the grief process to happen; if you don’t suppress it, or try to ‘push on and get back to work too early’, your healing will happen. Eventually, this depression should reduce, and your mind and body WILL feel normal again. The ultimate goal of Grief is to come to a place of acceptance. In this final stage, you will be in a new phase, where the loss is integrated into your heart. You will perhaps stops seeing your loved one everywhere, and be able to focus again on your life, with the knowledge that your loved one is still with you, in spirit, and in your heart. These grief clouds will pass, and eventually you will see the sun, the beauty of life again.
This time, is possibly your lowest…but you will be happy again, you will feel yourself again. You will enjoy the rain, the clouds, and the sun, again.
What are the signs?
- You’ve been feeling low or irritable for most of the day, every day for two weeks or more. You might have found yourself worrying about past or future events for long periods of time, or simply feeling sad, cross or tearful. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize a gradual change – have others noticed that you don’t seem your usual self?
- You’ve lost interest in activities that you used to enjoy. Perhaps you have been seeing less of your friends or family recently, have stopped going to the gym, or cooking balanced meals. This is really about recognizing changes in what’s normal for you – no one is saying you have to exercise five times a week or eat your greens, but changes in your routine can offer concrete indications that your mood is changing.
- You are struggling to concentrate. You might notice that you struggle to focus when reading or watching television, for example, or to follow the thread of a spoken conversation. This could be affecting your performance at work, or limiting your ability to perform routine tasks such as food shopping. Again, we are looking for a change in what’s normal for you, so if concentration has always been something you find tricky there is little cause for concern.
In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.
— Robert Frost
Depression, like many mental health conditions, follows ‘the rule of thirds’: One third of sufferers will make a full recovery, one third will partially respond to treatment, and one third will not benefit from treatment at all. Your age, the duration of your symptoms, having a family history of depression, and co-occurring mental or physical health difficulties might all affect your prognosis. Some researchers believe that there is evidence for a ‘scarring’ effect, where the likelihood of suffering from a relapse in depression increases with the number of episodes you have already had. There is also an increased risk of suicide associated with severe depression.