Mental illness, a catch-all term for conditions that affect your thinking, mood, or behavior, is becoming more widespread in the U.S. Almost one in five adults—about 53 million adults as of 2020—has reported living with a mental health condition.1 Although mental illness is prevalent, many suffer in silence, with less than half of people with a mental health condition receiving treatment each year.1 Mental Health Awareness Month, celebrated each May, aims to break through the shame and destroy stereotypes associated with seeking mental health services.
Humans experience a wide range of emotions throughout their lifetime, some which can negatively influence mental health. Today, we are focusing on two powerful emotions, grief, and trauma, and sharing ways to understand your feelings and heal.
Grief and Trauma Defined
In its simplest form, grief is our response to loss and can be triggered by hundreds of reasons other than the death of a loved one. You may feel grief about losing a friendship or relationship, job, or opportunity. You might also experience the same feelings during happy times in your life: moving to a new state, adding a new member to your family, or graduating. Grief can arise when our everyday routine changes profoundly.
Trauma, an emotional response with a strong link to grief response, occurs when someone experiences a sudden, unpredictable distressing event: a natural disaster, physical altercation, tragic death, sexual assault, or long-term abuse.2 During a traumatic event, your brain sounds the alarm, and stress hormones prepare to fight the perceived threat.
Are Trauma and Grief the same?
Both trauma and grief result in similar emotional responses, but the most significant difference is the timing of the loss event. Traumatic events are often sudden, dramatic, and unnatural, and grief is a response to a naturally occurring loss, like terminal illness, naturally occurring death, or marked changes in your life.
Experts find it difficult to clearly define what it means to grieve because grief response varies widely from person to person and even from one grief experience to the next.3 People experiencing a grief response may have physical symptoms, like changes in sleep, pain, changes in appetite, and a drop in energy levels. Their emotions may run the gamut between joy and hope to sadness and numbness–and people often feel all these emotions simultaneously. They may experience problems with memory, including confusion, forgetfulness, and trouble processing information.
Like grief, trauma response is different for every person but may include short-term feelings of fear, anxiety, shock, or numbness and long-term feelings of shame, guilt, anger, or sadness.4 Someone who has experienced trauma often replays the event in their head, triggering their stress response repeatedly.
Overcoming Grief and Loss with Support
Support is vital to overcoming grief and trauma’s mental and physical effects. Still, it’s important to remember that grief and trauma are complex, and no two situations are exactly alike. Support and care may look different depending on the loss event, timing, and individual’s mental state. Grief and trauma have no exact process or timeline for recovery, so it’s difficult to predict when the physical and emotional symptoms of grief will lessen or if they ever will.4
Thankfully, those experiencing grief or trauma response do not have to go through it alone. There are thousands of online resources, books, and support groups available to help you navigate your grieving process, including:
- Grief and loss resources from Counseling.org
- Helpful websites and resources for grieving from the The Center for Grief Recovery
- Trauma resources from the National Center for Domestic Violence, Trauma, and Mental Health
- A list of organizations and resources from the Trauma Survivors Network
- It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand – a book by Megan Devine
- Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief – a book by Joanne Cacciatore, PhD
- The Body Keeps the Score – a book by Bessel Van Der Kolk
- Traumatized: Identify, Understand, and Cope with PTSD and Emotional Stress – a book by Kati Morton, LMFT
Your EAP and mental healthcare providers can supply added support. Our members have access to various resources, including guides to coping with grief and loss, counselors, and coaches to help members one-on-one, CBT-guided courses to build up mental health skills, crisis counselors, and group sessions.
Grief can be a painful reminder of what you have lost and a tribute to the love and joy you were able to experience. With the right tools, you can overcome trauma and work through grief.
Learn more about the coaching and counseling we provide at Uprise Health and how it can help.