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    Three Overlooked Symptoms of Grief You Should Know About

    Most of us are aware of some of the more common symptoms of grief.

    Thanks to theories such as Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ “five stages of grief” model that describes a sequence of emotions one can expect to experience after the death of a loved one.

    These emotions include:

    Ross was clear that although mourners may pass through these stages following the death of a loved one, the process isn’t as tidy or linear as many may think.

    For instance, a person may only pass through a few stages of grief (i.e., anger and denial) and skip the other stages or experience each stage at different times and not in a set sequence. For example, an individual may experience acceptance and anger followed by depression and denial.

    Grief is not a rigid process. 

    Mourners may encounter a wide range of conflicting feelings and emotions simultaneously, and given the magnitude of each person’s unique experiences of loss, this is expected. 

    The “five stages of grief” theory is one of the most popular grief paradigms, giving grievers some clarity over what type of emotions and reactions they can expect to have when a loved one dies. 

    But did you know there are several overlooked symptoms of grief that many mourners experience and somehow manage to fly under the radar?

    This article explores three of the most overlooked symptoms of grief, offering various treatments you can explore to help you come to terms with your loss and find meaning and joy in your life again.

    In the meantime, if you are finding it difficult to come to terms with the loss of a loved one or need help processing your grief, our team at White River Manor is here to help.

    We know how isolating and lonely grief can be.

    However, with proper care, support, and treatment, you can find a way to come to terms with your loss, allowing you to revisit memories of your loved one with a sense of peace and joy in your heart. 

    You deserve the space to grieve in a way that feels the most authentic to you and your unique experiences of loss, and our friendly, compassionate team is here to guide you on this journey.

    Contact our South African treatment centre today to learn how we can help you on your path toward grief recovery.

    Three overlooked symptoms of grief you should know about

    Since grief and love are intertwined, we must take care not to pathologise our unique style of mourning. As Earl Grollman quotes:

    “Grief is not a disorder, a disease, or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical, and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.”

    Eal Grollman

    However true all this might be, grief, regardless of its form, comes with various symptoms and manifestations, some more understood and culturally accepted than others.

    The more common symptoms of grief include profound sorrow, disbelief, anger, denial, and numbness, and for those who have witnessed a loved one suffer from a long-term illness, there may even be a sense of relief.

    The above grief responses, although often difficult to cope with, are accepted in modern society; however, some overlooked symptoms of grief are not as expected or culturally understood, three of which are outlined below.

    1. Anxiety

    Some may be surprised to learn just how prevalent anxiety is in grief. 

    However, anxiety isn’t often recognised as a typical response to grief as feeling anxious is such an ordinary part of our daily lives whether we are grieving or not.

    Grief and anxiety tend to go hand in hand. For example, most grievers are probably familiar with that sickening feeling you get in the stomach upon hearing the news of a loved one’s passing.

    Or, the anxiety-inducing drive to the hospital as you go to say your final goodbyes. And then there’s the unenviable task of staving off stomach butterflies as you deal with family and friends at the funeral.    

    The existential dread and apprehension that fills your body as you imagine a world without your loved one.

    Anxiety often coexists with grief. 

    White River Manor - Treatment in South Africa - Anxiety, Grief Management

    Therefore, if you experience any of the following symptoms of anxiety after the death of a loved one, don’t be too surprised:

    • Tension or tightness in your body 
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Restlessness or an inability to relax
    • Excessive fear and worry
    • Problems concentrating or focusing on daily tasks or activities 
    • Agitation or irritability

    If you would like to learn more about the connection between grief and anxiety or need help and support managing your symptoms, contact our friendly team in South Africa to find out more about our anxiety treatment program.

    2. Physical symptoms

    As well as the profound emotional impact of loss, studies show there are various physical effects associated with grief.

    Grief is a complex, multifaceted experience that can affect us in numerous ways.

    We cannot control these powerful responses as they are a symptom of a profoundly traumatic or painful event, in this case, the loss of a loved one.

    Although deeply unpleasant, we can expect to feel a range of emotional impacts after we lose someone important to us. Still, the physical effects are less anticipated, making them seem more scary and left field.

    Physical symptoms of grief tend to be overlooked in various cultures and societies, including familial and medical, so you must know what to look out for in case you experience any of them.

    The physical symptoms of grief include:

    Digestive issues and weight changes 

    Grief causes a lot of disruption to our everyday routines, affecting our daily eating habits. 

    These disruptions can cause various digestive issues, such as:

    • Stomach pain
    • Diarrhea
    • Nausea 
    • Constipation. 

    It is also common for grievers to gain weight following the loss of a loved one -this is often because of a lack of exercise, comfort eating, or eating out more often than usual. 

    On the other hand, it is common for grievers to lose weight following the loss of a loved one. You may skip regular meals, forget to eat, or lose your appetite. 

    This is particularly common in the first few days or weeks following your loss as you may be distracted by relatives, funeral plans, and other factors.

    White River Manor - Treatment in South Africa - Anxiety, Grief Management

    Physical pain and illness

    Physical aches and pains in the body are also common in grief yet widely overlooked in specific cultures and communities.

    Grief can induce genuine symptoms of discomfort or pain, including:

    • Chest pain
    • Backache, neck ache, or general muscular pain 
    • Headaches or migraines
    • Heaviness in the limbs

    As if all that’s not enough, much research has shown how the stress of losing a loved one can suppress our immune system, leaving us vulnerable to all kinds of ailments, including infections and viruses.

    Other studies found a strong correlation between grief and increased levels of inflammation in the body. 

    As well as the above, other physical symptoms of grief may also include:

    • Sleep problems
    • Trouble with daily functioning 
    • Exhaustion and fatigue

    If you are worried about your physical symptoms, you must speak to your doctor about your concerns to help rule out any underlying illnesses or diseases.

    It can also be helpful to speak to a mental health professional who can help you understand and manage your symptoms and suggest healthy ways of coping so they do not take over your life.

    Remember, you are not alone.

    The team at White River Manor is always here to listen and answer any questions you might have!

    3. Existential questioning

    White River Manor - Treatment in South Africa - Meditation, Mindfulness

    Another overlooked symptom of grief is when an individual begins to question their values, beliefs and the meaning of life.

    If you’ve ever noticed yourself engaging in patterns of existential thinking, you may have unresolved grief or other issues that you need to explore and unpack.

    Perhaps you grapple with questions about your mortality after a loved one dies. 

    For instance, you may ask yourself, “Why are you here?” ”What is your life’s purpose?” or you may question the overall nature of existence.

    Although profoundly unsettling, these questions are understandable, given the monumental impact that grief and loss can have on us mortals.

    For example, those who have lost a parent may find themselves catapulted into a new and unfamiliar reality, an unfathomable untethering from all they once knew.

    Most of us have only known the world with our mother or father present, so we may understandably find ourselves steeped in existential dread and fear in their absence.

    The loss of a loved one can trigger various thoughts about the finality of death or the meaning of life without our person.

    Existential questioning triggered by the death of a loved one can also lead to death anxiety, where someone becomes obsessed with the possibility of dying and what happens after.

    Treatments such as existential therapy can be helpful when an individual finds themselves questioning their existence and life’s meaning following the death of a loved one.

    To help build context and meaning after loss, researchers say that considering the following questions can be helpful:

    • What brings meaning and purpose to your life?
    • Is there anything happening in your life today that you are looking forward to?
    • What would your life look like if you could imagine the most meaningful existence possible?
    • How can you work towards showing yourself more compassion and kindness?

    Cognitive behavioural therapy and trauma-informed treatment

    Specific treatment approaches such as cognitive behavioural therapy and trauma-informed treatment can be effective therapies for those who are grieving.

    For instance, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps you to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviour patterns by replacing them with alternative ways of thinking and behaving.

    Moreover, CBT allows you to explore maladjusted beliefs, ideas, and thoughts, providing you with practical coping skills to help you manage your grief and cultivate self-acceptance and resilience.

    Trauma-informed treatments such as eye movement desensitisation reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma-focused CBT can help you process painful memories and thoughts about your loss, allowing any “stored” traumatic memories or emotions to be released from the body so they can be reprocessed safely and effectively.

    Other helpful therapies for grief include traumatic grief therapy. 

    This treatment can help you cope with the intense feelings associated with grief, allowing you to process any painful emotions related to your loss.

    Traumatic grief therapy uses various modalities and treatment approaches, including:

    • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
    • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
    • Brief eclectic therapy (BET)
    • Interpersonal therapy (IPT)


    Grief is a normal and natural response to loss, something we all experience at some stage.

    While the feelings grief induces can be profoundly challenging and unpleasant, it is the hefty price we pay for having the courage to love another human.

    Although the initial symptoms of grief tend to ease over time, the reality is that you will grieve forever, and that is okay.

    As you navigate your grief, you may find the following disclosure helpful:

    What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose because all that we love deeply becomes part of us.

    And this, at least, can provide us with lifelong comfort as we move toward acceptance and a different life after loss.

    How the White River Manor team can help

    Tired man listening to his psychologist

    With decades of experience and knowledge in the addiction, wellness, and mental health space, our team is equipped to assist you with a range of emotional issues and challenges, including grief and loss.

    Located in stunning South Africa, our luxurious inpatient facility offers an exclusive range of private rooms and accommodations to meet each client’s needs.

    As well as providing personalised mental health treatment programs for depression, anxiety disorder, alcohol and drug addiction, executive burnout, and trauma, we also offer various amenities to help you relax and restore, including:

    • Quad biking
    • Water rafting
    • Helicopter tours
    • Excursions to the world-famous Kruger Park
    • Luxury spa

    Contact our friendly team at our South African recovery centre today to learn how we can help you navigate life after loss and begin living the life you have always imagined but never thought possible.

    We are here and ready to help.

    Additional resources