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What is grief? 5 stages of grief, Symptoms & Treatment

Grief can come in any form, like for an adolescent it could be the death of a pet or parent, for a teenager it could be the ending of a relationship

By Rishabh Mehta
New Update
mental health in India

I was 6 years old when I first experienced true grief. My dog passed away. He had lived 10 fun filled years but I vividly remember the day he passed & the next few days that followed. We’ve all been through grief at various points in our lives. Grief can come in any form, like for an adolescent it could be the death of a pet or parent, for a teenager it could be the ending of a relationship, for an aged person it could the news of a terminal disease. Regardless of age, gender or circumstance, any event can cause you grief.

grayscale photography of crying woman
Photo by Kat Smith on Pexels.com

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book “On Death & Dying” in 1969 explored the concept of 5 stages of grief. Her book was based on her book with terminally ill patients. Her model was met with a lot of criticism as researchers & experts failed to understand that everyone goes through grief differently. Everyone has a different pace, understanding & process to grief. More importantly, it was later understood that the process to overcoming grief was not linear; not everyone goes through all the 5 stages, while some people may not undergo any of them, others might go through 2 or 3.

Let’s view the 5 stages of grief


The first stage is arguably the toughest. The event hits you like a bullet train. The body’s subconscious defence mechanism steps in here. While some of us go numb, some start pretending that the event never occurred. The mind goes into panic & shock. Since life has put you in a situation you have no control over, you either tend to “turn that emotion switch off” or prefer being in a different reality because you were unceremoniously put in an unfair situation.

This is the body’s own defence mechanism in a way, where you subconsciously deny yourself to drink all the grief in one go. You feel exhausted as if you’ve run a mile. You feel like you’re in a vacuum. You pause, look around as if you’ve woken up from a dream. Once this amalgam of emotions starts to fade, all suppressed feelings come out to the surface.

It must be noted that everyone’s journey through grief is different, hence it takes everyone a different amount of time to go through each stage.


You enter this stage when you start asking yourself questions like “Why me?” “This is not fair”. Some subjects have expressed this feeling as being underwater. Everything points away from your preferred reality. Another common occurrence during the Anger phase is the “Blame Game”. According to you, if you did something wrong in the past or present, you might start thinking that what happened, happened because of that wrong deed. A firm believer in God might start blaming God for his situation. You start feeling lonely, like no one understands you.

Researchers & Psychologists feel that going through or embracing the Anger phase is necessary for getting over grief. As cliché as it sounds, the more anger you feel at this point, the more it dissipates. It may feel like you’re drowning in a bottomless ocean of constant anger and you may feel that you have nothing to hold on to, but trust me, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Because anger binds you towards reality & strays you away from delusion and prolonged repression.


In this phase you truly feel powerless. You fantasize about going back to before the event and feel like you would give anything to go back to ‘normalcy’. You start giving yourself false hope. You think you can avoid the grief by making a negotiation with the perpetrator or God or someone else who you may think could change the outcome. You start asking yourself the “What if” questions. What if I didn’t say that? What if he didn’t take that road at night? etc.

I just want to iterate the fact that whatever happened that became the cause of your grief, each and every choice you and the people around you made, all of it culminated to where you are right now. And it’s okay.


A fairly common form of grief is Depression. Most people feel depressed even if they don’t feel the other stages. It feels like a more real symptom because it ‘shows’. It is a representation of everything we’re feeling. This phase can be the inception of a personality change, temporary or long lasting. While being depressed, you withdraw from the outside world, conversations & events. Even the most mundane activities like getting out of bed seem like an enormous task. You Overthink about situations & fantasise. To some, the world may seem too overwhelming to face. You feel like no one understands you & you don’t want to be around people. While some of us may feel truly hopeless and may start asking themselves “what is the point of going on”. Others may have suicidal thoughts.


Not “it’s okay that she broke up with me, but she broke up with me and I’m going to be okay”.

This phase may come early or late depending on the individual. Everyone’s journey is different for every grief. In this last phase of overcoming grief, the numbness starts going away. Socialization increases and one may even give dating a chance. You start feeling your emotions. Some outside elements / factors may trigger your recovery, like getting pulled out of vacuum. For example, a grandparent’s life becomes sad & depressive after the loss of their partner but the birth of a grandchild suddenly injects joy & hopefulness in their life.

You start accepting the fact that you can live with the feeling of emptiness, that void that was left behind. Mind you, in this phase, there are good days and bad. There could be two steps forward and one step back. Acceptance does not mean that there won’t be any bad days. It just means that the good days will outnumber / outweigh the bad. And that’s what one should focus on. The journey that culminated. You accept and understand that not only what you lost will never come back, but also that it can never be replaced.

The Elisabeth Kübler-Ross grief cycle - as explained in the diagram.

Some symptoms while you are experiencing grief:-

Crying Worrying Lack of Sleep Questioning the purpose of life Anxiety  
Fatigue Loss of Appetite Stress Guilt Questioning spiritual beliefs
Anger Headaches Erratic behaviour Detachment Isolation from loved ones


 A common method of treating grief for years has been prescription of medicines, antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills, sleeping pills by doctors. However, some researchers, doctors and psychologists are of the opposite school of thought. They believe that putting an individual going through grief onto strong medication would rob them of feeling emotions necessary to overcome it.

A second, more solid approach to grief is counselling. Support groups or individual counselling can help you go through unresolved emotions. This method is especially beneficial if your grief is affecting day-to-day life. These methods by no means provide you with a one-shot solution to your grief, but equip you with effective coping mechanisms.

If you or a someone you know is going through a grief event, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Consult a doctor immediately if you feel suicidal thoughts, depressed or going through something you can’t seem to get out of.


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