The 5 Stages of Grief and How to Get Through Them
Everyone experiences grief and loss in their life. It’s often painful and overwhelming at times, but it’s a natural part of the human experience. The five stages of grief help explain the struggles you may face after a death or significant loss. It’s important to understand each stage of grief, to identify unhealthy coping methods, and learn how to care for yourself along the way.
What Are the 5 Stages of Grief?
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first outlined the stages of grief for people facing their own death. Kubler-Ross’s theory about grief is the most well-known, but experts are still learning about the process. These stages are often considered fluid phases that can overlap each other, occur in any order, and last for any amount of time. These stages and phases can apply to any loss, including divorce, a deceased pet or a lost job.
The denial or shock phase is a temporary reaction that usually occurs shortly after the loss. Your senses and thoughts shut down to protect you from the full impact. Your body creates a buffer to allow you time to process the situation at your own pace.
During this phase, you may:
- Feel emotionally numb
- Be in a foggy daze, lose track of time
- Act as if the loss didn’t happen
You may follow daily routines as if your loved one was still alive, like setting their place at the table or leaving their personal belongings untouched. You could imagine that you’ll wake up the next day, and your deceased loved one will call or stop by.
People often experience anger during their grief process. This reaction stems from feeling powerless as the reality of their emotional pain sets in. Anger is a way to communicate more vulnerable emotions like uncertainty, isolation or deep sadness.
When you’re in the anger stage, you may:
- Think a lot about how unfair the loss is, wondering, “Why me?”
- Argue with others
- Lose patience or experience a shorter temper
You may direct anger at yourself, your loved ones or even the deceased individual. Your reaction may surprise people expecting you to appear sad, and it can be a stark contrast to how you behaved while feeling shocked.
The bargaining phase develops when you make a last-ditch effort to avoid accepting reality. If there’s some way their loss could be reversed or made untrue, you’ll do whatever it takes. It’s an attempt to regain a sense of control despite evidence that you can’t affect the outcome.
While bargaining, you may experience:
- Guilt or a sense of responsibility for the loss, even if it’s not true or possible
- Think “if only” or “what if,” wondering how you could have prevented the loss
For example, you may blame yourself for your loved one dying in a car accident because they were traveling to visit you. You may believe you should have done more to prepare for your sudden job loss, even if you had positive reviews as an employee and did your best to live on a budget.
The depression stage of grief is the most recognizable, defined by a feeling of intense sadness and emotional pain. When experiencing the depression stage, you may feel:
- Mild sadness
- Deep, painful longing
- Like doing nothing
- Like skipping meals
You may feel no motivation to enjoy the things you normally do during this phase. You may also struggle to find a purpose or move forward with life.
The depressed feelings that come with grief are different from clinical depression: they are a natural part of the grieving process, so there’s nothing to treat or fix. Depression is a treatable mental health condition, while grief often just takes time, support and self-care to reach the acceptance stage.
The acceptance stage often comes after you’ve moved through the earlier phases. You may still feel emotional pain, and you may not be okay with the situation, but you aren’t fighting the truth of your loss anymore. You may eventually feel some peace about the loss and the changes that have come with it.
In this stage, you’ll likely experience:
- Less internal conflict
- More willingness to move forward with life despite the pain
- Motivation to adjust to any changes following the loss
You may still find yourself crying, becoming angry or wondering if you could have done anything different to prevent your loss. But you may accept that there’s nothing to do about it now. During the acceptance stage, you may be more willing to reach out to loved ones than you were in other stages of your grief.
There are many helpful and positive ways to cope with grief. But facing your feelings may be hard, and you may be tempted to turn to unhealthy coping methods instead. These may temporarily cover up or distract you from your emotions, but your grief will eventually catch up with you.
- Substance misuse
- Risky behavior like gambling and reckless driving
- Emotional eating
- Becoming a workaholic
A small number of people become stuck in their grief process, experiencing something called complicated grief. Their reaction to loss is so intense they can’t take care of themselves or function well. Anyone can develop complicated grief, but it may be more likely in cases where the loss is sudden or traumatic, or when the grieving person has other mental health concerns. Complicated grief is a mental health condition that can often benefit from therapy or treatment.
Healthy Ways To Deal With Grief and Loss
Coping with the pain of grief doesn’t mean your feelings will go away, but they can get easier to live with. There are many healthy ways people cope with grief.
- Talking and listening to loved ones, especially those grieving the same loss
- Giving to a charity or cause their loved one cared for (to make meaning in the present moment)
- Planting a tree or memorial garden
- Telling stories or finding ways to keep a lost loved one’s legacy alive
Moving Forward Through Grief
Grieving is often an uncomfortable process, but the five stages of grief represent what many people go through when experiencing a loss. If you need support, the Nobu app can help. You can talk to a therapist to help with your feelings and adjust. If you feel stuck in your grief, it’s even more important to reach out for help. You can get through it, and the Nobu app puts the help you need right at your fingertips.
Edited by – Erica Weiman
Erica Weiman graduated from Pace University in 2014 with a master’s in Publishing, and has been writing and editing ever since. She has written and edited content across many niches, including psychology & mental health, health & wellness, food, technology, and workplace culture. She is passionate about making information about addiction accessible to anyone who’s on a journey to recovery and their loved ones. When Erica isn’t writing or editing, she is working as a social media manager, cooking or traveling.
Written by – Erika Krull, LMHP
Erika Krull has a master’s degree in mental health counseling and has been a freelance writer since 2006. She is a healthcare writer specializing in mental health content for professional training modules, blogs, and websites… Read more.
Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips
Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.
Kellehear, Allan. “5 Stages of Grief.” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation. 2010. Accessed October 20, 2021.
Tyrrell, Patrick; Harberger, Seneca; Siddiqui, Waquar. “Stages of Dying.” StatPearls. April 6, 2021. Accessed October 20, 2021.
Weir, Kirsten. “New paths for people with prolonged grief disorder.” American Psychological Association, November 2018. Accessed October 20, 2021.