Grieving Men Don’t Often Seek Help — Here’s Why That Needs to Change
by Elizabeth Pascka Latim
Grief is commonly associated with waves because it washes over you for an extended period of time before slipping away, leaving you with a lingering residue.
And grieving doesn’t follow a schedule, coming at you without warning at any time. That’s why you are fully entitled to feel and release any self-judgment you might be holding onto instead of suppressing your emotions.
If you’re in the midst of experiencing grief over something — a person, pet, or entire relationship — even though it can feel like you are the only person feeling this way, you’re not alone.
What Is Grief?
“Grief is a human experience in response to loss,” explains James Hartley, a BACP registered counselor and psychotherapist. “Predominantly this is when we lose someone in our lives whom we have had some form of a relationship with, but this can also be extended to include things beyond people, for instance, a career, a sense of identity, a role in the family, or even an item of belonging.”
When paired with an annual life event, it can feel especially sensitive, no matter your period of grieving began yesterday or over 40 years ago. Not only are your experiences valid, but you are entitled to feel emotions for the events that impacted your life no matter what age or life stage you are in.
What Are the Five Stages of Grief?
You can never fully prepare for how grief will impact your life and the emotions it’ll stir up inside you. According to a theory developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, there are five stages of the grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While some people might experience most of these stages, it won’t be applicable to everyone, nor will it be in the same order.
Hartley also says the state of the relationship and circumstance of the loss contributes to the way you grieve.
“[It is] a confusing experience because people can often get by day to day and function and yet, they feel this strange feeling that they cannot put their finger on,” he tells AskMen. “A feeling which is present everywhere they go, kind of like an underground river that’s constantly flowing, that every once in a while when it rains heavily, the river bursts up to the surface and suddenly it’s everywhere.”
Common Behaviors of Someone in the Midst of Grieving
The possible reactions to grief are endless. As we are all unique individuals, our responses will depend on the situations and our individual perceptions.
That said, some of the most common traits exhibited when grieving include:
- Feeling like you are operating on autopilot
- Forgetting the loss before remembering moments later
- Experiencing a lack of enthusiasm for previously enjoyable activities
- Either holding onto belongings or getting rid of everything
- Wanting to focus your attention on staying busy
- Lacking of energy to perform even simple tasks
- Speaking about the loss to feel a sense of ownership over it
Grief can also be directly linked to feelings of anxiety and depression. Dr. Michel Mennesson, MD, a psychiatrist at Newport Healthcare, explains “depression is a mood disorder which can start without any loss (contrary to grief), and is a persistent feeling of sadness that may last longer than periods of grief. It is often complicated with sleep and appetite disturbances.”
He goes on, adding that “grief from losses or traumatic events can often lead to someone developing depression especially if this loss results in a decrease in social contacts, social activities, or social stimulation.”
Additional research from AFSP shows a significantly higher percentage of male suicides in the U.S. compared to women, with links being found between grief and a turn to suicide. As a way to help lighten the emotional toll, Mennesson says “sometimes the feeling of grief can be all-consuming which leads people to believe there is no way out or no possible way this feeling could dissipate. This happens especially during a very significant loss of a relationship that is totally unexpected, like discovering that someone cheated on us, or someone is breaking up with us. This loss may feel intolerable with suicide as the only option at the time. This underscores the importance of checking in with someone who is experiencing grief.”
If someone is feeling depressed or suicidal, he also notes how important it is “to talk with them, listen to how they are feeling, and discuss ways to get them help. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with the person and let them know that you’re there for them. This is not the time to hesitate to help a friend or loved one.”
How to Properly Support Someone Dealing With Grief
While grief isn’t something you can just absolve yourself of or fix entirely, there are ways to handle acceptance as you move on with your daily lifestyle. Learning to live with these feelings takes time, but it is possible through different coping methods.
“It is important to recognize that a loss that we may think was resolved may still bother us,” says Mennesson. “A recent or even distant breakup may not be fully resolved even if we think that we are over it. Looking at possible losses in our lives may be a start in coping with grief. So, instead of thinking of these coping methods as a solution or cure, think of them more as a way to help soothe you.”
A Change in Mindset
“A very important thing about grief is learning how to respond to it when it arises,” explains Hartley. “Whilst naturally you may wish to run away from how you feel, what can be really helpful is paying special attention to your moment-to-moment experience, even when it’s really difficult. This is also known as mindfulness.”
He shares that noticing and gently accepting your experience can help you connect with self-compassion and assess your needs, and by doing what serves you because by slowing down, you’ll begin to listen to how you feel.
Opening your mind to the practice of prayer or meditation can not only be very therapeutic, but it can be done practically anywhere as long as you feel comfortable. Meditation is a way of calming down the thoughts in your head by drawing away your attention from the external with a focus on your breathing and connection of your mind and body.
“Personally, I would recommend attending an actual 8-week mindfulness course rather than simply downloading an app because receiving in-person tuition on this powerful practice can make a huge difference,” says Hartley. Mindfulness is scientifically supported to help navigate grief along with improving your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.”
Nourishing Your Body
Dr. Oluseun Olufade recommends eating fermented foods such as yogurt, cheese, cereals, and tea to help improve the gut flora, which increases the production of serotonin in the body.
Also, incorporating Omega-3 fish oil, which can be found in fish like salmon, plays a big role in brain development and cell signaling, helping the brain perform better. Olufade recommends having about 250-500mg daily because it has been proven that Omega-3 fatty acids can help influence and boost your mood.
Therapy comes in different forms: counseling, hypnotherapy, massage, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), among others. Talking, retracing old experiences, and tapping or massaging specific places on your body can help to release suppressed trauma that might be stored in the mind and the body.
Due to the personal and vulnerable nature of these processes, it is always advised to seek advice and guidance from a professionally trained and registered professional.
Article originally published on AskMen.com