Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 10/5/2022
You may associate grief with the death of a loved one, but there are actually many types of grief.
All these different types of grief encompass the range of human experiences that create and trigger our response to a loss of some sort.
Whether it’s the breakdown of a marriage, an infertility diagnosis, being evicted from your home or a dream not coming to fruition, there are many losses to grieve in life.
Grief can be complicated, and experiencing any type of loss can be overwhelming and disorienting. Although everyone experiences grief differently, there are ways to cope with different types of grief and loss.
Our guide explains the different types of grief and ways to cope with each type.
Grief is essentially the emotional response to a significant loss. Everyone grieves differently and has a different idea of what a significant loss is to them. That means that there’s no standard for what type of loss is significant enough to cause grief, and there is no right or wrong way to mourn a loss.
Death or loss of a loved one is one cause of grief. Other causes of grief can include life events such as:
Estrangement from friends or family
Illness or injury
Death of a pet
Grief is more than just sadness, and can trigger a range of strong emotions and feelings. Grief can encompass:
Physical symptoms can also accompany grief, and may include:
Tightness in the chest or throat
Grief can affect physical health in other long-term ways.
Stress from grief can lead to high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat (tachycardia), increased levels of cortisol, increased risk of heart attack and even takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also known as broken heart syndrome (really a weakening of the heart’s main pumping chamber).
During the grieving process, it may be difficult to go about your normal life or daily routines. This is just one way that grief resembles major depression, both of which can leave you feeling sad, hopeless and tired.
However, major depression is a type of depressive disorder that can occur with or without major stressors, like a significant loss.
Generally, symptoms of depression are more severe and impact daily life more than symptoms from situational stress or even situational depression.
The loss or death of a loved one — considered a traumatic event — can be a potential cause for major depression though.
While one common definition for grief is the sadness you feel immediately after a loss, it’s not the only reason for grief.
There are many different types of loss and grief, as well as different ways to mourn a loss.
Anticipatory grief is an emotional response to a loss that's still ahead of you but that you know is coming. This type of grief can have all the same symptoms of grief after a loss has already happened.
For example, you may feel anticipatory grief and mourn a loved one dying from a terminal illness such as late-stage cancer or Parkinson’s disease — they may still be alive and with you but you know they don’t have much longer. The dying person, as well as caregivers, can also feel anticipatory grief.
Anticipatory grief has shown to be associated with heightened distress, pain and medical complications, according to a 2017 empirical study.
It’s natural to grieve when preparing to lose someone you love. But by focusing on the future when you’ll lose your loved one, the present moment slips away. Becoming distraught over the idea of losing your loved one can take away the opportunities to enjoy the time you have left.
A different type of complicated grief, absent grief is when a loved one dies but you don’t show — or may not even feel — any signs of grief.
This type of grief is a way of denying or avoiding the emotional realities of the loss.
After losing your home in a fire, for example, you may spend the first few days or weeks believing your house can be repaired. Grief may not set in until you’ve accepted your house is gone.
But when you avoid the reality of your situation, it can lead you to put off time-sensitive issues, like finding a new home that's safe to live in.
Complicated grief is an intense reaction to loss. It is more severe than normal responses to the passing of a loved one.
This form of grief is believed to occur in about seven percent of bereaved people.
Complicated grief is characterized by symptoms such as disbelief about the death, anger over the loss and preoccupation with the deceased. It is usually accompanied by intrusive thoughts related to death.
This form of grief has similarities to major depression, with similar depressive symptoms such as sadness, loss of interest in normal activities, loss of self-esteem and guilt.
There may also be an overlap of symptoms between complicated grief and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as:
Shock or sense of helplessness
However, one major difference between the two conditions is that the fear of personal physical danger is rare in complicated grief.
Complicated grief can also occur at the same time as depressive symptoms or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Rather than waves of emotion that have breaks of non-grief moments, complicated grief is overwhelming.
As its name implies, this is the typical reaction to loss, and it comes with common symptoms like crying, numbness, shock and disbelief.
Common grief eventually gravitates towards the acceptance of loss.
Around 50 to 85 percent of people who have lost a loved one will experience common, or normal, grief.
Chronic grief, or prolonged grief, is grieving that falls outside cultural norms and becomes a potential mental health concern.
While normal or common grieving typically lasts one to two years, a person experiencing prolonged grief can experience sadness, anger or guilt for much longer.
This can cause problems such as substance abuse and other self-destructive behaviors, impaired immune function, suicidal thinking and sleep disturbances if not properly treated.
Symptoms of prolonged grief disorder include emotional numbness, intense emotional pain and loneliness, identity disruption and disbelief about the person’s death.
Since there are so many different types of grief and loss, there are also different ways to cope.
And since everyone reacts to grief differently, you may need to try different methods before finding the right one for you.
According to the American Psychological Association, grief therapy is a form of talk therapy or counseling given to people who have lost a loved one.
This therapy focuses on providing guidance on matters that affect separation and grieving, as well as continuing life without the loved one present.
It’s also a useful way to manage the symptoms of depression that can sometimes accompany a mourning period.
You can learn more about grief therapy techniques and activities in our comprehensive guide.
Acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, this form of counseling encourages leaning into your emotions, rather than repelling them.
ACT looks to help you accept your feelings of grief, improving the relationship you have with your thoughts and feelings.
This means embracing pain, happiness and confusion without looking to change your reaction to their effects.
Acceptance and commitment therapy can help those grieving come into close quarters with their pain, while teaching ways to best deal with it and provide self-care.
According to a 2016 research paper sponsored by the American Counseling Association, ACT may be helpful for prolonged, complicated grief by encouraging clients to use mindfulness to accept their experiences.
Although medications have very little impact on grief, some early research has shown some types to be moderately effective.
Antidepressants were found to be helpful treatments for complicated grief, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications are usually used for treating major depression and PTSD, but they can be helpful for complicated grief due to the conditions having overlapping symptoms.
Currently, only two SSRIs are FDA-approved for the treatment of PTSD. Those are paroxetine (Paxil®) and sertraline (Zoloft®).
However, early uncontrolled studies have been done using other SSRIs, such as escitalopram, to treat grief-related complications — participants reported that their complicated grief symptoms and depressive symptoms both significantly decreased.
If you’re struggling with grief and depressive symptoms, consult with a healthcare provider about any symptoms you’re experiencing. They can determine whether or not medication is the right treatment option for you.
To help get through the difficult times of serious conditions like prolonged grief disorder, mental health professionals may use methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is used to understand the link between thoughts, feelings and actions related to your grief.
It can help target irrational beliefs that surround feelings of loss. A mental health professional will teach you methods to change behaviors and better manage the depression that can come with the grieving process.
A pilot study also found strategies from both cognitive-behavioral therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder and interpersonal therapy for depression — such as self-reflection, exposure exercises and mindfulness breathing — can be effective ways to treat complicated grief.
Asking others for support is not just okay, but a good way to cope with different types of loss and grief.
Even if you don’t feel like sharing your feelings right away, your loved ones can provide support. They may be able to bring you meals, help with tasks, or even just offer company.
You can also join a support group, made up of people in similar life situations who may share similar problems or issues.
Similarly, bereavement groups consist of members leaning on others who have lost loved ones for support through their pain in a safe space.
A healthcare provider or mental health professional can provide recommendations based on your needs.
Our online mental health resources can connect you with anonymous support groups as well as mental health professionals to find the best option for you.
Grief is a natural part of life, and there are many different types of grief, leading to a wide range of emotions. However, you don’t have to deal with grief on your own.
Getting professional help to deal with the feelings of loss, pain, anxiety and more that accompany the loss of a loved one can be helpful.