Mental Health

Are You Avoiding Grief? 5 Signs to Watch For

Grief is not the easiest to deal with, and many of us might not even like to confront it. It can manifest in several ways, and not all of them are obvious. Keep reading to know more.

By URLife Team
23 Apr 2024

Experiencing loss, whether through death, divorce, or other life changes, creates an irreplaceable void. It can leave you feeling like the world is unfamiliar and overwhelming. The ensuing storm of emotions can be incredibly painful to navigate. Admittedly, time is the biggest healer, provided you process the grief. Everyone’s grief is different, and requires different approaches to help the process.  But what stands as the most important aspect is to work through your pain, slowly but steadily.


By processing the grief we acknowledge its presence and allow ourselves to experience the full range of emotions that come with loss. This can be difficult and painful, but it's an essential part of healing. When we confront our grief instead of avoiding it, we give ourselves the opportunity to honour the memory of what we've lost and find meaning in our experience.


However, there are many instances when we avoid dealing with the loss. Many end up wrapping themselves in their shell, while others tend to over-function to keep their thoughts of loss and grief at bay. Avoiding dealing with loss only prolongs the pain and can lead to more serious consequences for our physical and mental well-being.


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Lianna Champ, with 40 years of experience in grief and bereavement counselling and the author of  the book How to Grieve Like A Champ, mentions in her book that "Unresolved grief is like trying to drive a car with the handbrake on – we will only be able to function at a certain level."


According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Loss and Trauma, avoidance is generally considered to be an adaptive response to loss, and an integral component of grief. Avoidance (both emotional and situational) initially allows some respite from intense pain in order for the individual to process the loss and restore a satisfying ongoing life. However, persistence of, or over-reliance on, avoidance strategies may prolong the acute grieving period and contribute to the development of Complicated Grief (CG), a serious and debilitating condition.


When left unhonoured and unrecognised, grief can have a negative impact on physical and mental well-being and can manifest itself in many ways. Here are a few ways it may manifest:


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5 Ways Grief Manifests

Withdrawal from Relationships 

When we're grieving, sometimes we pull away from the people around us. It's like we're building a wall to protect ourselves from more hurt. We might feel like talking about our feelings is too hard or that others won't understand. So, we end up withdrawing from relationships, even though having support from loved ones could help us feel better.


This withdrawal can make us feel even lonelier and more isolated. We might miss out on the comfort and understanding that friends and family can offer. It's like we're shutting ourselves off from the very thing that could help us heal. But recognising this tendency to withdraw is important, because it gives us a chance to reach out and let others in, easing the burden of grief together.


Compulsive Behaviours

Engulfed in the turmoil of loss, we may find solace in unhealthy coping mechanisms, succumbing to the allure of overindulgence or recklessness.


Some may seek solace in excessive consumption, whether it be through overeating to numb the ache within or drowning sorrows in the temporary oblivion of alcohol. Others may embrace risky behaviours, recklessly navigating through life's challenges in a misguided attempt to escape the pain. These maladaptive responses, born from the depths of grief, further entrench us in a cycle of distress, veiling our path to healing. Yet, recognising these patterns is the first step towards reclaiming agency over our well-being and forging a healthier, more resilient future.


Physical Symptoms

When avoidance shields us from loss, grief seeps deeper, corroding both body and mind. Unrecognised and unattended, its impact manifests physically, weaving through our senses with subtle yet insistent cues.


Fatigue can become persistent, its weight dragging us down, sapping away all our energy. Appetite transforms drastically from once-familiar pleasures into indifferent necessities. Headaches pierce through the fog of sorrow, a constant reminder of the burden we carry. These physical symptoms, though silent, echo within us, urging acknowledgement and healing.


Denial of Feelings

Sometimes, when we're grieving, we try to ignore or deny our feelings. It's like we're pretending everything is okay even when it's not. We might do this because facing our emotions feels too overwhelming or scary. But denying our feelings doesn't make them go away; it just pushes them down deeper inside us.


By denying our feelings, we're robbing ourselves of the opportunity to process and heal from our grief. It's like trying to cover up a wound without cleaning it first – it might seem okay on the surface, but it can lead to bigger problems later on.


Over functioning

It is easy to slip into a mode of over-functioning, when we are not stable mentally and are unable to cope with the loss. We end up staying busy and in control to avoid facing our emotions and we tend to run our emotions and try not to confront them. We might throw ourselves into work, chores, or other tasks, constantly trying to stay one step ahead. This can make it seem like we're coping well on the outside, but inside, we're struggling to keep it together.


Over-functioning can be a way of avoiding the pain of grief, but it's not a sustainable or healthy way of coping. It can lead to exhaustion, burnout, and a sense of disconnection from our true feelings.


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How to Cope With Grief


Coping with grief through titration involves gradually adjusting your emotions and activities. Start by allowing yourself small moments of joy or distraction amidst the grief, gradually increasing these moments over time.


When you're tackling tough memories or tasks, try setting time limits to face your pain bit by bit. Take breaks to rest and recharge, then come back to it when you're ready. It's about finding balance and gradually integrating moments of lightness into your life while still honouring the grieving process.



Pendulation is like a swing: you lean into your emotions, let yourself feel them, and then swing out to ground yourself or take a break. It's okay to distract yourself a bit, but it's important to face your pain in small doses with support. A healthy nervous system can do both: feel and rest. But if you avoid your feelings, it's like clenching tight and never letting go.


So, you might spend time facing your intense grief, crying, screaming, or shaking, and then cuddle up with loved ones or watch funny videos before bed. Processing grief doesn't mean being sad all the time. Pendulation lets you handle your emotions in small chunks and then step back when you need to.


Laughter Mechanism 

Losing someone we love doesn’t mean we stop laughing; there's still plenty of joy in life. It's normal to laugh even when we're grieving. You might be surprised the first time you laugh after a loss, but humour can help us cope and shield us from pain. Laughing doesn't mean you're not sad; you can feel both at the same time. While others might be surprised to see you joking, only you know how you're really feeling inside.


When you use laughter to cope with grief, it can give you a break from the sadness. It's like finding a little bit of happiness in tough times.


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Seek Support

Seeking support is crucial in coping with grief. Whether it's from friends, family, support groups, or a therapist, having someone to lean on can make a big difference. Talking about your feelings and experiences can help you feel less alone and more understood. Don't be afraid to reach out for help when you need it.


Recognising and addressing avoidance behaviours is crucial in the grieving process. By being aware of the signs indicating that you may be avoiding grief, you can take proactive steps to face your emotions head-on. Remember, grief is a natural and necessary part of healing, and avoiding it only prolongs the pain. Seek support, allow yourself to feel, and take small steps toward processing your loss.



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