What Is Chronic Grief Disorder?

Grief is a universal human experience — a natural response to loss. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or any significant change, grief is a complex emotion that affects everyone differently. While it’s normal to experience intense sadness and mourning after a loss, for some individuals, the grief doesn’t follow a normal trajectory of healing. Instead, it lingers, developing into a condition known as chronic grief disorder.

What Is Chronic Grief Disorder?

Close-up of Flowers on a Grave

This disorder can also be referred to as prolonged grief disorder or persistent complex bereavement disorder, and is characterized by an enduring sense of longing, yearning, and sadness following a significant loss.

Unlike the typical grieving process, which gradually lessens in intensity over time, chronic grief persists, often interfering with daily functioning and quality of life.

Emotional Symptoms of Chronic Grief Disorder

One of the key features of chronic grief disorder is the inability to accept the reality of the loss. Individuals with this condition may continue to deny or struggle to come to terms with the death or absence of what they have lost.

This prolonged sense of disbelief can lead to:

  • Confusion
  • Anger
  • Despair
  • Inability to move forward with life
  • Losing or cutting off social supports
  • Preoccupation with thoughts of the lost one
  • Replaying memories
  • Imagining hypothetical scenarios
  • Intense longing

Individuals with this disorder find themselves consumed with thoughts of the past. This can interfere with their ability to be fully present in the moment. They may begin to detach from reality and isolate from the world around them.

Physical Symptoms of Chronic Grief Disorder

In addition to emotional symptoms, Chronic Grief can also manifest physically in our bodies. These symptoms may feel like:

  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Appetite changes
  • Head or stomach aches
  • Joint pain
  • Lower immune system

These somatic symptoms further increase the distress experienced by those with a Chronic Grief diagnosis, making it even more challenging to cope with their loss.

How Does This Differ from Normal Grief?

While grief is a natural response to loss, chronic grief disorder is known for its persistence and intensity. There is no set timeline for grieving. However, chronic grief typically develops for an extended period, often lasting months or even years without significant improvement.

Additionally, the symptoms presented with this disorder are more severe and debilitating than those associated with typical grief, significantly impacting the individual’s ability to function in daily life.

Chronic Grief Treatments

It is important when focusing on treatment that individuals cover both the physical and emotional symptoms. First and foremost, it is important to reach out to a primary care physician to ensure your overall health is in check. Perhaps medication may need to be prescribed to alleviate symptoms such as eating or sleep disturbances, anxiety, and depression.

Support from friends, family, and support groups can also play a crucial role in the healing process. Connecting with others who have experienced similar losses can provide you with validation, understanding, and a sense of belonging that can be immensely comforting during difficult times.

Lastly, one of the best ways to treat this chronic grief overall is by seeking help from a mental health professional. Therapy, specifically cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help individuals process and understand their loss, challenge maladaptive thoughts and beliefs, and develop coping strategies to manage grief more effectively. One of the best ways to treat a mental health diagnosis is by pairing therapy with medication for a more holistic treatment plan.

Grief is universal, and while it can feel isolating, remember that you are not alone. While the road ahead may be difficult, it is essential to know that healing is possible, and no one has to face their grief alone. If you feel you are struggling with chronic grief disorder, reach out and schedule a session today.