7 stages of grief – the online guide to recovery

While grief may be a perfectly normal feeling, prolonged grief can cause serious mental issues if not treated. To fully understand grief, it is very important to understand the 7 stages of grief that everyone goes through, as well as choose top rated online therapy should you require it. In this article, we will provide you with an explanation of each stage, as well as offer some tips on how to deal with them.

What is grief?

Grief is an internal feeling that one experiences in reaction to a certain loss, most usually the loss of a loved one. However, there are numerous other situations that can cause grief such as relationship breakup, loss of a job, loss of a living situation, etc. Grief is especially prevalent in women, as three out of four will outlive their spouses.

The average age of becoming a widow is 59 years and more than half of all women in the U.S. become one by the age of 65. But women are not the only ones that have to deal with grief. Every year, almost 4% of children under the age of 15 will experience the death of a parent. Men are not immune to grief, either, and many of them suffer from its effects.

There are two main types of prolonged grief: complicated grief and anticipatory grief.

Complicated grief

Complicated grief refers to a reaction to a loss that has a duration of over one year. Its main characteristic is that it intensifies over time, disrupting relations and beliefs. Around 15% of people that suffer from grief are diagnosed with complicated grief, and 1/3 of people that are already getting treatment have been found to suffer from the same condition. This type of grief drives many individuals to search for the best online therapy for depression and anxiety, as it can easily lead to these mental issues. Seeking professional help is usually the best way to go about getting back to a normal state of mind.

person going through one of the 7 stages of grief
Complicated grief can make it very hard to lead a healthy life.

Anticipatory grief

Anticipatory grief happens when an individual has strong feelings toward a reaction to finding out that one of their loved ones is terminally ill. This particular form of grief happens before the death or loss of a loved one occurs, in anticipation of it. Dealing with anticipatory grief is, however, a lot easier than complicated grief. The grieving process will allow for saying proper goodbyes, settling affairs, as well as planning for a funeral or similar rituals.

The effects of grief

The negative effects that grief can bring to a person’s mind are potentially quite significant. Research on grief shows that around 40% of people experiencing prolonged grief will also suffer from an anxiety disorder in the first year. Furthermore, there is a 70% increased risk of surviving spouses dying in the first six months after their partner dies. Other research shows that the loss of a loved one is at the very top of the list of most serious stresses one can endure in their life.

Losing a pet can also induce considerable grief, and have them go through the 7 stages of grief, as many people consider them to be a part of their family. One way of making things a bit better is by families choosing to painlessly put their pets to death (euthanization). By doing so, the families will spare their pets unnecessary suffering and might be able to cope a bit easier.

Grief triggers

The grieving process can also be aggravated by certain events, events that can remind the grieving individuals of their loved ones. These events are called grief triggers, and they are unique to every person. Basically, any activity that was loved by the lost one can be a grief trigger. For example, even a television show can cause anguish in an individual, provided that it reminds them about their loved one that they lost. If you want to fully understand these triggers, you may want to consider CBT therapy. The best online CBT therapy has shown to be extremely effective when it comes to recognizing and dealing with all sorts of grief triggers.

Causes and risk factors of prolonged grief

The risk factors that are connected to prolonged grief can be related to an individual’s physical and emotional state before the loss, the relationship they had with their loved one, as well as the nature and circumstances of the loss. For example, if you had any unresolved issues with the loved one you lost, the risk of prolonged grief is significantly increased. Another example is the fact that parents who lost their children have a significantly higher chance of a divorce.

several emoticons
Grief is heavily influenced by the previous emotional state.

Grieving individuals who experience a violent or unexpected death of a loved one are also at a greater risk of developing a number of mental disorders, including PTSD and depression.

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7 stages of grief

The stages of grief were first introduced in the 1960s, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Initially, there were only 5 stages. Since then, the concept was expanded to include seven distinct stages. Not everyone grieves the same way, of course, but identifying these 7 stages is the key to understanding your emotions.

The seven stages of grief are:

  1. Shock and denial
  2. Pain and guilt
  3. Anger and bargaining
  4. Depression, loneliness, and reflection
  5. Upward turn
  6. Reconstruction
  7. Acceptance and hope

Shock and denial

Even if you can foresee the loss of a loved one, almost everyone will feel shocked and in denial at the news. Reality hits hard, after all, and it is our brain’s way of starting to understand what is happening. No matter the cause, the loss is very real and there is a certain degree of unwillingness to accept it that comes alongside it. One of the main advantages of online counseling is that it can help you overcome the initial shock and denial, and allow you to proceed with the grieving process.

Pain and guilt

Once the initial shock and denial wear off, the next one of the 7 stages of grief is pain and guilt. This is a critical part of handling grief, as these feelings need to be accepted. Most people go through “If only I…”, or “I really needed to…”, and that is perfectly normal. The best course of action is to allow some self-doubt but not let it completely wear you down. It is very important that you understand that you did your best with the resources and knowledge you had at the moment.

Anger and bargaining

At some point, grief will induce anger in an individual. Losing a job might incite one to revenge, for example. A relationship breaking down might push an individual to take what is “theirs”. And if a loved one dies, a person might be angry that they are left alone.

Bargaining, on the other hand, happens once the grieving individual starts looking at the upsides. They can get another job or another relationship, for example. While it is impossible to replace a loved one, some people find solace in knowing that they will form new relationships during their lives.

hand balled up in a fist, representing one of the 7 stages of grief - anger
Being angry is a perfectly normal part of the grieving process.

Depression, loneliness, and reflection

Grief brings complicated emotions with it. This jumble of emotions often leads to feelings of depression, anxiety, and even isolation. However, they also bring purpose and reflection. The realization that the individual is still there, and is okay, can help cope with these emotions. Oftentimes, individuals that feel lonely can improve their condition by visiting a therapist. However, they need to be able to recognize a bad therapist. Working with a therapist with whom you can’t “connect” can oftentimes cause even more harm.

Upward turn

By our very nature, we crave connection, support, and contact. After a certain time, a grieving individual may want to connect with their family and friends again. However, this is a very precarious stage, as it might lead to slipping backward. The important thing to know is that overwhelming emotions are perfectly normal and that you can “switch” from one stage of grief to another one within minutes.


Reconstruction is one of the 7 stages of grief where the grieving individual realizes that circumstances cannot be changed but their behavior and perception can. Everyone needs to find their “new normal”. Once you get to this stage, the most important thing is to take every day as it comes, and month by month. We are all unique and have our own journeys, after all. The worst thing you can do is to start comparing your journey to someone else’s.

Last of 7 stages of grief – Acceptance & hope

The last stage of grief is acceptance and hope. An individual comes to this stage once they accept that their loved one is not with them anymore and is grateful for the years they spent with them. Fundamentally, everyone realizes at some point that nothing ever stays the same. Endings are a part of life, that is a simple truth. But every ending brings a new beginning with it. These are very important concepts to remember.

Every person experiences grief in their own way and goes through the stages in their own order. How long one remains in any single stage depends on the individual, their past history with grief, as well as their resources.

How do professionals assess grief?

therapist talking to a patient
Questions and their answers are vital to understanding the grieving process.

Many people simply cannot deal with the 7 stages of grief on their own and turn to professionals. The way that these professionals “figure out” whether an individual’s grief is complicated, normal, or any other, is by asking numerous questions. These questions are there to explore the potential physical, social, or emotional grief symptoms, how severe they are, and how long have they been present.

Your therapist might also need to determine the stages of grief you experienced so far and which stage is the currently dominant one. Your resources, however, may influence the therapists available to you. In some cases, it is highly preferable to find affordable online counseling options, as they will put a lesser strain on the individual’s finances.

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How can you cope with grief?

The “problem” with grief is that there is no universal solution to it. Not a single approach has shown clear and definite benefits in all cases. The reason for this is that every approach is very different from one another. In other words, it is extremely hard to scientifically compare them. That being said, all of these approaches have the potential to help someone. It is wise to explore several of them and see what works best for you.

Furthermore, some people will benefit highly from in-person therapy, while others may find online therapy to be much more to their liking. When it comes to online vs in-person therapy, an individual’s preferences and comfort level reign supreme. As well as their geolocation, of course.

Dual-process model

One approach is the dual-process model. This model endorses viewing the grieving process as a dynamic struggle between recovery and the pain of the loss. It stipulates that grieving individuals should separate their time from working on confronting their loss and avoiding the entire process when appropriate. This model also benefits from brief professional counseling. Therefore, a bereaved individual might want to find affordable online counseling sooner rather than later. Talking to a professional therapist can be of huge help when dealing with grief, after all.


Another way to cope with grief is by journaling. This is an effective method of managing grief, and it involves journaling your activities throughout the day. There is no strict process to this activity, and each individual is free to manage it according to their own situation. That said, there are a few recommendations to make journaling more effective:

  • Limiting journaling time to 15 minutes per day or less is evidenced to decrease the likelihood of the individual’s grief worsening
  • Writing about how the individual imagines their year to be one year after the loss
  • Identifying key feelings the individual is experiencing can help track the grieving process

Managing grief in children requires consistent interaction and caretaking from supportive adults. For example, children of school-age or older may require appropriate participation in social and extracurricular activities. Adolescents may need to try and maintain positive relationships with their peers, as opposed to enrolling in a formal support option such as school counseling.

But every child regardless of their age needs to be reassured that they had nothing to do with their loved one’s death. It is very important for the child to understand that they are not the ones to blame.

Miscellaneous coping tips

There are as many coping tips for grieving as there are individuals that grieve. Here’s what you may want to try:

  • Adopting regular, nutritious, eating habits
  • Getting extra rest
  • Communicating with family and friends
  • Reciting comforting affirmations and/or prayers
  • Return to regular bedtimes and meal times
  • Going back to work or school

Coping with grief is a lot more complicated than simply knowing what the 7 stages of grief are. It involves figuring out what is helpful and what is not. This is a complex process, one that can be all but impossible to accomplish on your own. If you require professional assistance, you may want to start looking into therapists near you. Or you may want to go for an online therapy option. A great place to start figuring out your options is the Consumer Opinion Guide. Explore our knowledge database and you will be able to easily figure out your next step!

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