Grief

Sadness or mourning a loss is a natural human emotion and nothing to be ashamed of. It’s called grief and we all grieve in different ways. It can feel like it is a pain that will never go away - but the old saying “time is a great healer” is a very true one. Having said that, sometimes time is not our friend and although it’s not good to accelerate the grieving process, it may be important to find ways to help us cope with grief.
This section defines grief in detail, describes the different ways grief can affect you and suggests ways you can help yourself and where you can get help if you need it.

Grief

What is grief?

Grief is what we feel when we lose someone or something. It’s usually associated with the death of a loved one, but can also result from the loss of a relationship, career or pet. The bigger the loss, the harder it can be to get over.

Some people will tell you that grief is a sign of weakness and that you should harden up and get over it, that you need to show strength. Others will have a set idea about how you should grieve but there is no right or wrong way. The truth is grief is a very personal thing, cry if you like but it’s not compulsory, if you don’t it doesn’t mean you don’t care. Deal with grief in your own way because there is no handbook on the subject.

Is my grief a problem?

Your own grief journey will involve some kind of pain and it may seem difficult to carry on with your life. You could feel shocked and numb, overcome with sadness, or maybe even filled with anger or guilt. You may even be frightened about the future.

There are also physical reactions to grief – a loss of appetite, tiredness, feeling sick, having trouble sleeping or feeling very achy. There are common behavioural reactions like withdrawing from the outside world, turning to alcohol or drugs and often you’ll be short tempered.

None of these are issues or problems in themselves but if they continue for a long period of time and they start to affect your family, your job or your quality of life - then it’s time to do something about it. For some, grief can lead to depression and even self-harm and then your grief has become a real problem.

What can I do about it?

There is no right or wrong way of dealing with grief but there are things you can do that can help you cope.

Get help from other people

Try to spend time with friends and family – people you care about. You don’t have to talk about your loss if you don’t want to, just being with other people can help. Work out a plan for how you can do that; maybe you can contact an old friend, organise to see a movie, have a coffee, or go to a sports game.

You might want to join a club or a church, or perhaps a support group with other people who are also grieving. Try to make sure you have some social contact every day. There are some useful tips in the building support section of the Resilience Toolkit.

Look after your physical health

When you’re grieving, it's hard to take care of yourself. But ignoring your health will only make it harder to cope. Try to eat well and regularly, get plenty of rest, do some exercise every day, and cut down on alcohol and other substances. You might be surprised what a difference this can make to the way you feel.

Give yourself time to think about your loss

Don’t try to block it out. Share your memories – both good and bad – with someone you trust, or try writing them down. You might want to write a letter to your loved one, or maybe make a scrapbook of photos. It’s often good to do something constructive, like getting involved in a cause that was important to your loved one.

Plan for tomorrow

An important step to getting on with your life is planning what you will do today and tomorrow. Write a timetable for the day on a sheet of paper. Try to build in work, exercise, a social activity, and some time alone (but not too much). Include as many enjoyable things as possible. Step by step, this will help you to get your life back on track.

Plan for the future

It might be hard to imagine now, but you do have a future. In the early stages of grief you won’t be thinking very rationally, so it’s not a good idea to make major life decisions. But when you feel a bit better, start making plans and decisions, getting ready to move on. This does not mean forgetting the person or thing you have lost. It means moving on with your life, and finding contentment and happiness again.

Although grief resolves naturally for most people, for some it does not. We call this “complicated grief”. Complicated grief is more likely if the loss has come about in traumatic circumstances. Sometimes it can be linked to post traumatic stress disorder.

Getting help

If you have tried self management but feel it’s not enough - if you feel that life is not worth living, if you struggle to be with other people, or if you're unable to carry out your normal role (e.g. as a worker, a parent, a student), then it’s important you get some help.

Your doctor or other mental health professional is always a good place to start. He or she can help with a thorough assessment of the problem and make referrals for specialists.

Online resources

More information on grief and how to manage it is available from: