What is grief?
The feeling of grief is commonly experienced by humans and is a natural reaction to change. The grieving process involves processing what happened while also adapting to your new circumstances.
For the vast majority of people, time is the critical factor in coming to terms with grief. What at first may seem impossible to cope with will eventually become a little easier to accept. Grief and loss will remain, but they become part of your life experience and reality.
No two grieving processes are the same. Grief can make you swing quickly between different emotional states, but it’s also common to feel nothing at all. You may feel ill and experience physical symptoms while you’re grieving.
It is possible for grief to turn into depression, which has many similar symptoms. Those with a pre-existing mental illness can be more vulnerable to grief. A sudden death or traumatic loss can sometimes lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What are the symptoms of grief?
During the grieving process, both your emotional state and capacity for certain behaviours may change. Grief affects the whole person, including the mind, body, thoughts and behaviour, but everyone reacts differently. Symptoms of grief vary in intensity and duration, depending on the cause. Common symptoms of grief include:
Tiredness – feeling burned out or exhausted
Sleep disturbance – sleeping too much or too little
Changes in appetite – eating too much or too little
Strong emotions – crying a lot and withdrawing from others
Mood swings – rapidly switching between emotions like sadness and anger
Unpleasant feelings – feeling anxious, worried or losing a firm sense of reality
Existential anxiety – feeling guilty or worthless
Low mood – feeling down or depressed
Physical feelings – feeling pain or becoming ill
Infections – you may become ill more easily
What causes grief?
A dramatic event such as a separation, illness or death can cause grief. Powerful emotions such as disappointment and crisis can also trigger grief. In some cases when grief is prolonged, depression or PTSD can develop.
Assessment and treatment for grief
Many people go through the grieving process without needing professional help. For some however, grief can become so heavy or prolonged that it may be necessary to seek help. In addition to health care, there are many services in the community that can help in the grieving process.
During your first healthcare appointment, you will be asked about recent events in your life, including the trigger for your grief. You may also be asked about your social life and any previous illnesses. The healthcare professional will also take into account any physical symptoms or other ongoing treatment.
Treatment will vary for each individual case. Most people will have an initial consultation to guide to the most appropriate choice of treatment or service within the community.
A common complication of grief is that it can develop into depression. Psychological treatment may then be required. If the grief is prolonged or the depression is severe, there may be a case for taking time off work or school or taking medicine. If there is an underlying anxiety disorder, medical treatment may also be required.
What can you do to help?
There are a number of things you can do to help your situation:
Do your best to maintain your daily routines, even though it can be difficult
Eat and exercise regularly
Make sure you get enough daylight every day
Avoid regularly drinking alcohol
Try to get enough sleep and rest
Try doing something you enjoy
Research has shown that social support makes a big difference for coping with difficult life events. For most people, talking to friends and family about what has happened can really help. But there’s no right way to grieve – taking some time for yourself can help too, but try to reach out to others when you feel able.
Meeting with support groups is another great way to connect with people who can relate to what you’re going through. There are also many different confidential support lines you can contact, both over the phone and online – don’t be afraid to ask for help.
When should you seek care?
If you’re finding it difficult to cope with everyday life at home or at work, you may need a professional. You may also want to seek help if you feel you are stuck in the grieving process and are not feeling better over time.
If you’re thinking about harming yourself or taking your own life, speak with someone now. Samaritans have a phone line available all day, every day at 116 123. You can also text "SHOUT" to 85258 for the Shout Crisis text line.
How can Livi help?
Book an appointment with a doctor if you feel you're becoming overwhelmed with everyday life.
- Reviewed by:
- Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP, Livi