Provides information on bereavement, where to go for support, and suggestions for helping yourself and others through grief.
What does grief feel like?
Grief can be difficult and stressful and nearly everybody goes through it at some point in their lives. Despite this, it can be very difficult to predict how we might react to a loss, as it is a very individual process. After a loss you may experience any of the following:
The pain doesn't vanish and we shouldn't have to hide it, especially from those closest to us.
- Sadness or depression. This can be brought on at the realisation of the loss and may cause you to isolate yourself whilst reflecting on things you did with your loved one or focusing on memories from the past.
- Shock, denial or disbelief. It is natural for our minds to try to protect us from pain, so following a loss some people may find that they feel quite numb about what has happened. Shock provides emotional protection from becoming overwhelmed, especially during the early stages of grief, and it can last a long time.
- Numbness and denial. You may find that you feel numb after a loss. This is natural and helps us to process what has happened at a pace that we can manage, and not before we are ready. It is natural and can be a helpful stage - the only problem being if numbness is the only thing we feel, and none of the other feelings associated with grief, as this can cause us to feel 'stuck' or 'frozen'.
Grief is a fickle thing, and it hits you in ways that you aren't prepared for. I've always been a fairly confident person so the shift in my mental health that came with grief took me by surprise.
- Panic and confusion. Following the loss of someone close to us we can be left wondering how we will fill the gap left in our lives, and can experience a sense of changed identity.
- Anger or hostility. Losing somebody is painful and can seem an unfair thing to happen. You may find that you feel angry or frustrated and want to find something or someone to blame for the loss, so that you can try to make sense of it.
- Feeling overwhelmed. Grief can hit people immediately and with full force, potentially causing them to cry a lot or feel like they are not coping. People can worry that their feelings are so overwhelming that they don't know how they can live with them. But over time feelings of grief tend to become less intense and people find a way to live with them.
- Relief. You may feel relieved when somebody dies, especially if there had been a long illness, if the person who died had been suffering, if you were acting as the main carer for the person, or if your relationship with the person was difficult. Relief is a normal response and does not mean you did not love or care for the person.
- Mixed feelings. All relationships have their difficulties and you may think that, because you had a difficult relationship with the person, that you will grieve less or cope better. Instead you may find that you feel a mix of emotions like sadness, anger, guilt and anything in between.
We can feel all, none or some of these things. There is no right or wrong way to feel following a loss. Some people seek help immediately by showing their emotions and talking to people, others prefer to deal with things slowly, quietly or by themselves.
I have lost friends and family - each bereavement has been different but it has all been a learning process. It is crucial that people know where to turn to.
There are many different factors that affect grief, including the relationship we had with the person who died, our previous experience of grief, and the support we have around us. Some other experiences you may have while you are grieving include:
- sleep problems
- changes in appetite
- physical health problems
- withdrawing from other people, or wanting to be with others all the time.
The 'grief cycle'
Research has suggested that, in some people, grief comes in stages or as a cycle. The grief cycle as a whole is sometimes referred to as 'mourning' and describes how people adapt following a loss.
It is a completely individual process but can be influenced by things such as culture, customs, rituals and social expectations.
I managed to get good grades... but inside I was always suffering, feeling lonely and isolated, detached and numb a lot of the time. I couldn't fully express how I was feeling to anyone.
Different studies describe the stages of the grief cycle in slightly different ways, but the most common stages are:
- Denial - feelings of shock, disbelief, panic or confusion are common here. "How could this happen?", "It can't be true".
- Anger - blaming yourself, blaming others and hostility are all common feelings and behaviours - "Why me?", "This isn't fair", "I don't deserve this".
- Depression - feeling tired, hopeless, helpless, like you have lost perspective, isolated or needing to be around others - "Everything is a struggle", "What's the point?".
- Bargaining - feelings of guilt often accompany questions like "If only I had done more", "If I had only been...".
- Acceptance - acceptance does not mean that somebody likes the situation or that it is right or fair, but rather it involves acknowledging the implications of the loss and the new circumstances, and being prepared to move forward in a new direction.
These stages do not always appear in the same order for everybody, and some people experience some stages and not others. It is common to move forwards and backwards through the stages in your own way and at your own pace. Some people may experience grief outside of the cycle altogether.
If you ever feel like you are not coping with bereavement there are organisations and people who can support you. Some ideas for who to contact can be found on the support and self-care page and the useful contacts page.
Things that helped me through the bereavement were opening up about the way I was feeling, making real friendships, exercise, healthy eating, and helping others.
Is grief a mental health problem?
In most cases, grief is not a diagnosable mental health problem. It is absolutely normal that grief places strain on our everyday lives and it can take a long time to adapt to life after a loss. Even after a long period it is still normal to experience days like the difficult early days after a bereavement, but over a period of time we gradually learn to manage these. This is sometimes called simple grief.
However, sometimes people experience such strong feelings of grief long after a bereavement happens that a diagnosis of complicated grief is made. These experiences of bereavement can be very similar to 'simple grief' except that, rather than becoming manageable in the long-term, they can worsen and affect your day-today-living for a long time.
This information was published in July 2019.
This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published.
References and bibliography available on request.
If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.