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.
For more information on these see our pages on sleep problems and food and mood.
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.
How do I know if I'm experiencing complicated grief?
- Symptoms of grief feel continuous for a long time, and they get harder to cope with over time, rather than gradually easier.
- Intense and overwhelming feelings of grief are having an impact on your day-to-day living.
See Cruse Bereavement Care's website for more information on complicated grief.