Dealing with grief and loss & the effects on mental health

It’s normal to feel sadness and grief after you experience loss. But that doesn’t make it easy.

Grief is what happens after you lose someone or something important to you. You don’t even have to know the person for their loss to impact you. Everyone experiences grief differently, so try not to compare yourself to anyone else or get too worried if some of this stuff is or isn’t affecting you.
  

What is grief?

Grief can affect pretty much every part of life. Sometimes it can make the simplest task feel like climbing Mount Everest. These are some things you might notice:

Changes to feelings

You might feel some or all of these things:
 

  • shock

  • disbelief

  • pain

  • intense sadness

  • longing

  • anger

  • resentment

  • regret

  • guilt (about the past, or about being happy in the future)

  • abandonment

  • anxiety

  • worry.
     

The combination of any of these feelings might make it feel like you’re in a washing machine and things are out of control. Other times you might only feel one of these emotions, or a numbness that doesn’t feel like anything at all. Sometimes these intense bursts of emotions can last for a long time, other times they can come and go quickly.

Changes to thoughts

When a big change happens in your life it can be hard not to think about it all the time. Concentrating can be tough. You might notice your mind wanders and you have trouble focusing.

Some people find it hard to care as much about the things they normally care about. It can feel like nothing matters compared to the loss they’ve experienced. Some people think that the world doesn’t make sense anymore, and they can’t figure out their place in it.

Changes in your body

Our mind and body are closely connected, so it makes sense that grief can have a big impact on our bodies. You might experience:

  • headaches

  • stomach aches

  • body aches

  • weight changes

  • changes to your sleep

  • changes to eating routines

  • colds

  • tiredness

  • generally feeling sick and run down.

Changes in what you do

You might notice some big changes in the sorts of things you do or don’t do. After a big loss, some people feel like doing a whole lot of nothing. They can have trouble finding the energy to keep up with day-to-day life.

Other people find that keeping busy helps them to get through.

How long will this go on for?

It can seem like the pain that comes with grief will never end. But it’s important to know that eventually, things will get easier. It’s really hard to guess how long grief will affect you because everyone’s experience is different.

It might be helpful to think of grief like the ocean. Sometimes the power of the ocean is so strong you can feel out of control. Other times it feels manageable and you are able to drift along with the waves. The pain of grief can come in huge waves, smaller waves or sideways waves. Sometimes there might be waves you didn’t see coming, and sometimes there are periods of calm between waves.

Although this might make you feel out of control, there are plenty of things you will do naturally that help. You might be a better swimmer than you think. If you’d like some tips, see our suggestions below.

What else should I look out for?

When you’re working through grief, you might have trouble maintaining relationships and feeling connected to others. You might not be as patient when you’re grieving, or get in conflict with people more often. This can be hard, because staying connected to others is a really important part of getting through grief.

Grief isn’t depression. But it’s important to know that grief can leave you vulnerable to becoming depressed in the future. If you’re not sure what’s happening for you, it can be helpful to reach out for support.

During hard times, some people can turn to alcohol or other drugs to try to get through the pain. But this can create other problems.

  • Using alcohol or other drugs can sometimes make difficult feelings more painful.

  • You might be more likely to say or do things you’ll regret.

  • It might make things easier to deal with at the time, but can make it much harder afterwards.

What can I do to deal with my grief?

Grief, and everything that can come with it, can be really intense. If you’ve experienced loss there are things you can do.

Healthy habits

Doing simple things for your physical health can really help you handle the challenges of grief. Start with little goals, like:
 

 
See our tips for a healthy headspace and sleep fact sheet for more tips.

Get into life

A lot of the time you might not feel like it, but getting out of the house can be one of the best ways to help things improve. Remember what you used to do for fun and see if there's a way to give yourself permission to try it again. It’s OK to feel happy.

Find something that works for you like, playing or listening to music, walking, hanging out with friends, watching movies, playing sports or reading. For more ideas, check out this list of fun activities.

Remember

If you have experienced loss it can be helpful to remember the good times or the impact they had on you. It’s good to do this with family and friends. If you’re feeling up to it, it can be really valuable to find a way to celebrate their life and say goodbye.

 You could:
  

  • write a letter

  • share stories with your mob

  • create an artwork

  • contribute to the funeral

  • make a mix-tape or a memorial of some sort.
     

Some people also find it helpful to plan a memorial with close friends or family on the anniversary of an important day – like a birthday – that may remind them of their loved one.

Take it easy on yourself

Accept that grief hurts, it’s hard and it takes time. Feeling confused, overwhelmed, angry (or anything else) and having a good cry is OK. Some people find it helpful to set aside 15 minutes or so every day to do this and nothing else.

Find someone who cares about you, and let them in on what you’re going through. If you’re feeling up to it, let them know what you need from them. Maybe you just need them to listen, or maybe you need a distraction to get you through tough days.  – it could really help them support you.

If you’ve been experiencing grief for more than six months it’s important to ask for help.

How do I get help?

You can think about grief as the unpredictable surge of the ocean. If it feels like the waves just keep crashing down on you, you’re having trouble coming up for air, or you’re so exhausted you want to give up – it’s time to act.

Find a trusted friend, teacher, family member or Elder and let them in on what’s happening for you. If you need more support, you have lots of options. You can:

 
Other useful websites and online apps:

 

Things to remember:

  • Grief is normal. It’s what happens after the loss of someone or something important to you.

  • It hurts. A lot.

  • It’s different for everyone, and it’s unpredictable.

  • It can make you feel out of control but there are things you can do to help manage it.

  • It’s a good idea to share your thoughts and feelings with people that are important to you.

  • If it feels too overwhelming, there is support available.


For more information, to find your nearest headspace centre or for online and telephone support, visit eheadspace

The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website. Transgender Victoria also contributed to an earlier edition of this page.

19 July 2018

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