Go back

Understanding Grief and Loss– for young people

It’s normal to experience sadness and to grieve after loss. But that doesn’t make it easy. Some people say grief is the most powerful thing that can be experienced in everyday life. It’s what happens after the loss of someone or something really important to 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.

Grief and Loss

What’s going on?

Grief can affect pretty much every part of life – and can sometimes make the simplest task feel like climbing Mount Everest. We’ll break it down into the different parts that might be affected:
 
Changes to feelings:
You might feel a combination of shock, disbelief, numbness, pain, intense sadness, longing, anger, resentment, regret, guilt (about the past, or about being happy in the future), abandonment, anxiety or worry or all of the above.
The combination 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. Sometimes the intensity of emotional bursts can last a long time, and other times it can be brief.
 
Changes to thoughts:
When a big change in life happens, it’s hard not to think about it all the time. Concentrating can be tough. You might notice your mind is constantly wandering and you’re having trouble focusing. Some people find it hard to care much about anything – as though nothing matters compared to the loss. 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 so closely connected, so it’s no surprise that our body can be really impacted during grief. You might experience headaches, stomach aches, body aches, weight changes, changes in sleeping and eating routines, colds, feeling tired or just generally 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, and can have trouble finding the energy to keep up with day to day life. Others find that keeping busy is something that 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 it will get easier. It’s really hard to predict the how long grief may affect you because everyone’s experience is different. The only thing that is predictable is that is unpredictable.
 
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. Sometimes it feels manageable. 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 gaps 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?

People experiencing grief may have trouble maintaining relationships and feeling connected to others. You might not have the same patience when you’re grieving, or you might be 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 is not depression. But it’s important to be aware that grief can leave you vulnerable to developing depression in the future. If you’re not sure, it can be helpful to reach out for support.
 
It’s also common to experience changes in your physical health during grief – like weight changes or feeling run down and sick. It’s important to try to look after your physical health, as this can play a big part in getting through. 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 regret.
  • It might make things easier to deal with at the time, but can make everything 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 a particularly sudden or unexpected loss, it might be important to reach out for support much sooner. Also, if your experience of grief has been going on for 6 months or longer, then it’s also important to reach out for help.
 
For many people, taking back control over parts of life can be empowering. It might be helpful to think about the word ‘SORT’, to remind you there are some things you can do to help SORT grief into manageable pieces.
 
S – Simple things
The simple things can have a huge impact on how you’re able to handle the challenges of grief. Start with little goals, like fitting in some fruits and veggies and regular exercise and locking in good sleeping habits. See our tips for a healthy headspace and sleep fact sheet for more tips.
 
O - Out and about
A lot of the time you might not feel like it, but getting out of the house can be one of the most effective ways to keep things going. Remember what you used to do for fun before and see if there's a way to give yourself permission to try it again. It’s OK to feel happy. Playing or listening to music, walking, hanging out with friends, movies, sports, shopping, reading…. anything that works for you. For more ideas see this list of fun activities.
 
R – Remember
If someone you care about has passed away it can be helpful to remember the good times. Doing this with family and friends, and possibly even finding a way to celebrate their life and say goodbye, can be really valuable if you’re feeling up to it. You could write a letter, share stories with your mob, create an artwork, contribute to the funeral or 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 occasion or event that may remind them of their loss.
 
T – Take it easy on yourself
Accept that this 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 – it could really help them support you.

Getting help and support

You can think about grief as the unpredictable surge of the ocean. If it feels like the waves are constantly crashing down on you, like 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, there are a number of options that can suit your needs.

1) See the additional resources listed below.
2) Find an online or phone-based service you can access anonymously and free of charge (such as eheadspace , Kids Helpline or Lifeline).
3) Check in with your local general practitioner (GP).

Find your nearest headspace centre or for online and phone support visit.

Other useful websites
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. Get in touch with us. 
Online apps
ReachOut WorryTime
ReachOut WorryTime helps you to set aside your worries until later, so you don't get caught up in them and can get on with your day. This means you can deal with worries once a day, rather than carrying them around with you 24/7.
ReachOut Breathe
ReachOut Breathe helps you reduce the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety by slowing down your breathing and your heart rate with your iPhone or Apple Watch.
The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.

Last reviewed 18 October 2017