Grief is not a linear process. When you are grieving, feelings of intense sadness can come and go in waves. With time, however, grief can lessen, and you can heal. Here’s how you can cope with your grief after a significant loss.
What is grief?
Grief is the natural emotional response to the loss of someone close, such as a family member or friend. Grief can also occur after a serious illness, divorce or other significant loss. Grief involves feelings of intense sadness, as well as feelings of shock, numbness, denial and even anger.
Grief is a process or journey that affects everyone differently. It can be exhausting and emotionally draining, making it hard to do simple things or even leave the house.
Importantly, grief isn’t a straightforward recovery process. Some people like to talk about their feelings, while others prefer to grieve in private. There is no set amount of time to feel better.
Shortly after the loss, it may feel impossible to imagine being happy and enjoying life again. With time, though, most people who are grieving will feel better. It’s normal to feel sad and mourn the loss forever, but those intense feelings of sadness will eventually diminish.
While we commonly associate grief with the death of a loved one, there are other situations that cause us to grieve:
- divorce or separation
- the loss of a beloved pet
- giving up something that mattered
- a serious health diagnosis
- moving away from loved ones (or loved ones moving away from you).
What does grief feel like?
Grief looks and feels different for everyone. Common initial reactions include:
Over time, as you start to accept the new reality, you may experience a deeper sense of sadness, feelings of depression or physical pain. These feelings can come and go in waves, and they can be overwhelming. Depending on the circumstance of the loss, you may also feel relief.
After a significant loss, you may notice the following behaviour changes, which are common in people who are grieving:
- difficulty concentrating
- struggling to talk to others in social situations
- getting sick more often
- putting on or losing weight
- sleeping difficulties
- dreaming about the loss
- experiencing physical pain.
How can I cope with grief?
Coping with grief is not about moving on – it’s about adapting to your new life without the person or situation you lost. As you learn to live with your loss, these tips may help:
Let yourself grieve
Don’t try to avoid or ‘bury’ your feelings. Accept that you will need time to feel sad and mourn your loss. Give yourself permission to cry and feel sad.
Take things one day at a time
Avoid making major plans in the months ahead, as this may overwhelm you. Focus on getting through each day, and don’t take on extra commitments unless you feel you have the necessary headspace.
Focus on the positive memories
Honour the loss of your loved one by celebrating their life. Print pictures, put together keepsakes and share happy memories with others.
Take care of your health and wellbeing
A healthy diet supports a healthy mind and body, so aim to eat mostly fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Avoid processed foods high in salt and sugar, and limit alcohol and caffeine. Drink plenty of water and make time to get outside and exercise or walk every day.
Connect with people who bring out the best in you
Find the people who lift you up and spend time with them. If someone is making you feel worse, try to spend less time with them.
Healing takes time, but it eventually becomes easier to accept the loss. Remember that dealing with grief is not about forgetting – it’s about learning to live with and accept your new way of life.
Dealing with grief: Where to get help
While most people can heal with time, others may struggle to feel better. It’s important to seek help if your feelings of sadness persist some months after the loss, as you may be at risk of developing depression. Other signs you may be experiencing depression include:
- sleeping difficulties
- thoughts of self-harm or suicide
- appetite loss
- constant feelings of emptiness.
If you’re struggling to cope and want to speak to a counsellor, call CAREinMIND on 1300 096 269 or click the chat button. The service is free for people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by On the Line. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.