Grief is an individual experience, it’s what happens after you lose someone or something important to you. You don’t have to know the person for their loss to impact you. Everyone experiences grief differently. Our culture, gender, age, past experiences of loss, and belief systems can also affect the way we grieve, so try not to compare yourself to anyone else or get too worried about the way you grieve – everyone grieves differently.
What is grief?
Grief is a normal and natural response to loss and it can affect many parts of our lives. Sometimes it can make the simplest task feel really hard to do.
These are some things you might notice
You might feel some or all of these things:
- intense sadness
- guilt (about the past, or about being happy in the future)
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.
When a big change happens in your life it’s hard not to think about it all the time. We also might find that concentrating can be tough, or that our mind wanders and we 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.
Our mind and body are closely connected, so it makes sense that grief can have a big impact on our bodies. You might experience:
- stomach aches
- body aches
- weight changes
- changes to your sleep
- changes to eating routines
- generally feeling sick and run down.
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. They might not want to see their family and friends, or withdraw from doing things they enjoyed.
Other people find that keeping busy helps them to get through the day.
How long will this go on for?
It’s hard to know how long grief will affect you because everyone’s experience is different. However, it’s important to know that eventually, things will get easier.
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 the waves.
Although you might sometimes feel overwhelmed, there are plenty of things you can do to support yourself.
What else should I look out for?
When you’re experiencing 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 can be a really important part of being supported while we grieve.
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 tough times, some people can turn to alcohol or other drugs to try and help with the pain. But this can create other issues.
- 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.
- It can impact on our mental and physical health.
Check out our tips on reducing alcohol and other drug use.
What can I do to help 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.
Looking after our mental health and wellbeing helps us cope better during the tough times. Things like:
- staying active
- locking in good sleeping habits
- eating well and drinking enough water
- cutting back on alcohol and other drugs
See our tips for a healthy headspace for more tips.
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.
If you have experienced loss of a loved one, 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.
- write a letter
- share stories with your mob, family or friends
- 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 family or friends on the anniversary of an important day – like a birthday – that may remind them of their loved one.
Being kind to yourself is a good idea at all times, but even more so when you’re having a tough time. 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.
How can I get help?
Though it can be hard reaching out to others to let them know what you’re going through, it can help you feel supported, less isolated and it can be the beginning of a valuable support network. Whether you’re speaking to a trusted friend, family member, teacher, Elder or a counsellor, it’s entirely up to you what you feel comfortable sharing. You might just want to say you’re having a tough time.
If you’re finding it hard to cope and/or your social, work or school life are being affected, then it’s a good idea to ask for professional support. You can:
- contact an online or phone-based service, like eheadspace, Kids Helpline or Lifeline. You can access these anonymously and free of charge
- find your local headspace centre
- check in with your local GP (general practitioner).
Other useful websites and online apps:
- ReachOut – Grief and Loss
- Youth Beyond Blue – Grief and Loss
- What’s Your Grief?
- Sane Australia – Busting the Myths about Grief
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.
27 April 2021