Coping with Grief

Coping with Grief

When someone close to us dies there is no ‘correct’ or ‘usual’ way to cope.  Each of us experiences grief differently.  It is important to understand that grief is a process which takes time and there is no “quick fix”.

You may notice that you experience a number of intense emotions (sadness, anxiety, anger, guilt, shock) in a short period of time.  These emotions may also fluctuate over time and you may experience them in ‘waves’.  Each of us will experience these feelings in a different way or order, just notice the feelings that you are experiencing and remind yourself it is perfectly OK to feel the way you do. Face your feelings; those feelings of grief won’t disappear by ignoring them.  Pay attention to them and allow yourself to grieve.

After the initial loss it is helpful to maintain hobbies and interests; having a structure and routine to the day is important and engaging in activities that you enjoy will help you to stay connected to other people. Try expressing your feelings in a creative or constructive way; writing about how you feel (maybe a letter to your loved one), compile a photo album or scrapbook, get involved in a cause that was important to the person.

You may experience physical symptoms due to grief.  These can include:

  • Changes to your appetite (increase/decrease)
  • Feeling fatigued
  • Sleep difficulties (waking up, nightmares, dreams about the person)
  • Feeling as if you have a weight on your chest
  • Health issues (such as infections) due to stress making you physically vulnerable.

If you are finding that your physical symptoms persist, please make an appointment with your GP and discuss your concerns.

It can be easy to neglect ourselves when we have experienced a loss, try to look after your physical health; try to maintain any exercise routine you have.  If strenuous exercise feels too much, go for a walk instead.  Try to focus on eating healthily.


Your grief is likely to have an impact on your behaviour.  You may find that:

  • You become withdrawn, find it too difficult to speak to others
  • Avoid places or people or activities that remind you of the person
  • Become irritable or grumpy with other people.

You may find that you have lots of guilt or blame based thoughts such as: “I should have done…”, “the doctor didn’t do enough…”. It is common to have these types of thoughts, you may find it helpful to focus on what you were able to do and how others helped.

You may also spend time thinking about the future and events that will occur without the presence of the loved person.  As time passes, significant dates (such as birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, milestones) are likely to intensify the feelings of grief.  Plan ahead for these grief “triggers”, work out what is likely to help you on those days.  You may find that you want to spend the day alone and mark it in some way or you may find it helpful being with family or friends who share your loss so that you can share memories with each other.  You may find that over time different strategies are more helpful.

Many people find it difficult turning to family or friends when they are grieving, they often worry about burdening others.  It’s important to recognise that many people feel awkward when trying to comfort someone who’s grieving as they worry that they will say something wrong. However, don’t let that stop you from turning to people, as those that are close to you probably would rather feel awkward and try to support you than have you grieve in isolation.  If you find it too difficult to talk to those that you are close to there are bereavement charities and organisations that can help.  For example, the charity Cruse offers a telephone help line on 0808 808 1677, or you can find resources on their website here: Cruse.

Try to give yourself time to adapt to the loss, try not to be hard on yourself.  Slowly and gradually build up the things you used to do.  Let people know that you find it difficult speaking about the loss; focus your conversations on different topics.  Talk about how you are feeling when you are ready and with someone you feel comfortable with.  People that are close to you are likely to respond positively, they will want to help and support you.

We’ve put together some tip sheets with advice on managing Low Mood and Sleep Difficulties, take a look at those if you’re experiencing any of those issues.

For further information on grief visit NHS Inform.

The way that grief affects children and young people can be very different from the way it affects adults, so knowing what to say or where to find the right services can really help. A useful website for children, young people, parents and professionals is:

NES Talking to children who are bereaved 

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