How to manage feelings of grief
We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Her Majesty The Queen. For many people, her death will be a source of profound sorrow and could raise concerns about the future. We advise everyone to take practical steps to manage their wellbeing in the coming days and weeks. With this in mind, here’s some guidance on how to manage feelings of grief.
What is grief?
Grief is emotional pain that happens when you lose someone, or something, that you care about.
When someone you love dies, this is called bereavement. In this webpage we are focussing on grief caused by bereavement.
How might grief affect me?
There is no such thing as a normal grief process. Grief is a personal experience that can be complex and unpredictable. For example, you may experience:
- Intense constant grief straight after your loved one’s death. Which gradually changes into unprovoked waves or burst of intense feelings.
- Intense grief that comes back at a later stage. Reawakened grief.
- Delayed grief, which is an intense grief response that can start weeks, months or even years after the death of your loved one. It may happen if you don’t have the opportunity to grieve properly. Such as being busy looking after a family member or a business.
Reawakened and delayed grief may be triggered out of the blue, or by experiencing something triggering. Such as:
- an anniversary
- a familiar smell or sound
- the loss of someone else you love, such as family member, or a public figure.
Though grief is a completely unique experience, it will tend to get easier to deal with in time. But for many, the grieving process will never be fully completed.
What are the symptoms of grief?
Grief can affect both your physical health and mental health.
- disturbed sleep
- Such as eating too much, too little, or comfort eating
- physical symptoms of anxiety. Such as nausea, palpitations or panic attacks.
Find out more information about ‘Anxiety’.
Common feelings are:
- shock and numbness
- overwhelming sadness
- tiredness or exhaustion
- anger, this might be towards the person who has died, God, or their illness
- guilt, maybe about how you feel, or something that you did or didn’t do. Or perhaps you have positive feelings at the same time as going through the grieving process
- Intense feelings of loneliness
You may also see or hear your loved one whilst experiencing intense grief. These are known as auditory or visual hallucinations. These experiences don’t mean that you are developing a mental illness.
Make an appointment with your GP if you are concerned about any of your symptoms.
Emotional support may help you to manage your thoughts and feelings.
Where can I get emotional support?
You can talk to people about how you’re feeling. It’s an important step of the grieving process for many people. You can take this step when you feel ready.
You can get emotional support from:
- Friends and relatives
- Community networks and social circles
- Places of worship
- Emotional support lines
- Support groups
- Specialist bereavement charities, such as Cruse Bereavement Support. They run a national bereavement helpline and can offer one to one support.
Emotional support lines aren’t the same as talking therapy. They are sometimes called ‘listening services’ and they are staffed by skilled and trained listeners.
They can support you if you want a confidential and non-judgemental safe space to talk. For example, you may be:
- finding it difficult to talk to others who have experienced the loss too, or
- experiencing feelings which you think other people may not agree with.
Talking therapy also offer emotional support. Talking therapy is where you talk to trained mental health professional about your emotional issues. They can help you work through your grief, or existing issues which may have been made worse by grief.
You may be able to access talking therapy services through:
- The NHS. Your GP can refer you, or you make a self-referral in many areas.
- An employee assistance programme (EAP). Ask your employer or HR department if your company has an EAP.
- Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic support services. Such as Black Minds Matter.
- Your local LGBTQIA+ centre.
- Charities sometimes offer talking therapy services.
- Private therapist. You will need to pay for this service.
Most of the suggestions listed above will provide you with free or low-cost therapy.
When should I get professional support?
If you are finding that your grief is having a big impact on your life it may be time to talk to your GP, or access talking therapy.
A big impact on your life may be:
- Not being able to move on
- Not being able to do the things you normally do. Like concentrating on tasks
- Losing interest in hobbies, work and study
- Self-neglect, such as not washing or eating
- Relationships with people
- Sleeping problems
- Giving up on your dreams
It’s important to be aware that you can contact your GP or talking therapy services at any point. You don’t need to wait a certain length of time, or reach a certain point, before asking for help. If you are concerned about how you are feeling, seek support.
What can I do to help myself?
Though you may seek support from other people to help you through the grieving process, there are also things that you can do to help you manage. Such as:
Follow your treatment steps – such as attending therapy appointments and complete any follow up work as part of your treatment.
Practice stress management – You can find more information on stress by clicking here.
Socialise – Stay in touch with people who you enjoy being around. Or Join a local support group, sports team or community group.
Exercise and physical health - Stay active. You can find out more information about how to stay active and look after your physical health by clicking here.
Keep in mind important dates such as anniversaries – Certain days in the year, or other reminders may cause symptoms of grief to be reawakened. Plan ahead, such as arranging to be with family on potentially triggering days. This may be an opportunity to turn a difficult day, into a positive one.
How can I get practical support to deal with the loss of a loved one?
You may have practical issues to deal with following someone’s death, such as registering the death or dealing with your loved one’s finances.
The government website has a step-by-step guide for you to follow called ‘What to do when someone dies.’ This gives information about what to do after a death.
You can also contact the Bereavement Advice Centre for advice. They offer a national service providing free practical advice about what to do after a death. They have guides available for you to follow on their website.
Where can I get advice on debt and money issues?
You can get free, expert advice from debt organisations if:
- the deceased has debts, or
- their death has caused you financial hardship.
National Debtline have useful information called ‘Debts after death’.
The Mental Health and Money Advice Service have created practical webpage on how to manage finance during the cost of living crisis.
National debt organisations are:
Is grief a mental disorder?
Experiencing symptoms of grief is very common when someone dies. For many people, grief causes short term intense mental distress and physical distress. But grief isn’t a diagnosed mental disorder. It is a normal reaction to bereavement. Over time, these feelings get easier and it’s possible to accept loss and move forwards.
But, if you have persistent grief that is disabling and affects your everyday life, you may get diagnosed with prolonged grief disorder. Prolonged grief disorder affects about 9% of adults. You may be given this diagnosis if:
- You have had intense and persistent emotional pain since your loss,
- You spend most of your time thinking about your loss,
- Your loss has impacted your ability to function in important areas of life, and
- You have experienced the above symptoms for a longer time than expected based on social, cultural, and religious norms.
Who is more likely to have prolonged grief disorder?
Some people are thought to be at greater risk of developing prolonged grief disorder. Such as:
- Older adults
- People with mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety or PTSD.
- People who experience the death of a loved one suddenly or under traumatic circumstances
Those with prolonged grief disorder may be at higher risk of:
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal thoughts
If you are at immediate risk of suicide call 999.
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What is the treatment for prolonged grief disorder?
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may be helpful to treat symptoms of prolonged grief disorder, such as issues with sleep. CBT is a type of talking therapy.
Bereavement support groups may also be helpful to help you manage symptoms of prolonged grief disorder. They are source of connection and support.
There are not currently any medications to treat grief. Though you may be offered medication if you have symptoms of another mental health disorder at the same time.
Is prolonged grief disorder similar to other mental health conditions?
Prolonged grief disorder shares similarities with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depressive episodes found in depression and bi-polar. But there are slight differences.
PTSD – With prolonged grief disorder you may be preoccupied with memories surrounding the death of a loved one, the same as someone with PTSD. But you will not re-experience them as happening in the here and now.
Depressive episode – With prolonged grief disorder, symptoms are specifically focussed on the loss of a loved one, rather than being affected by lots of different areas of life. Such as difficulty accepting the loss, feeling angry about the loss or feeling as though a part of you has died.
Though there are differences, prolonged grief disorder and mood disorders often occur at the same time.
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