Coping with the loss of someone close to us can be one of the most challenging life events we will ever experience. Even if we’re expecting the death, it can still come as a shock and we can be overcome with emotion. While these emotions may become less intense with time, it’s important to allow yourself the space you need to move through the grieving process.
Understanding grief and loss
Grief is a process and a natural reaction to the loss of someone close to you. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and no set length of time that you should grieve for.
Grief can affect both your mental and physical health and can even have an impact on your sense of self and identity.
You may have heard of the stages of grief including shock, denial, anger, bargaining and depression, but research suggests we don’t always pass through grief in progressive steps.
While grief has no set pattern, many people experience intense and difficult emotions that can often be overwhelming. Cultural factors can also affect the way someone expresses grief.
If you’ve lost someone close to you, you may experience some of the following reactions:
- shock and disbelief
- difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- changes in appetite
- difficulty sleeping
Ways to support yourself
Beyond Blue recommends the following ways to support yourself during this time:
- 1. Allow yourself to grieve
The grieving process takes time and there may be moments when you’re surprised by the feelings you’re experiencing. Some people may find it helpful to spend time alone to connect with their emotions, while others may prefer the company of friends or family.
- 2. Talk to someone you trust
While everyone finds their own way to grieve, it’s important to have someone to talk to about what you’re experiencing. Some people talk to friends or family or seek professional support. Others may join a grief support group.
- 3. Prepare for triggers
It can be helpful to prepare yourself for difficult events like birthdays or anniversaries that may trigger memories.
- 4. Look after your physical health
During this time, it’s important to take care of your body and to maintain a healthy diet. Regular exercise can help to maintain both your physical and mental health. It’s a good idea to be cautious when drinking alcohol as although it can numb your feelings in the short term, it can also make it more difficult to heal.
- 5. Work towards getting back into a normal routine
When it feels right for you, getting back into your normal routine can help to provide a sense of structure and purpose.
- 6. Delay making any major life decisions
Grief can affect your decision-making abilities and so if possible, it’s a good idea to delay making any major life decisions or changes at this time.
How to support someone who is grieving
It can be hard to know what to say or how to help someone who has lost someone close to them.
Beyond Blue offers the following advice:
- express an offer of support and love
- ask them how they are feeling
- talk about everyday life as well as their loss
- ask them how you can help
- encourage them to seek professional support if their grief does not seem to be easing with time
Where to get help
Getting support now
If you or someone close to you needs support now, there are phonelines and websites available.
For immediate help in a crisis:
For grief counselling over the phone:
For general mental health support:
You can also find a list of grief support services at the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement. It includes specialised services for those that have experienced the loss of a child or have been affected by suicide.
When to see your GP
If you feel the grief you’re experiencing is getting in the way of how you live, work and interact in relationships, it may be time to seek professional help.
It’s best to see your GP as they can:
- refer you to a mental health professional like a grief counsellor or psychologist
- give you advice on other services like support groups
- assess your mental health
- prescribe medications for depression or anxiety if necessary
They can also put you on a mental health plan, and this means Medicare may subsidise up to 10 sessions with a mental health professional. You can learn more about the different types of mental health professionals at Healthdirect Australia.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.