Symptoms of Grief

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Symptoms of grief

Everyone experiences the universal experience of grief and loss differently and the following symptoms may be experienced when experiencing grief and loss. It is important to note that everyone’s experience is different and as a result, not all symptoms may not be captured in the following list. Grief and loss can be experienced as a result of a death, (either a person or a pet), a breakdown of a relationship, loss of a job, moving to a new suburb, state or country, development/diagnosis of a chronic and/or a terminal illness, loss of dreams, 

A person may experience intense feelings, which may feel all encompassing and result in it being hard or impossible to think about anything else. For some people, as the intense all encompassing feelings or thoughts may be difficult to sustain, the opposite may happen, where the person pushes down these intense feelings as they may feel too difficult to manage and they do not make any sense. It is also possible for the same person to experience these intense and all encompassing feelings at times and at other times push them down.

A person may experience an intensity of  shifting levels of emotional pain in relation to the loss and grief, which may result in the person feeling that they are on a roller coaster. Often this emotional pain may be also experienced as physical symptoms, inclusive of extreme tiredness, heart palpitations, feeling like your heart is aching or literally breaking, dizziness, yawning, a sense of physical unreality, feeling distracted, finding it hard to follow conversation, forgetfulness, feeling like there is a light switched turned on in your head and you are unable to relax or sleep, stomach cramps, butterflies in the stomach, over all body tension, nausea, loss of appetite, sleeping for long periods of time, which is outside your normal sleep cycle, feeling very foggy and headaches are some of the symptoms you may experience when dealing with grief and loss.

Depending on the relationship between person’s experience of grief and loss, the person may also experience feelings and thoughts of loneliness and alienation from others and may feel themselves withdrawing and decreasing social contact during this time.The person, may feel like other people do not understand or that there is a perceived pressure to move on from the experience of grief and loss  and get back to how things were prior to the experience of loss and grief, which may leave the person angry, confused, resentful and withdrawn. A person may experience feelings of guilt or regret or a yearning for a time passed or a time not experienced as a result of the grief or loss. These conflicting and/or unexpected emotions and thoughts, may feel very confusing and it is helpful to know that everyone grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. 

EAST Toolkit

How to support someone who is grieving

It is natural and a common experience to feel unsure, uncomfortable or overwhelmed about what to say when someone is grieving.

When speaking with people who have supported a person who is grieving what they commonly say is they want to say and do the right thing and are often afraid that they will say the wrong thing and feel as if they then say nothing or say too much. Often, they will comment, that what comes next for them is the need to come up with a solution for the grieving person. These are very natural responses to not knowing how to respond when someone is grieving.

Sometimes when supporting someone who is grieving it can feel as if there is nothing you can do or say.

You may also feel that you want to avoid the grieving person because it is so painful and believe that you will catch up with them in a while when things are more settled. What some people then find is that the longer there is no contact the harder it is to reconnect with the person.

It is important to know that everyone grieves differently and expresses it in different ways and in different time frames. For example, one person may present as doing fine for the first couple of months following the experience of grief and loss and then unexpectedly become withdrawn and distressed amongst other many responses and this can feel confusing as you thought that they were completely over the loss. Another person may respond with intense grief over may months to begin with and then appear fine until there is an anniversary or a meaningful time which reminds them of their grief or loss and it may appear quite raw again.

As a person supporting a person who is grieving, it is very common to feel:

  • Discomfort
  • Confusion
  • Avoidance
  • Fear
  • Distress
  • Focus on solutions
  • Irritation
  • Impatience

These feelings and thoughts are very common and natural responses to wanting to take away another person’s pain and often not know how to do this.

Recognise these responses in yourself and know that the person you are supporting is also feeling overwhelmed and that you don’t need to come up with solutions or avoid speaking about the loss and you can sit with your own feelings of discomfort, knowing that they will decrease with time.

Your natural fears and worries do not to have to get in the way of supporting someone. Being able to acknowledge a person’s loss and their grief also helps.

Let the person know that you don’t know what to do or say in terms of what will help but that you are there for them to listen, support them and if they need you to help out with any practical tasks, that you are more than happy to help.

Knowing that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, that there will be times where the person expresses extremes in emotions and that there is no timeline for experiencing grief will help in supporting you understanding more about the grieving process.

You can support the person in speaking about the situation, which has led to their loss and their grief if the grieving person is wanting to speak about the situation but don’t push them to speak about it, they will in their own time.

Just checking in with them regularly, being there, listening and supporting a person in a way which works for them will make a difference.

You can contact GriefLine and speak with one of our trained, skilled and empathetic volunteer counsellors and speak about your experience or concerns in supporting someone who is grieving. Our team of volunteer counsellors are available from 6am until 2am, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.