Effects of grief

What does grief feel like?

There is no 'right' way to grieve. Everyone's experience of grief is different and can change, but it's common to experience any of the following effects after a bereavement:


A man sitting on a sofa with the blinds drawn closed and holding his head in his hands.

Our emotions can have a profound effect on our bodies. That’s why you may experience physical symptoms during grief. Your sleep is likely to become erratic or disrupted. Changes in your appetite are also likely, particularly in the immediate aftermath. Lighten your schedule, try to eat regular, nutritious meals and remember to be kind to yourself. If you are concerned about any of your symptoms, please talk to your GP.

Appetite and Digestion

You may experience a loss of appetite following the death of a loved one. Food may have lost its appeal, or you may be too overwhelmed to even think about your usual food routine. Perhaps you binge eat, resort to comfort foods or maybe food just tastes different. All of this behaviour is entirely normal. Try not to be too hard on yourself during this period. It’s ok if your food routine is disrupted early on. Grief tends to be at its strongest in the immediate days and months following the death. You may not have the headspace to think about cooking. In that case, a healthy ready meal may be a short-term solution. You should find that time will help you.

What can help?
  • Don’t make yourself feel uncomfortable. If you’re not hungry, don’t try to force yourself to eat. Try small portions or snacks, instead of a meal.
  • If you start to feel physically unwell because you’re not eating enough, you should contact your GP.If you don’t want to cook, or can't cook, you can try ready meals which don’t take a lot of preparation.
  • In the short-term, and if you can afford it, takeaways or going out to eat occasionally can help
  • If you need to, learning to cook simple dishes can help as part of your recovery.

Grief takes up a lot of your energy and can leave you feeling exhausted. This can drastically disrupt your sleeping patterns - whether it’s trouble getting to sleep, waking in the middle of the night or wanting to sleep all the time, it is all normal. As time goes on, the intense feelings of grief should start to become less frequent. As this happens, you can try to get back into a sleep routine. Focusing on your own self-care is crucial.

What can help?
  • Doing some exercise a few hours before you got bed can help tire your body out and make you more likely to fall asleep.
  • Meditation or listening to relaxing sleep podcasts or white noise can help.
  • Try taking a bath or shower before bed - this can help your to relax and if you do it often enough, your brain may take it as an sign that it’s time get ready to sleep.
  • Try to stay away from screens like your phone or TV in the few hours before going to bed. The blue light given out from screens can keep your brain alert because it thinks it’s still daytime. If you do use a screen close to bedtime, use the blue light filter (sometimes called Night Shift or something similar) setting on your phone, which can reduce the effect.
  • Try to keep your bed as somewhere you sleep. If you can’t sleep, get up and try doing something else like reading, tidying up, watching a film, or getting your clothes ready for the next day.

It is common when grieving to feel physical pain, such as headaches or muscle stiffness, or to find yourself feeling ill. A lot of this can be due to stress, or not sleeping or eating properly, all of which are other signs of grief.

What can help

Looking after yourself as you usually would when feeling unwell can help. With time, you should find yourself starting to feel better but if you don't, it may be a good idea to contact your GP.


A woman sitting outdoors looking thoughtful and resting her chin on her hands.

Grief is not a mental illness, but it can feel like anxiety or depression.


A common side-effect of grief can be anxiety. The world may seem a scary place now and the intense feelings of loneliness, isolation and agitation can combine to leave you feeling overwhelmed. If you were caring for the person or the death was expected, anxiety may have been building for some time. A sudden or traumatic death may cause you to feel fear, anger, or guilt.

Anxiety can take many forms but common symptoms of anxiety as listed by the NHS include the following:

  • A feeling of tension
  • Nervousness with an inability to relax
  • A sense of dread and worry over future events
  • A loss of emotional control
  • Trouble sleeping or irregular sleep patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • A fear of the worst happening
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Panic attacks

Along with the above  symptoms, anxiety can lead to physical symptoms such as:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea, stomach pain
  • Lethargy
  • Headaches
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Breathlessness
What can help?
  • Exercise is a good way to improve your state of mind and help you relax, but only do what you can manage.
  • Talking to someone, whether it’s a friend, a family member can help.
  • Write down your thoughts can help you put your jumbled thoughts in order which can sometimes help to lessen anxiety.
  • If your anxiety levels no longer feel manageable, please contact your GP for some guidance.

Depression is a persistent feeling of sadness, a mood disorder that affects both mental and physical health. The shock and pain of loss can result in similar feelings of desolation and disinterest. Grief can be a similarly overwhelming experience, impacting every aspect of our lives. With grief, the hope is that normality returns to you slowly as you begin to recover from the loss. However, this is not always the case. You may find yourself depressed and struggling to improve with time.

What can help?

If your feelings of depression persist for long periods of time and is affecting your life, such as not being able to leave the house, or go to work, then it may be time to reach out to someone. 


A woman comforting a man with her hand on his shoulder. Another woman is watching in concern.

Strong emotions are normal when you are grieving and can take many forms.

Numbness / Shock

In the early stages of grief, you may be caught up in a whirlwind of things that you need to do and arrange, or you may still be in a state of shock. Feeling numb is very common as you come to terms with a life without the person who has died. It’s normal to feel in a dreamlike state, as though the death has not really happened. You are still processing and that’s okay.


The death may cause us to feel anger. Death can provoke extreme emotions because it is one of the most devastating events we are likely to experience. You may feel the loss is unfair, that the person had so much more to give. Your ranger may be directed at the person who died, accompanied by a sense of abandonment or for friends and family for their lack of understanding. 

Guilt / Shame

Guilt and shame are common reactions to grief. They are often linked -  a ‘survivor’s guilt’. Perhaps your relationship wasn’t on good terms when they died and you feel ashamed Maybe you feel guilt at all the things you could have done. You might replay different scenarios in your mind. Remember to be kind to yourself. This is not your fault.


You may feel frightened, abandoned and vulnerable. The rawness of grief can result in you feeling fragile and scared of what the future holds. It’s completely normal to feel this way. 


A man sitting on chair looking off into the distance. He's resting his chin in his hand.

You may find it hard to concentrate, focus or remember things, or it might be be difficult to take new things in. You might feel removed from life.

Loss of purpose

If you were a carer for the person who died, your sense of identity and purpose can feel compromised. You have lost your loved one and now you have time to fill - it is these hours where the loneliness may feel as though it stretches on. When you are ready, you can fill your time with new activities. There is hope for the future, even if it may not feel that way while you are grieving.

Nobody understands but you

No matter how much support you have around you, it is your unique connection with the deceased that is yours and yours alone. Nobody can fully understand what you have lost or how you are feeling. You can feel lonely even in a room full of loved ones, and that may be normal. Allow yourself to grieve and in time, you can focus on the positive memories of your loved one.


A mum is sitting next to her young daughter on a bed, withe her arm around the child's shoulder. The child is holding  a teddy bear,

There may be a change in your role or status within your family, family dynamics can change. Your friend might avoid you because they don’t know what to say, or may avoid your friends. You may feel lonely or isolated.

Grief and loneliness

After a loved one has died, grief can feel all-consuming. Even if you are surrounded with support, you may feel lonelier than ever.

Loss of companionship

The lack of presence of your loved one can leave you feeling isolated., particularly if you lived with the person who died. In addition to the intense feelings of sorrow and waves of grief, you may be living alone for the first time. It’s ok to accept this is a transition and will take some getting used to.

Loss of connections with people

Death changes all manner of things, including the connections with people you have had in the past. With your loved one gone, your relationships with some people or friendship groups may change or feel unbalanced. It’s common for  friendship groups to change when someone dies

Loss of confidence

Grief can make us lose our self-belief and confidence. Social events may no longer seem appealing or perhaps the prospect of mingling with others is too daunting. That’s ok, you must be kind to yourself first. When you are ready, you can re-enter the world at your own pace.


You might be affected financially with the loss of income, or with having pay for funeral expenses. You could find yourself needing help with practical tasks, like cooking, cleaning, gardening, paying bills, or DIY at home.

Supporting yourself

A man standing on a beach and looking off into the distance with a hopeful look on his face.

Be patient

It’s completely normal for you to feel as though you have lost control of your emotions as you struggle to process your loss. You need to allow yourself to mourn at your own pace, to acknowledge your feelings and to give yourself time to heal.

Be kind to yourself

Don’t expect too much of yourself during this time. Lighten your schedule, rest when you can and make time for positive things in your life. You are recovering and that’s ok.


Find someone you can talk to. Whether it’s reaching out to friends and family, or speaking with Cruse or a therapist, talking about your feelings can help. Bottling up your emotions is only delaying the inevitable, and the sooner you share your experiences, the sooner you can best make sense of them. Cruse is always on hand to help anyone who is struggling with their grief.

Listen to podcasts or read articles on grief

You may feel like you’re going crazy or losing your grip on reality. Listening to grief podcasts or reading articles on grief can normalise your experience, showing that what you are feeling is completely normal and that other people have had similar thoughts, feelings or experiences to you. This can be the reminder there is nothing wrong with you - you are grieving.


Practising mindfulness and meditation can do wonders to calm your mind. There are many resources online but you can also check local services.

Physical activity

Exercise is proven to help our mood. It acts as a release of energy and can act as its own form of meditation - a place where you focus solely on the activity itself, allowing yourself peace away from the grief. Just don’t overdo it and only push yourself as hard as you feel comfortable doing.

Getting help

If you feel that you are struggling to cope with your grief and you find yourself in a place of continual hopelessness, then please do seek help. You are not alone. Speak to loved ones, friends or family if you can - as hard as it may be, they are on your side. You can speak to your GP if you need further guidance, and you can, of course, you can speak to Cruse. Our confidential, discreet service is available to help anyone struggling with grief.

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