It can be very painful losing someone or something you care deeply about. Sometimes it will feel like the pain will last forever. There's no right or wrong way to grieve, but there are ways to help you better cope with grief that will enable you to find some resolution and acceptance of the situation.
Feeling grief is normal
We usually associate grief with the death of a loved one, but it can result from any loss:
- the end of a relationship
- the end of a career, or
- the loss of a loved one (maybe even the death of a pet).
What these events have in common is that they can trigger intense feelings of grief.
There are lots of myths about loss and grief. Most are unhelpful and have no basis in fact.
Some people will tell you that grief is a sign of weakness, that you should just pull yourself together, be strong and ‘get on with it’ or 'just man up'.
Others will tell you that there's a right and wrong way to grieve; that if you don’t cry you don’t care, or that grief should take a set time; that it’s OK to be sad for a year, but then you should suddenly get over it and move on.
None of this is true. In fact, it's normal to experience a range of responses, and your grief is unique to you.
Your grief is unique to you
You might feel:
- shocked and numb, or unable to comprehend what has happened
- overwhelmed by sadness, or feel as though a part of you has been taken away
- angry and blame someone for your loss or maybe feel guilty that you should have done something to stop the event occurring but wouldn’t or couldn’t, or
- frightened, or worried about how you will cope after this loss.
But grief is more than emotions. There are physical aspects as well.
Grief might cause you to lose your appetite or maybe eat too much, to feel tired or nauseous. You might have trouble sleeping (or just want to sleep all the time), or have a lot of aches and pains.
Grief can also change the way we behave.
You might want to:
- withdraw from everyone and everything. You may get the urge to stay at home, draw the curtains and lock the door, cutting yourself off from the outside world, or
- drink more than usual or take other drugs to 'make the pain go away'.
For some people, grief can be associated with depression or even self-harm. If you experience these responses, or are concerned about the wellbeing of a loved one, support is available 24/7 through Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling on 1800 011 046. Open Arms counselling is available to veterans their family.
The common thread among all these outcomes is that grief is making it hard to get on with your life. If this is happening to you, it's important to take action and do something about it.
If you are concerned about the immediate safety or life of a veteran or family member, call 000.
What can I do about dealing with grief?
Build social connections
Spending time with people you care about will help you cope with grief, so work out a plan to get out and about with family or friends.
Some clubs and community groups such as churches and ex-service organisations also run support groups for people dealing with grief.
You could use the Social Connections tool to identify the people in your life who can offer support and understand the different kinds of support they can provide.
Focus on spending time with those closest to you - they are likely to provide the strongest and most-understanding support.
The Social Connections tool is also available on the High Res app to use on the go.
Look after your physical health
It's harder to take care of yourself when you are grieving, but ignoring your health will only make it harder to cope with difficult emotions.
Try to eat well and regularly, get plenty of rest, do some exercise every day, and cut down on alcohol and other drugs. You might be surprised what a difference this can make to the way you feel.
Regular exercise increases your ability to cope with grief and stress.
The Physical Activities tool can help get you moving with suggested activities and motivational tips.
This tool is also available on the High Res app to use on the go.
Improve your sleep
Grief can affect your sleep quality; however, there are some simple changes you can make to help you get the best possible sleep even under difficult circumstances.
Answer the questions in the Healthy Sleeping tool about your usual sleeping behaviours and get tailored advice and tips to improve your sleep and optimise your mental and physical functioning. This tool is also available on the High Res app to use on the go.
Manage your drinking
Drinking more alcohol might seem to take away some of the pain of grief in the short term but in the long run, drinking excessively brings you down emotionally and can make it harder to deal with grief.
If you are concerned about the amount you are drinking, use the ON TRACK with The Right Mix app to get an idea about how much you are consuming. This is a great first step to coming to terms with drinking, especially if you are using it as emotional support during grief.
Give yourself time to think about your loss
When dealing with grief, don’t try to block it out.
Share your memories – good and bad – with someone you trust. Writing them down can also be helpful.
You might want to write a letter to your loved one, or maybe make a scrapbook of photos. It can also be helpful to do something constructive, like getting involved in a cause that is important to you.
Try to build in work, exercise, a social activity and some time alone (but not too much). Include as many enjoyable things as possible.
Using our Self-help tools to improve your resilience will help you to deal with your grief and manage stress.
Plan for the future
In the early stages of grief, you may have a hard time thinking things through, so it’s not a good idea to make major life decisions at this point. But there will be a time when you can start making plans and looking to the future.
This does not mean forgetting the person or thing you have lost. It means moving on with your life by finding connections and contentment again.
Although grief resolves over time for most people, for some it does not. This is known as ‘complicated grief’.
Complicated grief is more likely if the loss has come about in traumatic circumstances. Sometimes it can be linked to posttraumatic stress disorder.
In these instances, longer-term support may be needed.
Self-help techniques don't work for everybody. You may need to reach out for professional support.
- Your GP is always a good place to start. A GP can help with a thorough assessment of the problem and make referrals for specialists.
- Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling can help you and your family come to terms with grief. Open Arms is a free and confidential service for the veteran community. Call 1800 011 046 for further information.
- The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement
- Tune In Not Out