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Grief and mental health

Grief impacts on every part of our lives, including our physical and mental health. Learn more about how to care for your mental health when you’re grieving.

There’s no one way to grieve, and everyone experiences grief differently. That’s because we’re all unique. Our unique culture, age, previous experiences of loss, belief systems and more can all affect the way we grieve.

Grief is a normal and natural reaction to loss, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Here are some ways grief affects your mental health and tips for caring for your mental health when you’re grieving.

Impact of grief on your thoughts and feelings

Grief can affect every area of our lives. You might notice your feelings changing and you might experience some or all these feelings:

  • Shock
  • Disbelief
  • Intense sadness
  • Longing
  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Regret
  • Guilt
  • Abandonment
  • Anxiety
  • Worry

Sometimes, you might feel a combination of all these emotions. Other days, you might just feel one. Or you might feel a numbness that feels like nothing. These intense feelings might linger for hours or days, or they might quickly come and go.  

Your thoughts might change too. You might not be able to think about anything other than your loss and the person who died. Even if you’re not directly thinking about that, you might have trouble concentrating and focusing which can make work, whānau life or kura / school challenging.  You might find it difficult to care about the things you normally do and to question your place in a world that doesn’t make sense anymore.  

Whatever you’re feeling and thinking is completely normal and ok. (The only exception to this is if you feel like hurting yourself or others – there are support organisations out there, ready to listen and help. Please reach out.)

Young woman holds a red felt heart to her closed eye

Impact of grief on your body and everyday life

It’s not just your mental health that’s affected by grief, your physical health can be too. You might experience physical pain, as it’s closely tied to mental pain. Things like:

  • Headaches
  • Puku / stomach aches
  • Body aches
  • Weight changes
  • Changes to your sleeping and eating habits
  • Colds
  • Tiredness and a lack of energy
  • Generally feeling rundown and ill

You might have no energy to keep up with everyday life and stop seeing your whānau and friends or doing things you normally love, like sports clubs or hobbies. Or you might find that you want to be busy all the time, as it distracts you from your grief.  

Again, whatever you’re experiencing is completely normal. (For any physical changes that hang around, consider visiting your doctor to rule out any underlying condition.)

How long will grief affect me?

Grief affects everyone differently so there’s no easy answer to this. But it’s important to understand that eventually, things will get easier.

Grief is like this huge thing that smothers you, there every waking moment. It impacts how you feel, what you do and say. You can’t force grief into a box, put the lid down, and forget about it.

Grief can be like riding a wave: sometimes you’re on top of it, other times you’re plunging down it and, the wave crashes over you. You never know when that might happen.

There’s no quick fix for grief, no right or wrong way to grieve. The important thing is to figure out what really helps you deal with grief. Deciding that is up to you and no one else.

How can I care for my mental health while I’m grieving?

There are ways to help yourself when you’re experiencing grief, like keeping up with healthy habits:

  • Staying active
  • Prioritising sleeping well
  • Eating healthily and drinking plenty of water
  • Cutting back on alcohol and other drugs

Or getting out of the house, even when you don’t feel like it. Try to remember what you used to do for fun and give those a go:

  • Playing or listening to music
  • Going for walks
  • Hanging out with friends
  • Watching movies
  • Playing games or sports
  • Reading

Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Grief is painful. It hurts, it’s hard and it takes time. Having a good cry is ok – set aside about 15 minutes a day to cry and allow yourself to feel everything.