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Grief: A normal response to loss

Most often when we think of grief, we think of the death of a loved one.  However, grief is common across many types of losses, for example, involuntary job loss, loss of sense of safety, loss of a relationship, the loss of hopes and dreams and the loss of youth.

Significant life-changing events (such as the population measures taken to contain the corona virus) can cause us to feel deeply vulnerable and unsafe. We may feel this way because the world that we once knew, the people we relied upon, and the images and perceptions of ourselves may no longer be relevant in light of our current experiences. Because we live in a Western society where we expect to live a long and healthy life, and where there is little exposure to death or pandemics on a regular basis, most people do not have the opportunity to develop a repertoire of responses to these situations before they encounter such a major loss experience.

Grief is a normal, natural response to loss. The loss we experience challenges our assumptions of how the world should work, how we view ourselves and others, as well as our desire for stability and predictability. These assumptions begin to form from birth and are firstly developed through the attachment relationships we form with our main caregivers. Over time these assumptions include our interpretation of events that we have experienced, our expectations of the future, our belief that we can control what happens to us through our own behaviour and our future plans.

The grieving process is diverse and unique to each individual. There are many factors that impact on the grief process e.g. the uncertainty around how long the current Covid-19 measures will be in place; cultural and social factors and expectations (e.g. expectations around how grief should be experienced or expressed; how long should grief last), temperament or personality traits of the individual, the presence of other stressors, previous losses and the nature of the loss. We don’t simply “get over the loss”, during the grieving process but we adapt and integrate the experience of our loss into our assumptions mentioned above, or, we gradually revise our assumptions in order to explain the current experiences. How we interpret and perceive an event determines the significance of its impact on our assumptions.

Common symptoms of grief include:

Physical symptoms : fatigue, sleep disturbances, nausea, weight loss/weight gain, lowered immunity, aches and pains.

Cognitive symptoms: preoccupation, rumination, forgetfulness, difficulties concentrating.

Behavioural symptoms: agitation, withdrawal, avoidance, dependence, pressing need to talk at times.

Emotional symptoms: anxiety, depression, irritability, numbness, sadness, guilt, anger.


Strategies: It takes time …

  • Searching for meaning after significant loss.  Meaning making is a part of the grief process. Meaning making can result from the reinterpretation of negative events as a) opportunities to learn new lessons about one’s self or life in general, b) as a means of helping others, or c) contributing to society in some way that is related to the experience that occurred (e.g. think of formation of advocacy groups or West Australia’s Jessie’s Law regarding drunk driving). 

  • Name and face your feelings. You can try to suppress your grief, but you can’t avoid it forever. In order to heal, you have to acknowledge the pain. 

  • Identify your strengths and areas of resilience and build upon these.

  • Meditation, yoga and mindfulness all help us to increase our awareness and focus on acceptance.

  • Take an interest in new hobbies.

  • Identify community, family and friends who may be helpful resources for you -  they are the most significant factors in promoting recovery and preventing long-term mental health difficulties.

  • Take care of the hygiene factors: i.e. ensure sufficient sleep, good nutrition and physical activity.

  • Express your feelings in a tangible or creative way e.g. write about your loss in a journal.

  • Try to maintain your routines as there is comfort in routines.

  • You don’t have to talk about your feelings – there are other ways of releasing emotions caused by grief e.g. physical activity; listening and playing music; dancing, painting, drawing.

  • Postpone major life decisions as sadness and stress can affect our ability to make good decisions.


When is grief a problem? Sometimes we can’t understand our loss and can’t move on with life. We might become stuck grieving, worrying and feeling sad. We might become involved in a lot of activities to avoid feeling the pain of our loss. This can start to get in the way of the things we need to do in our lives. It can lead to family, relationship and work issues.  This is the time when we need to talk to family, friends and our GP.

Additional resources

  • Lifeline 13 11 14

  • call triple zero (000)  if you feel distressed enough to want to hurt yourself or someone else.

  • BeyondBlue 1300 224 636

  • Mensline 1300 789 978

  • Kids Helpline 1800 688 1800

  • Aboriginal Corporation 1800 624 332

  • Your local Aboriginal Medical Service or Community Health Centre

  • Your local Aboriginal Liaison Officer within your local Council

Next week’s topic: Kids, teenagers and social media.

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