UK National Grief awareness Week: Taking care of yourself after bereavement
When you lose someone close to you, it can feel like your whole world changes in an instant. Not only are you grieving the person you’ve lost, you’re also closing the chapter of your life that they were part of.
Following a loss, it’s natural to go through a range of emotions, from sadness to anger, hopelessness to loneliness. However, bereavement affects everyone differently; some people may feel devastated right away, while others may take a while to process what’s happened. There’s no right or wrong way to feel, nor is there a set length of time to grieve.
UK National Grief Awareness Week (2nd - 8th December), organised by the charity, Good Grief, aims to get the public talking about grief to normalise this difficult but inevitable part of life. Grief affects us all and it’s important that we’re able to talk about it, as keeping our feelings inside can mean we feel more distressed, overwhelmed and isolated.
Bereavement can have a big impact on a person’s mental health. People who already have a mental health condition can find that it worsens, while others may develop difficulties for the first time. It’s important that we prioritise taking care of ourselves and make sure that we have the right support in place.
How you might feel following bereavement:
Although grief is personal and everyone’s experience will be different, following a bereavement, it’s common to:
· Feel numb, or unable to express your feelings – some people find they can’t cry.
· Think that you’re in some way responsible, which can lead to guilt.
· Feel angry with yourself, your loved ones, or even the person who’s passed away.
· Feeling anxious or fearful.
· Find it difficult to talk to people close to you, or believe nobody understands what you’re going through.
· Become panicky or agitated.
· Be unable to concentrate on day-to-day tasks, or to sleep or eat normally.
· Feel you can’t cope with the prospect of life without the person you’ve lost.
Taking care of yourself after bereavement:
1. Remember the person you’ve lost
When someone you love dies, it’s natural to want to keep their memory alive. A ‘bereavement memory box’ is a place where you can keep objects and items that remind you of the person you’ve lost. This can help you feel like you’re containing the grief in a safe way as you can open the box intentionally, when and where you want to, to access your grief and remember your loved one.
2. Talk about how you’re feeling
It’s so important to talk about how you’re feeling, rather than burying your emotions. Talking to the right person, and being listened to, can help you to feel supported, loved and less alone. It can also help you to process and make sense of your feelings, so that you’re able to move forwards. Read more about talking about grief here.
3. Be kind to yourself
There’s a myth that you ‘get over’ grief, but that’s not necessarily true. There’s no set time limit on how long grief will last and it’s okay if you’re struggling to move on. Treat yourself with compassion, give yourself as much time as you need and try not to compare your experience to others; everyone is different and people aren’t always up-front about how they’re really feeling. Read more about self-compassion here.
4. Accept help from others
Often, we find ourselves saying “I’m fine”, when really, we’re not. Following a bereavement, give yourself permission to accept help from the people around you. We all need support and love when times are hard, whether that’s in the form of a cup of tea, a lift somewhere or a shoulder to cry on. Who knows, you may be returning the favour in the future.
5. Find your ‘new normal’
Often, when someone dies, the first few weeks can be quite busy. You may be taking care of practicalities, like funeral plans, or have a lot of phone calls or visitors checking in on you. However, at some point, life goes back to ‘normal’ and you have to learn to live without the person you’ve lost.
Even though you might feel like you want to hide away from the world, it’s important that you keep going. Make an effort to stay connected to the people around you, keep up your commitments, make plans, practice self-care and try new things. Your life isn’t over and it can still be meaningful, purposeful and fun.
6. Seek professional support
Grief is a natural process, so there’s no specific cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) treatment for it. However, if you’ve been experiencing poor mental health for two weeks or more, you may want to get in touch with your local GP, especially if this is a new problem. They can help you to figure out what’s going on, inform you about possible treatment options and help you to find the best way forward.
In the UK ieso offers free typed therapy sessions on behalf of the NHS using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). To check if ieso is available in your area please visit our website.
Bereavement resources and support services in the UK:
Marie Curie - Bereavement due to cancer
Samaritans - Support 24/7 for anyone who needs to talk
Cruse Bereavement Support - Support after bereavement
Bead Project - Bereavement due to drugs and alcohol
Child Bereavement UK - Support when a child is dying, or support for a child who has been bereaved
Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) - Nationwide support for bereavement by suicide
For UK Time to Talk Day, the ieso clinical offer their advice on how to start a conversation about mental health
In this team spotlight interview, we spoke to Dr Alyssa Dietz about her role as Head of US Clinical Strategy.