Grief is our reaction to loss. It includes the emotional, physical and mental responses we experience when we lose someone, or something, that we love or value.

Key points

  1. Grief can be painful. When you are grieving, you may feel a range of emotions such as sadness, shock, anger and distress.
  2. There is no ‘correct way' to deal with grief. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself time. Rest.
  3. You may find it helps to talk to someone, or to express how you are feeling in some other way.
  4. Some people find they need moments of distraction from their grief, to stop it becoming too overwhelming. 
  5. If you have ongoing feelings of grief that become overwhelming and heavy, seek advice and support from a trusted friend or your doctor.

What causes grief?

Everybody experiences grief in their lives. It helps you to distinguish what you value in your life; what you find important. You may experience grief when you lose things you love, such as:

  • Locations – through changing schools, moving houses or cities.
  • Your sense of place – from losing your spot in a sports team or being made redundant in your job, or because you feel that you yourself have changed.
  • Pets – losing a long term companion can be traumatic and sad.
  • People – due to death or a relationship ending or experiencing a relationship changing for the worse.
  • Good health – due to accident or sickness.
  • Things you own – by mistake or from theft.

What does grief feel like?

Grief is our body’s natural reaction to sadness and loss. Everyone experiences grief differently, but common feelings include:

  • Grief feelings: These will come in waves, you might experience some feelings, but not others.
  • Shock/disbelief: You might feel in denial, as if you’ve woken from a nightmare. You may feel jaded, disoriented, emotionless or vacant. Reality may take a while to come to terms with. Sometimes an event can be so terrible you won’t want to accept it as reality.
  • Sadness/ wanting to cry: This can help to release emotions when you experience them, rather than suppressing them. After crying you tend to feel clearer and relieved.
  • Anger/blaming: You might feel mad. You may want to blame a specific person for the event. Or you might feel guilt and feel that you caused the event.
  • Yearning: There is a space in your life where that thing or person used to be. You know that you can’t have things how they were again, but you dream about it, discuss with friends and family and think about it very often.
  • Out of control: You might not be able to stop crying. You might feel anxiety because you have lost control of your emotions – tears want to escape without warning. This will stop in time.
  • Physical changes: Your body grieves as well. You might feel unwell overall with stomach pains or headaches, you may become more susceptible to colds for a period. You may have an appetite shift or feel fatigued and run down.

How to cope with grief

There is no ‘correct way' to deal with grief. We all grieve differently and in our own time. There are many ways to deal with grief in your life:

  • Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself time. Rest.
  • Chat with somebody you trust about how you feel – friends, family, minister, school counsellor, phone helpline such as WhatsupYouthline or Lifeline. Talking won’t change things, but it can feel good to vent and get things off your chest.
  • Draw or write out your mood. You may want to do this a few times because your feelings will come and go.
  • If you have them – browse over pictures of the person or thing you have lost. This may increase your feeling of loss quite intensely. It may help you to bring your feelings out, ensure you’re in a place where you feel okay about exposing your emotions before you do this.
  • Say farewell to the person or thing you have lost by writing a letter. You can write whatever you like because it's only for you. You can write about that person, what you loved about them, what used to frustrate you about them, the things you enjoyed together.
  • Escape from your grieving for a while by doing something leisurely – watching TV, going for a walk, reading, seeing friends, playing a sport. Something that gives you a break.

Caring for others

If you have a friend who is grieving:

  • Let your friend/family member understand that you realise that they’re having a difficult time and that you are there for them if they need to chat or want to go out somewhere.
  • Remember that your presence is enough, just be there for him/her.
  • Discuss with them the tips you’ve read on this page about methods to cope with their grief.

Ongoing grief

If you have lost somebody or a thing that you loved dearly, you might experience grief over a longer period of time. If these feelings are overwhelming, severe, or you feel like you need help to cope with your grief, its important you consider talking with someone you trust and visiting your doctor. 

Prolonged grief can sometimes lead to depression. Signs of depression include:

  • ongoing feelings of hopelessness, anger or unhappiness lasting 2 weeks or more
  • trouble focusing and making choices
  • no longer excited about things that usually would excite you
  • thoughts about suicide and dying.

If you are concerned about depression, seek support and advice from a trusted friend, your doctor or by calling one of the support groups listed below. 


There are many organisations in New Zealand which provide support, advice & counselling to help those affected by loss and grief, including:

The Grief Centre provides counselling, support groups, information, resources and training. Auckland based. Phone 09 418 1457. 
Skylight NZ information, education, professional services and support. Wellington-based. Freephone 0800 299 100
List of counselling helplines Mental Health Foundation

Learn more

Grief and loss Mental Health Foundation of NZ
Bereavement Skylight, NZ
Mental Wealth NZ

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team .