Mental Health Resources for Those Who Are Grieving

Learn about the types and symptoms of grief, as well as how to cope with loss and find the help you need.

Last updated: Apr 1st, 2024
Grieving Mental Health Resources

Grief is a complex, unavoidable, and universal part of the human experience; it’s an emotional reaction to loss that can feel overwhelming at times. When we are forced to face a great loss, it can feel as though our entire existence has been turned upside down.

While we often consider grief to be associated with death, it’s important to recognize that grief isn’t limited to particular circumstances; other losses, such as the end of a marriage, financial stability, job, or fertility, can be equally impactful.

Grief also doesn’t follow a timeline or a formula. No two people will experience it in the exact same way. Cultural influences, personalities, traditions, and religious beliefs can greatly impact how one wades through the grieving process. Grief can also pop up unexpectedly years after a loss — triggered by a season, birthday, song, or even a particular scent.

No matter what type of loss you are facing, the emotions that accompany grief require care and patience. Read below to learn more about grief, as well as strategies and resources for coping during this difficult time.

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Types of grief

Grief isn’t a process that can fall neatly into a box. The way you experience grief may be entirely different from how someone else does — but all grief is valid, even if someone claims otherwise. Your life circumstances, experiences, beliefs, culture, perspectives, and more can have a major impact on what type of grief you experience (and you may experience more than one type).

We’ve examined some common types of grief below to help shed light on different patterns seen when coping with loss.

Anticipatory grief

Grief doesn’t always wait until after a loss to happen. Anticipatory grief is the feeling of grief or bereavement experienced before an impending loss. While difficult in its own right, this type of grief can help prepare you for the pain that is to come, whether from death or other losses such as the end of a marriage. Anticipatory grief is common for caregivers of a terminally ill loved one or those with progressive diseases. For example, the spouse of an Alzheimer’s disease patient, looking ahead to the difficult path before them, may begin to experience this type of grief as early as their partner’s diagnosis.

Contrary to what some may believe, feeling anticipatory grief does not guarantee that the grieving process after a loss will be faster or easier. However, for some, it can provide an opportunity to make amends, resolve conflict, and express gratitude. Anticipatory grief can also give future mourners a chance to prepare themselves for what the coming days will bring. This might include discussing funeral arrangements or picturing what future events and holidays may look like without their loved one.

Cumulative grief

Cumulative grief is the mourning of multiple losses at once. For example, if someone loses their beloved grandparent and then suffers from a miscarriage before they’ve had an opportunity to process the original loss, they could experience cumulative grief. These losses can pile up, leading to feelings of complete overwhelm. Coping with cumulative grief can be difficult and take additional time, requiring patience with yourself (or your loved one) as you process the unique impacts of each loss.

Delayed grief

Sometimes, we don’t feel the impact of grief until some time has passed since the initial loss, whether it be weeks, months, or years later. With a sudden, unexpected loss, sometimes shock can keep someone from beginning the process of grief for some time. For others, the business of taking care of funeral arrangements or other practical matters can distract the mind and body from the trauma they have experienced. In other situations, the reason for a delayed reaction isn’t abundantly clear. Regardless, taking care to acknowledge and address the symptoms of grief, whenever they occur, is what matters most — there is no “correct” timeline for an individual’s grieving experience.

Collective grief

While grief is often a solo journey or something we go through with just our close family and friends, it can also be a collective experience. Collective grief is often due to traumatic events affecting large groups of people, such as mass shootings, natural disasters, or war. As an example, one of the world’s most recent collective experiences, the COVID-19 pandemic, has caused people worldwide to grieve over a multitude of losses — from the death of loved ones to job loss, food insecurity, changes in education, and even life before the pandemic.

Absent and inhibited grief

Sometimes, people do not seem outwardly affected by their loss and appear absent of grief. However, they may be inwardly and privately processing the experience or will even go through the grieving process at a later time when they’re ready.

For individuals who struggle with recognizing their emotions or repressing them, their grief may not be absent but rather restrained (known as inhibited grief). Unfortunately, when we don’t face or understand our feelings, grief can make itself known through physical symptoms, such as anxiety or insomnia.

Disenfranchised grief

Disenfranchised grief, also known as silent grief, occurs when the person grieving feels their loss and the accompanying emotions are not validated or understood. This can happen when a loss is judged by others or seen as less significant by the public than other types of loss. Examples of losses sometimes deemed insignificant by others may include the death of a pet, the end of an important friendship, or even the loss of a cherished possession. This can be an incredibly isolating experience; the lack of support and validation of feelings can further exacerbate symptoms of loneliness and depression while grieving.

Signs that someone is struggling with grief

Grief can manifest in many unexpected ways, affecting our minds and bodies as we wade through coping with loss. Sometimes, our reactions to grief can feel alarming when we haven’t experienced similar turmoil before. A song, smell, voice, or any other reminder can trigger big feelings and even a physical response.

We’ve broken down some of the most common emotional, physical, and behavioral symptoms you (or a loved one) may have when grieving. Understanding that your experience is normal can help alleviate the fear and feelings of isolation that often creep in when processing a loss.

Emotional reactions

Grief can truly take you on a rollercoaster of emotions. Some days, you may feel like everything is okay but then become overcome with sadness without warning. While disconcerting, this unpredictable nature of ups and downs is a normal part of the grieving process.

One of the most confusing parts of grieving can be the conflicting emotions that arise. For example, someone who has served as a caregiver for a loved one with a terminal illness may experience simultaneous feelings of relief, loneliness, and guilt (for feeling relieved that they no longer have the burden of caregiving) after their loss. But it’s important to remember that each emotion has its place in the healing process, so try not to judge yourself for the feelings that arise throughout your grief. Some examples of emotions you may experience while grieving include:

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Loneliness
  • Shock
  • Apathy
  • Worry
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Regret
  • Gratitude
  • Yearning
  • Panic
  • Relief
  • Denial
  • Confusion

You might experience one, a few, or all of the above emotions throughout the grieving process. And, sometimes, you may feel the same ones repeatedly. But even when grief feels confusing or frustrating, it’s important to be kind to yourself — as noted before, all of your feelings play an important role in healing.

Physical symptoms

Grief doesn’t just take a toll on your emotions. It’s also natural to feel a physical reaction to the experience of loss. Not only is grief a shock to the nervous system, but the stress it causes can weaken your immune system, making you more prone to illness. The following are some of the more common physical symptoms people experience while grieving:

  • Chest or throat tightness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Weak muscles
  • Reduced appetite
  • Overstimulation
  • Insomnia
  • Sleeping more than usual

Behavioral reactions

While everyone’s grieving process is unique, there are some common behaviors and patterns that grieving people can follow. The feeling of loss may make it seem as though your whole world has shut down, and it can feel difficult to function as you once did before. Some behavioral reactions you may have include:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Confusion
  • More frequent sighing
  • Becoming attached to a possession of your lost loved one
  • Avoiding reminders or mention of the loss
  • Withdrawing from others
  • A deepened connection to spirituality
  • Visiting locations or doing activities that remind you of the deceased
  • Dreaming about the loss
  • Crying more easily or at unexpected times
  • Derealization or depersonalization (feeling “outside” yourself or like the world isn’t real)
  • Absent-mindedness
  • Overeating or undereating

Complicated grief

If symptoms of grief like those listed above are still persistent six to twelve months (or beyond) after a loss, someone may be experiencing prolonged (also known as complicated) grief. Prolonged Grief Disorder affects at least one in every ten mourners and has received additional recognition from mental health professionals with its inclusion in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-5-TR, specifically). Along with the usual symptoms of grief, those with Prolonged Grief Disorder may have some of the following:

  • Overwhelming and intrusive thoughts about loss
  • Difficulty accepting the loss
  • Avoiding reminders (or surrounding themselves with reminders) of the loss
  • Intense longing or emotional pain
  • Feeling a lack of purpose after a loss

While it can happen to anyone, there are certain risk factors or scenarios that lend themselves to the possibility of prolonged grief. Along with a prevalence in women and older adults, the following factors may increase the risk of complicated grief.

  • The loss of an immediate family member
  • An unexpected or violent death
  • Traumatic childhood experiences or a history of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • A highly dependent relationship with the deceased
  • Lack of a support system

If you or a loved one is experiencing prolonged grief, we encourage you to seek the help of a mental health professional who can guide you through the healing process. The sections below offer more information about the process of grieving, coping strategies, and resources to find help.

The grieving process

When you are in the throes of grief, it can be a common desire to nail down a timeline for when you will begin to feel better. However, the length of your grief isn’t something you can plan or predict — everyone’s healing process is different, so it’s impossible to say exactly when things will start to feel more manageable. Generally, most people experiencing uncomplicated grief start to see a decline in symptoms at around six months post-loss. While the experience of grief can’t be neatly defined, researchers have recognized patterns among mourners that may help guide you.

Five Stages of Grief

Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross coined the popular concept of the Five Stages of Grief from her work interviewing terminally ill patients as they coped with their own mortality. Continuing research has expanded this grieving model to those who are left behind. Researchers note that not all five stages of grief are required to grieve the “right” way, nor is grieving limited to these five stages. It’s also important to note that not everyone experiences these stages in a linear fashion, and it’s common to go back and forth between them or even skip some entirely.

  • Denial: Rejecting the reality of the situation as a way to protect yourself
  • Anger: Anger toward oneself or others as the reality of the situation has been understood
  • Bargaining: Can include “what if” or “if only” statements as a way to try and gain control over the situation; these thoughts may be rational or approach magical thinking
  • Depression: Sadness, fatigue, and feelings of hopelessness
  • Acceptance: Coming to terms with reality and beginning to make plans for life in a new normal

Tasks of Mourning

Another framework mental health professionals find useful is Worden’s Tasks of Mourning model. Based on psychiatrist George Engel’s 1961 paper on grief, this framework suggests a grieving person undergoes four separate “tasks” instead of stages, which can be revisited and reworked over time.

  • Task one: Accept the reality of the loss
  • Task two: Process the pain of grief
  • Task three: Adjust to a world without the deceased internally (how the loss affected your sense of self), externally (your daily life), and spiritually (your values, beliefs, and worldview)
  • Task four: Find an enduring connection with the deceased while beginning a new life

Strategies for coping with loss

When you are grieving, some days it feels hard just to put one foot in front of the other. The best thing to do is take one day at a time and be kind to yourself. Here are some tips and strategies for coping with loss.

Find a routine

When everything else feels like it’s out of your control, a routine can bring some welcomed predictability into your life. Try setting a regular bedtime for yourself as well as a morning routine. Taking a shower, having regular meals, and doing some form of exercise (even just a walk) can help you cope and heal your body and mind.

Accept your emotions

Allowing yourself to process your feelings is crucial to healing from grief. While stifling your emotions or numbing yourself may seem like it helps temporarily, the reality is that the big feelings need to be dealt with. Talking with someone you trust, allowing yourself to cry, and journaling are examples of ways you can let out the emotions inside. It’s important to try to let go of any shame or expectations you have for how your grief “should” feel.

Practice self-care

Consider self-care like an essential prescription that your doctor gave you — it’s a vital part of healing. Set aside time and space for exercise or meditation, eat healthy meals if they are available to you, and try your best to get enough sleep. Getting outside for some sunshine, even if just for a few minutes, can also be beneficial (sunlight can help regulate serotonin and improve your mood). And, if you feel comfortable with it, accept the help offered to you; letting others in to love and support you will serve you better than isolation.

Look for moments of joy

Grief doesn’t disappear overnight; it’s a complex process with a lot of ups and downs. As you start to look ahead to your future and your “new normal,” look for pockets of joy. Make a note of small things that make you smile (or even just a hint of a smile). Observing these moments minute by minute, day by day, can help reduce the urgency to be healed and back to life as it was, allowing you to find peace in the here and now.

Consider therapy

While friends and family are well-meaning and can be incredible sources of support, a counselor or grief support group can be helpful in different ways. Therapists have the tools to help you on your healing journey when you are struggling. Having a safe place to process your feelings can be an empowering step in your recovery, whether in-person or through an online service.

Supporting someone who is grieving

It’s difficult to watch someone you care about struggle. When a loved one is grieving, whether it’s the end of a marriage, the loss of a beloved pet, or the death of a spouse, you want to know how best to support them. Here’s a list of some ideas on how to be there for someone experiencing grief.

Be present

Most of us have been caught in an awkward moment where we wanted to say just the right thing to someone hurting and were left tongue-tied. Know that there are no “magic words” to take away someone’s pain. Showing up for someone by just being there and following their lead if they want to talk can be more meaningful than words.

Allow their feelings

Grieving people experience a range of emotions, sometimes all at once. Providing a safe place for them to vent, cry, and express whatever feelings come up, without judgment, is an excellent way to show someone that you care.

It’s okay to share memories

If someone is grieving a death, they most likely would be glad to have a chance to talk about their loved one. Oftentimes, we shy away from the subject out of fear of upsetting the mourner when, in actuality, sharing fond memories of the deceased can provide a healing touchpoint of connection for those who are hurting.

Offer practical help

Does the person grieving need help with childcare? Are they struggling to remember to eat? Reach out to see how you can help. If there is a spouse or other family member you can ask, that’s great, too. It’s often helpful to approach the situation with a plan and see if it is acceptable to the grieving — they may be having a hard time thinking clearly. For example, you might ask, “Can I pick up your child from school for you this week?” instead of waiting for them to process what they need.

Also, if your loved one appears to have their immediate needs met and rejects your offer to help, accept that. They may just need some space to process their emotions and don’t feel comfortable with much social interaction yet.

Things to consider avoiding

Try to avoid rushing the mourner or putting a silver lining on sad circumstances. You may want to avoid statements such as “Well, at least they are in a better place now,” “Shouldn’t you be ready to move on,” or “Don’t cry; they wouldn’t have wanted you to feel sad.” Recognize that everyone’s grief journey looks different, and — while you may want to cheer them up — overly positive advice may make the mourner feel as though you’re minimizing their loss.

Resources for those who are grieving

When experiencing something as traumatizing as grief, you may desire to connect with others who have shared experiences with loss. We’ve compiled a list of organizations below that serve the grieving community. If you are seeking the help of a licensed professional, there are easy-to-use tools available to find someone from your area, such as the American Psychological Association’s psychologist locator or Therapy Den’s inclusive therapist directory.

If you are open to online telehealth visits, you can explore our Best Online Therapy guide to discover what your options are and if it’s a good fit for you.

Crisis support (available 24/7)

Death of a loved one

Children and young people experiencing grief

Loss of a child

Support for widowed people

Support for suicide loss survivors



Innerbody uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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