Grief and loss

Grief is a natural reaction to losses of various kinds. The death of a close loved one is usually the most painful loss, but we can also experience grief, for example, after a break-up, a lost friendship, significant illness, or other major changes.

Grief can take different forms and there is no expected course of grief. Some do not cry at all, while others cry a lot. The most important thing is to take things at our own pace, whatever feels right for ourselves, and that we give ourselves time to mourn. Knowing what different reactions can look like can make it easier both for the person who is in grief and for surrounding people.

Sometimes it is said that grief has four different phases. Not everyone goes through all the phases and you may experience them in a different order.

The phases of grief

Shock Phase. In the beginning, after the event, many have a feeling of unreality. We may find it difficult to absorb and trust the information we receive. We turn off and can experience an inner emptiness and emotional "numbness". For most people, this phase lasts for a short time, up to a few days, but some may experience a longer period of shutdown.

The Reaction Phase. After a while, the emotions start to catch up and we can experience strong mood swings. For example, sadness and anger can be mixed with a feeling of emptiness or apathy. This phase lasts about a month, but it is important to remember that there can be big differences between people.

The Processing Phase. Over time, we begin to be able to take in what has happened, accept, and mourn. The sadness and other emotions remain, but not in the same intense way as before. It is also common to feel tired, abandoned, and to worry about what the future will be like after what has happened. This phase can last a few months or longer.

The Reorientation Phase. In the last phase, we begin to be able to integrate what we have been through and think ahead. We focus less on our loss and can see a brighter future. The grief and loss gradually become easier while it continues to come and go in the future.

To think about when you are going through grief:

  • Take care of yourself physically by sleeping properly, eating regularly, and trying to get some movement in, for example, by taking walks. It is easy to lose routines when life is turned upside down, which can make grief even more difficult to handle.
  • Try to continue with your everyday life and accept that you may be more tired than usual. Allow yourself to rest when you need to and create space for activities that make you feel good.
  • You may need to reduce commitments and requirements in both study and private life. When you grieve, you become more sensitive to stress and may have more difficulty organising and planning.
  • Be alone when you feel you need to, but feel free to hang out with others and tell them about how you feel or just make sure you get some company. It is not good to completely isolate oneself in one's grief.
  • Allow yourself to feel the emotions that come. Think of grief as "zebra-striped", ie. we do not have the strength to be in grief all the time, we also need moments when we distract ourselves with something else.
  • Try writing down thoughts and feelings to ease the pressure. You do not have to read what you wrote afterwards if you do not want to. Being able to put into words what we feel and experience at the moment can make it easier to handle.
  • Relaxation can be helpful if you experience anxiety, stress, or feel tense. One way may be to focus on breathing by taking a few long breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. There are many guides and tutorials on relaxation found on the internet.

If the grief does not let up, becomes too unbearable, or if you want someone to talk to - do not hesitate to seek help. You can turn to us at the Student Health Service, to the University Church, or a health centre.