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15 signs I might be grieving

Taking care of someone often means dealing with lots of different, and sometimes difficult, emotions. But a big one, that can sometimes sneak up on us, is grief.

Illustration of grief

This complicated feeling shows up in different ways - whether it's not sleeping at night, feeling more triggered by situations we used to find manageable, or finding our energy is low and motivation lacking. Sometimes, we don't even realise it's grief, especially if the person we care for is still with us.

Studies show that recognising and processing emotions is crucial, as ignoring it can actually make the feelings stronger, weighing us down and making it harder to cope.

But, when we do acknowledge it, understand its different sides, and let ourselves feel it, it can actually bring some positive changes. Or at least help us relieve some of the physical symptoms that come hand-in-hand with grieving.

"It was probably eight years before I realised I was grieving over her diagnosis and regression. I'd ignored and buried the feeling deep inside. But finally accepting the feeling and giving myself permission to feel and process it, was the slow start of me feeling a whole lot better. It was such a relief and I felt much lighter physically".

When thinking about grief it’s helpful to consider the different ways it can show up, why it is important to process those feelings, and most importantly, how to.

Why are those of us caring for someone more likely to experience feelings of grief?

When we talk about grief, we often think solely of losing a loved one. And if this is a reality for us right now this guide may help to support us through a difficult time.

But grief isn’t just about losing someone to death; it's about grappling with a deep sense of loss. Caring for a loved one can bring a whole range of losses. Our lives may have drastically changed and we can find ourselves mourning the life we once lived.

Illustration of a living room.

Even our homes can start to feel unfamiliar if they are filled with hospice workers, or medical equipment.

"Every time occupational therapists come round they want to turn my house into a hospital."

We may also be grieving our old relationship with the person we care for - shifting from being a child, parent or partner, to taking on that caring role. Or we may find ourselves mourning the person they used to be, if our caring role has come around due to illness or aging.

We explore in more detail the definition of grief, and seven examples of the types of grief we may experience in our guide to a carer’s grief.

These feelings of grief may have more of an impact on us than we think, especially if we’ve spent a long time keeping our heads down and battling through, without truly processing all that’s been happening around us.

"I was on autopilot doing and saying all the right things. I was keeping busy - too scared to stop in case it all caught up with me. My body felt so heavy, my shoulders and jaw were tight and I found myself saying "we're fine" a lot, through a wide, fixed smile. I now know this was my body storing unprocessed grief. It was utterly exhausting."

What does grief look and feel like?

To process and deal with grief, it can be helpful to understand what it may look and feel like, both emotionally and physically.

Illustration of a supportive friend.

Grief is personal and unique to each person. It doesn’t follow a set pattern or timeline. Some of us might feel it intensely right away, while others might experience it more gradually.

It's also not something that goes away without us taking the time to process it; it can linger and change over time, sometimes resurfacing unexpectedly. As the saying goes, “what we resist, persists.”

Emotional signs we might be grieving

There is also the challenge in recognising it as grief in the first instance. But there are some common emotional signs we can look out for:

  • Sadness: Grief can hit hard or build up over time, leaving us feeling tearful, low or uncharacteristically emotional. A good cry can be helpful, but If we regularly find ourselves sobbing over books or movies we’ve seen before, or sitting on the kitchen floor crying because we forgot to buy a key dinner ingredient, this might be a signal we have some feelings that need processing.

  • Anger: This could be directed at ourselves, others, or the situation we find ourselves in. If we are usually quite level headed and find ourselves snapping at those around us, it’s a telltale sign grief, or another emotion, is building up.

  • Lethargy: A lack of energy or heaviness in the body, where even the simplest tasks like showering or eating feel like hard work. If we are regularly feeling lethargic, it could be a sign of a wider issue. Our guide to caring alongside depression could help.

  • Losing interest: We may find we’ve lost interest in the things we used to enjoy, and they seem dull or unimportant. This may look like withdrawing from hobbies, or our friends and no longer replying to the messages.

  • Anxiety: We might find we’re overwhelmed with worry about the future, or just about how we will get through tomorrow. Anxiety can also come through as decision overwhelm, where making a choice, such as what to have for dinner, feels difficult. Our guide on managing anxiety could help to alleviate some of these symptoms.

  • An overactive mind or body: An inability to sit still or fully relax or stop our thoughts from whirring. If we always feel the need to keep busy this could be us.

  • Coping challenges: Finding it harder to handle things that once seemed manageable, or even brought us joy, or feeling like everything is just too much.

Physical signs we might be grieving

Alongside this, there may be physical signs to look out for:

  • Tension: Grief can lead to muscle tension, especially in the neck, shoulders, and back.

  • Headaches: We might notice an increase in headaches or migraines. These can range from mild to severe.

  • Sore muscles: The body's physical response to emotional stress can result in general body aches and soreness as if we’ve had a work out.

  • Fatigue: Grieving takes an immense toll on energy levels. Even with enough sleep, we might feel unusually tired and drained due to the emotional weight we carry.

  • Feeling run down: Grief can weaken the immune system, making us more susceptible to illnesses or leaving us feeling generally unwell.

  • Sleep disturbances: Look out for difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking during the night, or experiencing restless sleep patterns.

  • Changes in appetite: Grief might lead to changes in appetite - we might eat significantly more or less than usual to cope with suppressed emotions.

  • Digestive Issues: Stress from grief can affect digestion, causing stomach aches, nausea, bloating, or changes in bowel habits.

This short video highlights some of the physical symptoms we might be experiencing if we are living with grief.

In 1969, psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross wrote about five, later expanded to seven, stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying. These stages show the different ways we might react to big losses or changes; shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance. However, each of our journeys with grief will be unique. This is not a road map we will walk through in order, and some steps may last longer than others, or come back around until we are able to give ourselves the time to work through them.

The unique nature of our job as carers, and its constant adaptations, can make these signs of grief more fluid and unpredictable. We might find ourselves bouncing between different emotions and symptoms as we navigate the challenges and changes of our caring role, or as the condition of the person we care for evolves.

Why it’s important to process grief

Grief isn't something we can simply push aside or ignore, especially for carers. Here's why it's crucial to address and process these complex emotions:

1. Avoiding burnout

Letting emotions like grief simmer without addressing them can pile up, leading to emotional exhaustion and a feeling of disconnect from our caring role, and our lives.

Over time, these emotions can get heavier, impacting our mental health with chronic stress, mood swings, and a sense of emotional shutdown, all signs that we are experiencing burnout.

2. Protecting our physical health

Studies hint at a strong tie between unprocessed emotions and physical health. Long-term stress from unacknowledged emotions might weaken our immune system, making us more vulnerable to sickness. It could even contribute to heart issues, tummy troubles, and worsen existing conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes.

3. Keeping our relationships

Holding back big emotions can strain relationships. Keeping feelings bottled up might cause distance, communication breakdowns, or arguments in our personal connections. This might leave us feeling more alone and distant in our grief.

4. Protecting our quality of life

Unresolved feelings tend to impact positive emotions, making it tough to enjoy the things we used to love.

5. Finding healthy ways to cope

Dodging these intense feelings might push us toward unhealthy coping methods, like relying on substances or engaging in excessive behaviours to numb or distract ourselves. This loop can deepen dependency and affect both mental and physical health.

Drinkaware has advice on support if we feel we may be turning to alcohol to self-soothe.

How to deal with grief

Coping with and processing grief can be unique to the individual and our situation. This is where talking to a professional about our thoughts and feelings can be really helpful. It offers a space to navigate these emotions with proper guidance and support.

Illustration of two friends talking.

Seeking professional help can have a stigma attached to it, but as carers, we deserve to have our feelings heard and understood.

"I found great help from facing my own grief in therapy and really feeling it. I also found support from connecting online with others in similar situations. It is my strongest lifeline...."

Grief can be devastatingly lonely, but carers often find strength in each other. Connecting with friends or other carers in the community can feel like finding a calm spot in a storm. Sharing stories and experiences brings a sense of belonging and support during tough times.

Our free, online Mobilise Hub is a great place to find and connect with other carers. Plus, carers in our community who have experienced grief shared five tips on ways that have supported them.

Physical activities or practices like yoga, walking, or dance can also help to release emotional tension stored in the body and promote a sense of relief. Yoga with Adriene has a yoga practice specially for unlocking feelings of grief from the body.

Illustration of outdoors.

Other times, it might involve getting out of our homes and being surrounded by nature.

Whether it be going on a silent walk alone, or with a friend or family member.

Grief can feel different for everyone. One day might be a tearful struggle, another might be filled with anger at their absence. And for some, there might even be a hint of relief.

Labelling grief for what it is is a great place to start, and from there it’s important to grant ourselves the space to go through and embrace these emotions without passing judgement - they're all valid.

Our guide to making friends with our feelings could help to acknowledge and accept whatever emotions are coming up. But an important part of this is allowing ourselves the time to actually feel our feelings.

"There is often not really “space” for feelings around grief, as we have so much we have to respond to. Not to mention feeling we need to put other people's needs first."

If we can find the time, The Huberman Lab Podcast has a fantastic episode on The Science & Process of Healing from Grief.

Further resources

  • Cruse Bereavement Care: Cruse provides support for individuals dealing with bereavement. They offer helplines, local support groups, and information on coping strategies

  • Samaritans: While Samaritans primarily offer emotional support for anyone in distress, they also provide guidance for coping with feelings of grief. Their volunteers offer a non-judgmental listening ear via phone, email, or in-person (when available)

  • Mind: Mind, the mental health charity, provides information and support for various mental health issues, including coping with grief. They offer resources, guides, and contacts for local services.

  • WAY Widowed and Young: This is a charity specifically for those who have lost a partner at a young age

  • Hospice UK: Hospice UK offers guidance on coping with grief, especially related to end-of-life care and bereavement

A final word

Dealing with grief means understanding that it's a natural response to loss, and that it's completely okay to feel whatever emotions come up. It's a process of adjusting to a new reality, accepting the changes, and finding ways to live with them, while honouring what, or who, has been lost.

Grief is a tough topic for many, so if you are feeling you need some extra support Mobilise is here to help. There can also be solace in sharing feelings with others.

Plus, if you have any tips for coping with grief, or just want to share thoughts and feelings with others who are in similar shoes, our Mobilise Hub is a free community welcome to all unpaid carers in the UK.


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