What is grief?

Gareth Hughes

Gareth Hughes is the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well

Grief is a normal emotional response to the loss of someone or something that is important to you. It can feel emotionally and physically painful and many people experience a sense of being overwhelmed at times.

Many students worry about their experiences when they are grieving, because grief can be so unpredictable and our feelings can be so powerful.

If you are grieving, it isn’t unusual to experience strong emotions such as sadness, anger, numbness, shock, helplessness and exhaustion. You may also find that grief impacts on your physical health, disrupting your sleep, appetite, energy levels and ability to think clearly.

However, despite these extremes of impact, grief is a perfectly normal process. Grief can be painful but with time, self-care and the support of others, it will subside naturally.

It is also important to remember that we grieve for many things in our lives - not just the loss of loved ones. Losing friendships, the end of relationships, the death of a pet or losing a job can all cause us to experience grief.

Grief is a normal human response to loss. It’s not a sign of weakness, and it’s not inappropriate to grieve for something or someone. Nor is it something that we can control or stop. If you are grieving, it is because you need to and that is ok.

Finally, remember that there is no ‘right way’ to grieve. We all experience grief differently and our experiences will vary at different times of our lives and for different losses.

How you experience grief is how you need to experience it right now – your feelings and reactions are not wrong. Do not worry that you are not ‘grieving properly.’ Some people feel immense sadness after a loss and cry a lot, some people go numb and don’t cry at all. Neither response is wrong.

Page last reviewed: October 2022