Mental health

Debbie Hawkins, Registered nurse AXA Health 24/7 support team

Emotional response to grief


30 June 2023

The feelings experienced during bereavement can change day to day, week by week, and month by month.

Some people are able to work through these emotions in a shorter period of time than others. For some, the process of coping with a death and grieving may take longer.

Emotions can be varied, such as feeling numb and/or unable to accept what has happened. This can be further complicated by not being able to express your feelings, or perhaps even talk about the death of a loved one. This could also be likened to a form of denial, and those who experience this kind of grief, may even continue to carry on, almost as if nothing has changed.

Others may experience anger and perhaps even guilt. The difficulty of accepting being left alone or trying to understand “how could this happen”? or “why did this happen to us or me?” are a normal response, particularly when a death was unexpected.

It is also normal to feel that we didn’t do enough or were not patient enough with that person, leaving us feeling guilty and sad.

During the grieving process, it’s not unusual to experience any of the following:

  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • An inability to settle
  • Constant tearfulness or intermittent crying
  • Low mood or even a mild form of depression.

Some may choose to distance themselves from friends and family, while others may find comfort from being surrounded by them

Experiencing such emotions may affect your ability to cope. You may find that they can affect your levels of concentration, disturb sleep patterns and appetite. The ability to manage normal daily activities can become an almost uphill struggle

All of these physical, mental and emotional responses are to be expected, and in time, you will settle back into your normal daily routine

While you may expect to experience some or all these physical, mental and emotional responses, it’s also important to recognise when these emotions are not getting any easier and reaching out for help and support. You can do this by speaking with your doctor, or perhaps having some bereavement support or bereavement counselling.  

Practical things that you can do to help yourself:

Talking and expressing yourself

It’s important to try to talk through your feelings with somebody when you feel ready. Some people find family and friends helpful to speak too whilst others may choose to speak to someone not affected by the grief.

There are various charities that offer bereavement services and are able to organise for trained bereavement volunteers to speak with you face to face or over the phone. It’s often easier to speak with somebody you don’t know. 

Some people prefer to speak first with their GP or another healthcare professional. They too can refer you for bereavement counselling and support. 

Letting yourself feel sad

It’s perfectly normal to feel very sad and you must allow yourself the time to do this. Crying is a way of letting your body relieve tension and is part of the grieving process.

Allowing yourself a break from the grieving

It’s also important to give yourself breaks from it too. If watching TV or reading a book distracts you for a while, or if watching a funny film makes you laugh, it’s important to let yourself have those moments to enjoy. Some people feel guilty if they laugh or smile when they’re grieving but it’s important for you to be able to do this. It allows you to rebuild some strength for the moments when you will be feeling intensely sad.

Keeping to a routine

When someone important to you has died you can feel as if you’ve lost all control over your life. Having a simple daily routine will give you some of this control back and make you feel safer and calmer at a time when you need stability.


Grieving can make you feel tired as it uses up a huge amount of your emotional energy. Just at the time when we need sleep the most, sometimes our bodies will not let us. If you do start to have problems sleeping, it’s important to let your GP know. They might prescribe you a short course of sleeping tablets, just to help you get back to a normal sleeping pattern. It's also worth looking at our sleep hub for more information and ideas for getting a better night's sleep.

Eat well

It’s hard to find the enthusiasm to cook when you’re feeling low. It’s very important to try to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet to maintain your strength. Our diet and nutrition hub has lots of information, recipes and tips to help you eat well, including one on energy boosting foods.

Avoid alcohol

Don’t be tempted to turn to alcohol as a way of numbing the pain. This will not help in the long run and could become a health problem in the future.

Engage with others

As you start to feel a little stronger you may want to start socialising a little more. Bereavement organisations such as Cruse1 often run drop-in clinics or friendship groups where people who are going through bereavement can meet up and share their experiences and offer support to one another. In some cases, people can go on to develop long-term friendships with others who they meet in the group.

Some people prefer to meet people by starting a new hobby or returning to a previous interest. If there is something new that you’ve always felt like having a go at, now might be the time to do it.

You might also consider becoming a volunteer if you have free time. Helping others is a good way of meeting people and finding a new focus.

Embrace the great outdoors

Try to get outdoors at least once a day, to keep yourself active. If you can find a green space to walk or sit in, all the better! It's well documented that spending time in nature for just two and a half hours a week has all sorts of benefits for our mental and physical health.2

Memory boxes

When you’re in the right frame of mind, creating a memory box can be a way of remembering the person who you’ve lost. You can choose a box that you think the person would’ve liked and put things in it that hold special memories. These might be photographs, their perfume/aftershave, an item of clothing, jewellery, cards that they may have sent you or received from someone else, their favourite book or anything that brings back a happy memory. You can bring the box out whenever you feel like it and it can be a wonderful way of sharing memories with the family 

Our altered lives

Everyone will of course find some degree of difficulty when trying to adjust to a death.

Throughout the grieving process, there may be additional concerns and responsibilities, which can be just as daunting and overwhelming as grief itself.

For example, managing your finances, supporting your family, especially if it involves children or elderly relatives. 

It’s important to make allowances for these everyday responsibilities, which may require a period of adjustment.

Finally, whatever your worries or fears, anxieties, or circumstances, it’s important to remind yourself that you’re not alone and in time, you will find the strength to accept your loss, and be able to adjust to the change in your life.

Telephone support for AXA Health members and their families

AXA Health has its own telephone bereavement support service for those of our members who are unable to access grief counselling through their policy. The service is delivered by registered nurses from the 24/7 Information Support team. They are not trained counsellors, but are experienced, empathetic listeners, who can offer support, practical guidance or simply someone outside your immediate circle to talk to. This support is available over six, one hour-long sessions between 9am and 4pm on weekdays. You can access the service by calling us on 0800 003 004 or email

What to do if someone passes away

We're sorry to hear of your loss. We know this is a difficult time, and we’re here to support our members in whatever way we can. Please give us a call on 0800 454 080 and we'll explain what happens next. We're here Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm, or Saturday 9am to 5pm. Or you can email When you get in touch, please mention the membership number, if you have it.

If you're a solicitor, you can use the same contact details to send us a death certificate or any queries.

You may also find the following websites helpful if you would like further information.

Bereavement support and counselling services in the UK

CRUSE Bereavement Care - National Helpline: 0808 808 1677 (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) and 0845 600 2227 (Cruse Scotland)

NHS Factsheet - Coping with bereavement 

WAY Widowed and Young - Peer-to-peer support network with helpful information and nationwide activities to help those who are widowed young to recover. Contact is via email only

The good grief trust - Lots of information and support tailored to different circumstances PLUS an extensive list of support lines available to you if you want someone to talk to. Contact to the trust itself is by email only

The New Normal Charity - Changing the way we discuss our grief, mental health and well-being in open and honest spaces


1 – Bereavement support – Cruse

2 – Exercise duration – Mental Health Foundation

Ask our health professionals

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Our email service allows allows you to ask our team of experienced health professionals, including nurses, midwives, counsellors, pharmacists and dieticians, your health related question. 

You don’t have to be a member, and you can ask for yourself or anyone in your family. We’ll get back to you via email, usually within 24 hours, with clear information and support.