Skip to Content

Menu Icon
Menu
Menu Icon

Grief and PTSD

Topic Overview

Grief is a natural reaction to loss. Whether you lose a beloved person, animal, place, object, or valued way of life (such as your job, marriage, or good health), you will probably experience some grief. It's often worse when the loss is traumatic, sudden, or unexpected, because there is little or no chance to prepare for it or say good-bye.

If you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and have recently lost a loved one, you may have symptoms for a longer time than if you hadn't lost a loved one.1

What causes grief?

Events that can cause grief include:

  • Death of a loved one.
  • Divorce or the end of an important relationship.
  • Loss of your job or retirement.
  • Severe illness or a physical disability.
  • Loss of a pet.
  • Moving to another home.
  • Traumatic experiences, such as seeing combat, sexual assault, or living through a natural disaster, such as an earthquake.

How do people grieve?

Everyone grieves in a different way. There is no normal and expected period of time for grieving. It can take much longer when the death or loss is traumatic or unexpected. How long you grieve can depend on how much the loss meant to you and how prepared you were for the loss.

You may experience:

  • Physical reactions, including being short of breath, being very tired, and feeling restless.
  • Emotional reactions, including shock, fear, anxiety, guilt, and anger.
  • Social reactions, including avoiding other people and overreacting to others.
  • Spiritual reactions, including wondering why pain and suffering exist and why the loss happened to you.

You also may be confused and have a hard time making decisions. You may blame yourself or others for the loss.

What can you do?

During the grieving process, you can:

  • Take care of your health.
  • Let others help you.
  • Exercise to release stress.
  • Join a support group.
  • Talk to a friend.
  • Remember the loved one.
  • Express how you feel.
  • Rest.

Don't give yourself a timetable for getting over it. You may need to talk to a counselor or other professional.

For more information, see the topics Grief and Grieving and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

References

Citations

  1. Neria Y, Litz BT (2004). Bereavement by traumatic means: The complex synergy of trauma and grief. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 9(1): 73–87.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Jessica Hamblen, PhD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Last Revised January 9, 2013

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Decision Points

Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.

You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:

Interactive Tools

Get started learning more about your health!

Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.

Symptom Checker

Feeling under the weather?

Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.