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Five symptoms of grief you might not expect

Man suffering from symptoms of grief

There is no set formula for grief. How grief affects people varies widely and no one, including you, can predict how it will appear.

There are many different symptoms of grief and while some might be more commonly experienced – such as sleeplessness, anxiety or guilt – others are more obscure. This means you may not even realise that what you are experiencing is a side effect of grief.

Here are just five examples of grief symptoms that are less talked about.

Oversensitivity to noise or light

It has long been widely accepted by doctors and bereavement counsellors that grief is not just an emotional state. It also has wide-ranging physical symptoms. One of these symptoms is a sensitivity to loud noises or bright lights.

Sensitivity to light and noise is far more widely reported by bereaved people than you might think. Psychologists suggest that this symptom is linked to the way your body reacts to stress. However, if your sensitivity to light or sound persists for a long time, or becomes unbearable, you should consult your GP.


In the days, weeks and months following a bereavement, you might find yourself being a lot more forgetful than usual. You may want to put strategies in place to help you remember important appointments. It may help to keep notes, leave post-it notes or set reminders on the calendar on your phone.

It makes sense that in the wake of such a life-changing loss, your mind isn’t exactly working normally, but it can be worrying. You may be concerned that your memory loss is a symptom of an illness, such as dementia. Usually people suffering from dementia are not aware of their own memory loss, but if your forgetfulness persists for a long time and has a disruptive impact on your daily life, it may help to see your GP.

Vivid dreams and nightmares

People coping with grief can experience vivid dreams or nightmares for a long time after the death of a loved one, which may be upsetting or frightening. This is completely normal, though it can be distressing and disruptive to your sleep patterns.

Your brain is trying to process your loss, even when you are asleep. These dreams are part of that difficult process. Try not to avoid sleeping, but keep to a regular sleep pattern whenever possible to make sleep deeper and more restful. It may also help to avoid watching TV or using a computer before bed.


Some people who are coping with grief feel unable to do anything, while others react in almost the complete opposite way, unable to sit still or remain in one place. You might not necessarily be doing anything productive, but you feel a compulsion to be doing something. You might also notice you are fidgeting more than usual.

This may be a coping tactic in that being constantly active shields you from facing your feelings. If you are constantly preoccupied with trivial tasks, you aren’t thinking about your loved one or the fact they are gone. As the reality of their loss begins to slowly sink in, your hyperactivity levels should begin to decrease.


Depersonalisation is the sense that nothing seems real, that you are disconnected from the world, or even that you are not really there. It can feel like you are in a bubble, or looking at yourself from outside your own body.

This feeling of disconnection may come and go, but with time it should fade or become less frequent. However, if it persists for weeks or months, it may be a symptom of a deeper problem, such as clinical depression. If you are concerned about continued feelings of depersonalisation, talk to your GP about your symptoms.

Read more about coping with bereavement and how the grieving process may affect you.

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