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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.footnote 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.

Related Information



  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.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerJessica Hamblen, PhD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Current as ofMay 3, 2017

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