When Grief Hits You Out of Nowhere: How to Cope and Heal

Grief can be an overwhelming emotion that can feel like it hits us out of nowhere. Often, grief lasts longer than expected, and the painful feelings of losing a loved one can resurface even years after death.
By illume Editorial Team
Last updated: Apr 17, 2023
6 Minute Read

When grief unexpectedly affects us, we must acknowledge the feelings and seek support from those around us to discover constructive ways of managing it.

Through understanding your own emotions surrounding grief, you can learn how best to process them in a way that helps you continue to heal over time.

When Grief Hits

Grief can be an intense and overwhelming experience, often marked by sadness or hopelessness as we grapple with the reality of what has occurred. Anguish can be paired with unexpected reactions, like fury or blame, making it challenging to process the tragedy constructively.

However, it doesn’t always follow the same pattern – some people may grieve differently than others – but it usually involves intense emotions that sometimes feel too much.

Many people are surprised that healing from grief does not necessarily follow a linear path. You may have periods of intense grief followed by periods of respite. This also means you may sometimes feel you are returning to “normal”, only to be taken aback by sudden and painful grief that feels like it’s hit you out of nowhere.

It’s important to realise that this is typical and that experiencing acute episodes of grief, even years after losing a loved one, does not necessarily represent a setback in the healing process.

When grief hits, here are some things you can do.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

When you experience grief, it is important to acknowledge them and allow yourself to feel the emotions associated with them without judgment or criticism.

It’s normal for grief-stricken individuals to feel overwhelmed by emotions such as sadness, anger, guilt, regret or confusion. Acknowledge those feelings without trying to push them away. There is no set timeline for grief. Allow yourself to be with your emotions; don’t try to hurry the process or evade what you’re experiencing.

Reach Out for Support

Many of us find grief difficult to talk about, especially the messy and overwhelming emotions we may experience due to it. If it has been some time since your loss, it may also feel like other people have moved on, making you feel isolated with your grief.

When dealing with grief, you must reach out for support. Talking to someone you trust can be extremely powerful. They can offer comfort and understanding when coping with grief. They may be able to share if they know the person who died.

A therapist or counsellor specialising in grief counselling may be particularly helpful in providing insight into the emotions connected to grief, such as sadness, guilt, anger and fear.

It’s also beneficial to join a support group where others who have experienced similar losses can come together and share their stories of healing and hope. Such groups allow grieving people to find strength in numbers while helping each other cope during this difficult time.

Being part of a community of individuals who understand what you’re going through can make all the difference in getting through the pain of losing someone special.


Journaling is one of the most powerful tools to help you express your grief. While talking to a friend or family member can be incredibly helpful, journaling allows you to freely express your thoughts and feelings in a judgment-free zone where you don’t need to consider the needs of others.

In writing down your thoughts, bodily sensations and emotions, you release them onto the page, which can help reduce stress and anxiety. It’s also a good way to gain insight into what’s happening inside you, clarifying why certain memories bring about certain feelings.

For example, if you used to attend family events with your lost loved one, you might notice that attending these events now triggers anxiety. In realising this, you can take steps to take care of yourself, such as asking a trusted friend to accompany you to these events or ensuring you have comforting activities planned for afterwards.

Find Healthy Coping Strategies

Trauma is held in the body, so exercise is a powerful coping strategy. Releasing endorphins through physical activity can help elevate mood, lower stress levels, and provide energy. It’s helping as part of an ongoing regime to take care of yourself and respond to acute grief when you feel it suddenly hit you out of nowhere.

And while cardiovascular exercise is particularly effective, exercise doesn’t have to mean going out for a run; even something simple like taking the dog for a walk or stretching at home can make all the difference in how you feel mentally and emotionally during this difficult time.

What’s important is finding coping strategies that work for you. Anything that eases stress and releases difficult emotions can help you support yourself through grief. Creative outlets such as painting, drawing, sculpting, or crafting items from clay or fabric can help people let go of their worries and tap into their innermost feelings without words failing them.

Dealing with Flashbacks

Traumatic grief, usually from sudden or unexpected death, can result in a more severe expression of grief: flashbacks.

This is when the grieving person vividly experiences events surrounding their death, often triggered by one or more of their senses, such as sight, touch, smell, or hearing.

Flashbacks can involve particularly extreme emotions and, as such, can be very distressing. As with other forms of grief that feel like they come out of nowhere, journaling, reaching out to others, exercise, meditation and relaxing activities can all help provide comfort and rest.

Suppose flashbacks are severe, and you are in a situation where you need to stay in control. In that case, it may be beneficial to visualise something positive in your mind (e.g. something comforting like a nice landscape or pet) to block out distressing images.

As with other forms of grief that feel like they come out of nowhere, journaling, reaching out to others, exercise, meditation and relaxing activities can all help provide comfort and rest.

Flashbacks are normal for up to six weeks following a traumatic loss. However, if they continue for longer, seeking advice from your GP. may be helpful.


Grief is an unpredictable and unavoidable part of life. It can hit you suddenly, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and confused. Although grief can be overwhelming, there are strategies to help us manage it effectively.

By acknowledging our feelings surrounding our grief, reaching out for support from loved ones or professionals if needed and finding healthy coping strategies such as journaling and exercise, we can learn how to navigate this difficult time in our lives without letting grief take over completely.

Find Grief Support with Grief Works by Illume

Getting support when grieving is essential. It can be challenging, but you don’t have to worry!

The Grief Works app helps you overcome grief and connect with a community that cares for you. It also offers live monthly calls and the ability to chat with a therapist when needed.

Moreover, it has a built-in journal book for your daily diary and the Grief Works Curriculum to guide you in this wonderful healing journey.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What to do when grief hits you hard randomly?

When grief strikes, it’s helpful to pause and reflect on your feelings while seeking coping strategies. Seek support from those around you or a qualified mental health practitioner to aid in your journey of grief and healing.

Allow yourself space and time to grieve in whatever way works best for you – this could include journaling, talking with someone close about how you feel, engaging in self-care activities such as yoga or meditation, listening to music that brings comfort or participating in meaningful activities like volunteering.

Acknowledging your feelings can bring some relief and provide healing opportunities.

Can grief come on suddenly?

Yes, grief can come on suddenly. Grief is an unavoidable consequence of losing someone dear and can manifest in various ways. While some people experience sudden overwhelming sadness, others may feel numbness or shock initially before gradually feeling more intense emotions such as anger or guilt over time.

Why does grief come randomly?

Grief is an individual experience and can come in waves. Memories, anniversaries, holidays, and other reminders of our loved ones can trigger grief. We all experience grief differently and at different times.

What are unexpected reactions to grief?

Unexpected reactions to grief can include intense emotions such as anger, guilt, shock, or disbelief. Grief may also manifest itself in physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches.

People may experience difficulty concentrating or sleeping, changes in appetite, lack of energy and motivation, feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, withdrawal from activities they once enjoyed and avoidance of reminders that trigger memories related to the deceased.

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