Six Physical Symptoms of Grief
We all know that grief causes intense emotional and psychological upset, with deep feelings of sadness and sorrow. What many people are surprised to find, however, is that grief is a full-body experience. So much so, in fact, that it’s common for someone experiencing grief to face challenging physical symptoms – some of them serious. Here are six physical symptoms commonly caused by grief:
1. Heart Problems.
Intense stress of any kind can lead to heart issues, but grief poses particular concerns. In fact, studies have shown that the death of a loved one increases the risk of suffering a heart attack. In addition, there is a condition called takotsubo cardiomyopathy – or “broken heart syndrome” – that causes a disruption in blood flow to the heart. It often leads to shortness of breath and chest tightness, mimicking the symptoms of a heart attack. Fortunately, it is usually temporary and causes no lasting heart damage.
2. Body Aches.
Grief is known to cause a host of aches and pains, most specifically back pain, joint pain, headaches, and intense stiffness. This is because the body produces extra stress hormones when we grieve, which stun the muscles and joints. These aches may be constant, they may come and go, and they may persist for months.
3. Lowered Immunity.
This physical symptom is of most concern for older adults, especially those who are grieving the loss of a spouse. Studies have shown that they actually produce fewer white blood cells during bereavement, leading to an increased risk of infection. Oftentimes, bereaved people will catch more colds and flu viruses than they usually do, but they also face an enhanced risk of more serious infections like pneumonia.
4. Digestive Problems.
The digestive tract is a part of the body that is quite susceptible to stress, meaning grievers often experience nausea, loss of appetite, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Since many people use food as a coping mechanism during emotional times, it’s also common to binge-eat when you’re grieving, which can intensify some of these digestive challenges.
5. Insomnia and Fatigue.
Nearly everyone experiencing loss will notice an impact on their sleep cycle. For many, this means insomnia at night followed by fatigue during the day. However, fatigue can happen even if you’re getting your usual amount of sleep. This is because intense emotions can drain the body of physical energy, too.
6. Unhealthy Long-Term Habits.
Every griever must find ways to cope with feelings of pain, loss, anger, and more. Unfortunately, many people turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, like alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes. While these things may numb the pain at the moment, they can contribute to long-term, serious health problems in the liver and lungs.
Final Thoughts on Physical Grief.
Nearly all grievers will experience some form of physical symptoms of grief, and some people will experience all those mentioned above. While they will likely clear up on time, you can lessen the effects by maintaining a healthy routine of sleep, exercise, and eating nutritious meals. If your symptoms persist or are so intense that you cannot manage them yourself, it’s important to see a doctor.
The mind-body connection is never more present than when we feel the physical effects of deep grief. Just remember that it takes time to heal emotionally and physically, so practice self-care and seek help when you need it.