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How Grief and Loss Can Affect Overall Health

How Grief and Loss Can Affect Overall Health

At some point in our lives, we will experience grief. It’s an inescapable fact of life. Surprisingly, not a lot of people are aware of how grief is related to our overall health. While grief does not directly affect the body, anxiety and depressive symptoms due to grief affect one’s body.

This is because, most of the time, people tend to focus on the emotional effect of grief. And it makes total sense, since grief is an emotional response to a deep loss.

But there is a deeper connection between a person’s mental health and their physical health that isn’t always acknowledged, but is just as important.

In the case of grief, it can have significant effects on a person’s overall health, which is why it is important to know how to manage and overcome grief.

The Five Stages of Grief, Explained

How grief affects the body

Dealing with grief is difficult. Most of the time, grief is caused by the loss of a loved one, and it really is one of the hardest things that a person will struggle with in their life. When grief gets to be too much, it can affect a person’s health negatively. Here is how grief affects the body:

How grief affects the body: Grief can weaken your heart

According to one study, a person’s risk of developing a heart attack is 21 times higher within the first 24 hours of the death of a loved one. After a week, the risk was lower, at about 6 times higher.

This just shows how big of an impact grief can have on your health. There are even some news reports of people suffering a heart attack shortly after hearing about the death of a loved one.

There is even a condition known as broken heart syndrome, which is a short-term condition that affects the way the heart pumps blood. In some cases, it can also be mistaken for a heart attack. It is believed that stress hormones produced by the body during a state of grief can affect the heart and cause this condition.

Are You at Risk for Heart Arrhythmias?

How grief affects the body: Weakening your immune system

A person who is under intense grief tends to have a weaker immune system compared to people who are not experiencing grief. This is related to an imbalance of stress hormones in the body which can affect how the immune system suppresses illnesses.

This can make them more prone to having the flu, cough, and colds.

How grief affects the body: Unhealthy coping mechanisms

Grief can also lead to unhealthy behavioral changes. People struggling with loss can sometimes turn to alcohol or even drug use in order to cope with the pain. It might work for them in the short-term, but these unhealthy coping mechanisms can cause serious health problems over time.

Being addicted to alcohol or drugs negatively affects a person’s health, and even affects their personal relationships.

How grief affects the body: Poor sleep

Another example of how grief affects the body is that it can affect a person’s ability to sleep. Sleep is the time your body needs to rest and get ready for the next day. But for a person suffering from grief, sleep can be very difficult as their brain might find it hard to rest.

Lack of sleep can cause a number of health problems, and can even aggravate a person’s current health problems.

How grief affects the body: Stomach problems

A person’s digestive tract is particularly sensitive to stress. You see this often when you feel butterflies in your stomach when you feel tense or anxious. And in the case of grief, a person’s digestive tract can also be affected.

Being under a lot of grief can cause a person to have digestive problems, or sometimes look to eating a lot of food in order to cope with stress. These things can make digestion more difficult, and can cause health problems for some people.

Others even avoid eating altogether, which is not only bad for the digestive system, but bad for their overall health as well.

How grief affects the body: Fatigue

Another way of how grief affects the body is that it can cause fatigue. People suffering from grief tend to feel tired and worn out all the time. This is exacerbated by sleep problems that most people with grief experience, so it just gets worse.

It can even affect their performance at work, which can make them feel worse about what they are going through.

how grief affects the body

What can you do about it?

Here are some ways that you can manage grief:

  • Know that grief is normal and all feelings are valid. You should not be afraid to express your feelings.
  • Grief will take its course. In some situations, feelings of grief go away after some time. Other times, grief is never fully completed. So do not worry if you feel that you are not recovering as quickly as you should be.
  • Talking to your friends or loved ones can also help you cope with grief.
  • Do not worry about taking some time off from work if you need it. Your mental and physical health are very important.
  • Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Eat healthy foods, and try to exercise if you have the energy to do so.
  • Enjoyable activities such as hobbies can sometimes work in engaging your mind and coping with grief.
  • Do not blame yourself or feel guilty over the loss of your loved one.
  • Don’t be afraid of admitting that you might be suffering from depression. Take note of worsening symptoms that might lead to depression and anxiety disorders.
  • If you feel that you are suffering from a lot of grief, or feel overwhelmed, do not be afraid to seek professional help.

Caring for your mental and physical well-being is very important. Don’t neglect your mental health since it can have a significant effect on your body as well.

Learn more about Other Mental Health Issues here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Grief: A Brief History of Research on How Body, Mind, and Brain Adapt, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6844541/, Accessed July 2, 2020

Blog Therapy, Therapy, Therapy Blog, Blogging Therapy, Therapy,.., https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/when-loss-hurts-6-physical-effects-of-grief-0520187, Accessed July 2, 2020

How to overcome grief’s health-damaging effects – Harvard Health, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/how-to-overcome-griefs-health-damaging-effects, Accessed July 2, 2020

Physical symptoms of grief, https://www.mariecurie.org.uk/help/support/bereaved-family-friends/dealing-grief/physical-symptoms-grief, Accessed July 2, 2020

Grief and bereavement: what psychiatrists need to know,
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2691160/, Accessed October 13, 2020

Mediators between bereavement and somatic symptoms, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3426491/, Accessed June 5, 2021

 

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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Jun 07
Medically reviewed by Jessica Espanto, LPT, MA, RPsy
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