When we talk about grief, oftentimes mental and emotional health take center stage. Yet, grief can have profound physical effects, too. Although healing takes time, and it may feel as if there’s nothing you can do to expedite the process, understanding the physical changes that take place as you’re grieving can help you stay in control of your health.
According to Harvard Medical School, grief can impact the body at a molecular level. In particular, immune cells appear to be less functional, and inflammatory responses are elevated in grieving individuals. The suspected culprit is the release of stress hormones that accompany grief, which can affect every system in the body. As a result of this weakened immunity, people who are coping with grief may be more susceptible to illness.
Stress hormones can also increase physical pain. People in mourning often report feeling physical discomfort, which can manifest as headaches, joint pain, back pain, and stiffness. The bombardment of stress hormones essentially ”stun[s]” the muscles, which is the cause for these uncomfortable sensations. Fortunately, the pain is most often temporary, but any prolonged discomfort should be discussed with a doctor.
The emotional toil brought on by grief can result in appetite changes. While some people may find themselves reaching for comfort foods while grieving, others may experience food aversions and a decrease in appetite. “Stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea and other digestive system problems are [also] common companions to grief,” the concerned experts at Knowyourgrief.org confirm. Nausea and an anxious stomach may be common side effects of grief, but should also pass.
Though grief can leave you feeling fatigued, this unfortunately doesn’t mean sleep will come easily. In fact, people who are grieving often find it difficult to sleep, and are more likely to experience middle insomnia, or the inability to get back to sleep after waking in the middle of the night. Oftentimes, these sleep challenges are a direct result of major changes that come with grief, such as immense feelings of loneliness or worries about financial security.
The intense stress your body undergoes can increase the risk of heart attack. Grief can also lead to a temporary condition that mimics heart disease known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or broken-heart syndrome. Characterized by chest pain, shortness of breath, and ballooning of the left ventricle, the condition occurs primarily in women, but often resolves itself within a month.
Grief is a natural response to losing a loved one. When you feel ready, practicing routine self-care by taking walks, journaling, eating nutritious meals, and turning to friends and family for support can help you restore your mind/body balance and start you on the path towards healing, both physically and emotionally.
While grief doesn’t always require professional intervention, it’s a good idea to consider seeking counseling or help from a support group if you’re having trouble getting back into a routine after several months.
If you feel like your health could be suffering as a result of grief or another trauma, turn to United Physician Group. Our healthcare providers are committed to helping patients through every challenge and providing exceptional care through all of life’s stages. Find a doctor online or by calling (833) 523-0906.