The Physical Effects of Grief

When Diane’s mother died after a long battle with cancer and Alzheimer’s, Diane felt both grieved and relieved. For years, she had juggled caregiving for her mother, a demanding job as a nurse, and parenting two teenagers. It was an exhausting combination. Diane figured that after her mother’s death, her life would quickly regain a sense of normalcy and calm. She was wrong.

Depressed senior man sitting in armchair indoors

In the months following the funeral, Diane found herself so exhausted she had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. She didn’t feel “depressed,” but instead experienced a sense of fatigue that rarely lifted. Diane thought the extra rest would strengthen her immune system, but she quickly caught a cold that wouldn’t quit. Her limbs felt heavy, her head ached, and her seasonal allergies were worse than ever.

What Diane came to realize is that the stress of losing a loved one often leads to physical problems. This is something our care team at St. Pierre Family Funeral & Cremation Services hears about often as we help our neighbors in Indianapolis, Greenwood, and Pendleton.

Consider these other ways that grief can affect the body:

Grief rattles your brain. Thinking can become garbled, confused, and slowed. It’s harder to concentrate. Planning, organizing, and keeping track of details seems extra challenging.

Grief drains your energy. The emotions that come flooding in after a death are powerful and exhausting. This can, in turn, impact the immune system (remember Diane’s never-ending cold?). Insomnia and sleep disturbance are also prevalent.

Grief wreaks havoc on the digestive system. Gastrointestinal issues are common, often as a result of disrupted eating habits and routines.

Grief leads to aches and pains. The stress hormones released during the grieving process can cause a range of physical symptoms, from headaches to dizziness to heart pain to stiffness in the neck and back.

Grief affects the heart – in more ways than one. The emotional devastation of adjusting to life without a loved one is compounded by heart problems that can come as a result of stress. This includes chest pain, shortness of breath, and increased blood pressure.

It is clear grief can make your body feel awful. The question is, can these physical symptoms be avoided? In short, maybe. Building a healthy routine is a good first step.

Start with this:

  • Regular exercise
  • A nutritious diet
  • Drinking plenty of water and little to no alcohol
  • Face to face social connectedness
  • A sleep routine for both going to bed and waking up

For immediate support and to learn more about the grieving process, check out our Guiding Grief Interactive Video Support. You can also talk about your feelings with family and friends or a licensed mental health professional. And please keep in mind that our caring staff is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We can answer your questions, offer support, and help you find the resources you need. Contact us anytime. Helping people is our passion and we are here for you.