Grief causes stress and depression that can intensify already existing health issues or lead to new ones.
The intense sadness, psychological pain and profound loss that comes with grieving cause a toll on our emotional experience. Whether it’s due to the loss of a loved one, a home, a job or a pet, the pain becomes unbearable. However, we tend to forget that grief also has a physical side effect mostly caused by how we respond to emotional distress. It’s important to understand how these physical side effects can lead to health problems.
When grieving, one becomes stressed, and this stress takes a toll on the body, organs and immune system. Research has shown that grief affects the immune system and leads to a rise in inflammatory responses. It may be the reason why most people often get sick during this period.
Stress is hard on the body because it unleashes stress hormones that make existing conditions like diabetes and heart failure worse. It can also lead to new ones like heartburn, high blood pressure, insomnia and lack/ increase of appetite. For people experiencing extreme stress, due to the loss of a loved one, changes can happen in their coronary blood vessels or muscle cells. In extreme cases, both get affected. Stress-induced cardiomyopathy then occurs due to this – a condition where the left ventricle stops contracting effectively. The patient will experience symptoms like shortness of breath or chest pains, which are like when one has a heart attack.
Grieving causes intense sadness; however, some people get depressed from grief. According to research focused on widows, 40% of the bereaved have major depressive episodes with intensities ranging from two months at 24%, at one year 15%, and at two years 7%. The symptoms of depression will include excessive crying, loss of appetite, low mood, extreme hopelessness, restlessness, suicidal thoughts, sleep problems, loss of interest, fatigue, feeling of worthlessness, insomnia, poor memory, and sluggishness both mentally and physically.
The depressed will isolate themselves, avoid social connections and ultimately not take care of themselves. They lack interest in life, miss doctor appointments, fail to eat or not eat properly, fail in their jobs and stop exercising. These reactions to grief put their health at risk.
Most people undergoing grief, do not see the need to take care of their health when they can barely go through the daily motions of life. However, it’s possible. You begin by faking it, and ultimately you make it. Try walking to the shop for five minutes and eventually, increase the distance walked. Try eating three meals a day even though you don’t feel hungry. Your body needs the calories to function and not eating or eating too little causes fatigue. Do not alienate friends and family. Stay in touch because social connections will improve your health. Do not spend day after day in the house alone. Get out of the house, spend time with others or find a person to talk to about what you are feeling.
Grief counselors also come in handy during these times. They help you make sense of the feeling you are having and come to terms with the grief. They can help you deal with all grief reactions including the emotional, physical and cognitive. Grief counselors are also in support groups where people share their experiences and feelings. The support group will help you express yourself, be with others, learn from them and realize that you are not alone in these experiences.
It’s possible to stay on top of your health when grieving. Put one foot in front of the other in all you do and eventually, you develop a routine that takes care of you both physically and emotionally. However, make sure you see a doctor if things get worse.
There is no standard time for overcoming grief. Everyone experiences it at different levels and deals with it differently. The trick is to realize that the sun will come out again tomorrow, that you will grow your strength daily and that one day, you will wake up and it will not hurt as bad.