Grief is often only thought of as a mental experience, but there are also physical effects that come with it.
The stress caused by grief has harmful physical effects on the body if it’s prolonged. And although everyone grieves differently, most people experience some physical symptoms when grieving the loss of a loved one.
Physical Effects of Grief
According to Psych Central, our bodies go through certain phases when faced with stress, such as grieving a loss. The first phase is the “alarm reaction” that happens when the stress occurs, like the death of a loved one.
To put it simply, the brain produces a hormone called adrenocorticotrophic (ACTH) that prepares the body for battle. Then, the ACTH goes from the pituitary gland to the adrenal gland that causes a chemical reaction producing cortisol.
Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone.” Prolonged, high levels of this hormone have harmful and stressful physical effects on the body. So the longer the stress from grief continues, the more ACTH is produced, which means more stress hormones as well.
Abnormally increased amounts of this hormone also cause problems with the production of white blood cells. Without the normal production of these cells, our bodies cannot fight germs as well, increasing the likeliness of getting sick.
Physical Symptoms of Grief
Some common physical symptoms of grief include:
- Aches and pains
- Chest pain
- Digestive problems
- Feelings of heaviness
- Loss of appetite
- Sore muscles
These physical symptoms may contribute to other grief expressions, like social isolation and a loss of interest in regular activities. When someone is grieving both mentally and physically, it may be difficult to adjust back into the world at first.
It may help to turn to trusted family and friends to help you readjust. If grief lasts a long time or is affecting your ability to function in daily life, consider seeking guidance from a professional.
How to Cope with Grief
Although it’s hard to leave the house when you’re not feeling yourself, going somewhere or doing an activity may help. There are several healthy ways to cope with the physical effects of grief.
Try doing one of your favorite hobbies or something new you’ve always wanted to try. Being in nature helps relieve stress and grief, so take a walk or bike ride to clear your head.