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The experience of grief is unique to each person. Its symptoms are more than just emotional and mental. They can also include physical effects on your body.

Researchers have made clear connections between grief and certain bodily changes, including effects on heart health, sleep patterns, moods, and more.

There are connections between grief and physical symptoms. We will show you how research can help you cope with grief and what steps you can take to do so.

Grief can have a profound effect on your mental and physical health. Research from 2019 emphasized that grief can cause cardiovascular issues and premature death in the months after a spouse has died.

Some of the most-studied physical changes grief can cause are shown here.

Some people have shown that grief can cause inflammation and the risk of infections.

According to a 2019 review of research, grieving people have lower levels of certain immune system cells, including natural killer cells and lymphocytes. They also have higher levels of inflammatory markers (including IL-6 and IL-1), which can further worsen the likelihood of illness or infection.

“When administered to grieving people, vaccines may be less effective because their bodies don’t produce as many antibodies to fight infections.”

Experiencing grief shares many symptoms with chronic mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. For people with a mood or anxiety disorder, grieving can worsen existing symptoms of worry or hopelessness.

Grief can trigger powerful emotions, which include:

  • Anger.
  • anxiety
  • It was helplessness.
  • There is no hope.
  • sadness

Moods have a direct effect on your body. Depression and anxiety can cause fatigue and social withdrawal, which can result in less time spent on activities. This can lead to weight changes, poor sleep hygiene, and chronic pain.

It is important to follow your treatment plan when grieving if you have a mental health condition. Maintaining your health and stability while processing a loss requires continuing to go to therapy, take medication, or participate in other ongoing care.

Experiencing grief is also associated with an increased risk of suicide depending on a loved one’s cause of death. This is especially true if you recently lost someone to suicide. Know you’re not alone, and help is available.

Help is out there

If you or someone you know is in a crisis, you can get help.

Stay with them while you wait for help to arrive. Weapons or substances that can cause harm should be removed.

Stay on the phone with them until help arrives, if you are not in the same household.

“Grieving people may notice sleep issues. This is hard to quantify and it depends on the severity of a person’s grief.”

Researchers have several theories as to why grieving impairs sleep. One potential explanation is that people are more likely to think of their loved ones at night before bed, or dream about them.

Problems sleeping can also cause further physical symptoms of grief. When you don’t get sufficient sleep, you usually experience less energy during the day from fatigue. You may have trouble focusing or headaches.

Grief and depression aren’t the only things that can cause fatigue. Learn more about potential causes of daytime fatigue.

Researchers studying the connections between psychological and physical pain found similarities in certain (but not all) areas of the brain. They theorized that it’s possible for activation of psychological pain pathways to increase the experience of physical pain.

Grief can also raise the risk of chest pain, possibly from the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol can cause blood vessels to constrict, slowing or stopping blood flow, which can lead to chest pain.

Grieving can cause abdominal problems.

These include:

These factors can then affect other aspects of your health, including your immune system and sleep. You can experience reduced energy levels from nutrient and vitamin deficiencies.

Depression and anxiety, which often accompany grief, can also cause disordered eating and gastrointestinal distress in some people. There’s a growing body of research on the brain-gut pathway and the way psychological factors may impact our gut.

Severe emotional and physical stress can trigger a condition called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also known as “broken heart syndrome.”

The condition can cause your heart’s left ventricle to become weaker, mimicking the symptoms of a heart attack (myocardial infarction). This type of cardiomyopathy is usually temporary and resolves within a month.

However, it’s also possible to have a heart attack as a result of a severe grief response. Grief increases blood pressure and heart rate, similar to a panic attack. These effects can tighten blood vessels and heighten the risks that plaque will break off and cause a heart attack.

The stress from grief can also trigger atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm.

If you believe you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness, seek emergency assistance immediately.

Grief is a normal part of experiencing a loss. Everyone has their own timeline for processing their grief and finding a way to move forward. Seeking emotional support can help you cope.

This support can be similar.

  • talking with a counselor or therapist
  • participating in a support group for those who are grieving
  • Churches or day centers are some of the organizations that can be reached out to.
  • Sending out invites to friends and family to spend time together.

Social support can be one of the most significant factors to recovery. In some cases, people experience grief that isn’t fully recognized by their community or family. Remember: Everyone deserves care and respect during a time of loss.

The grief experience can change quickly. You may have days when you are stable and optimistic, and other days when the grief is overwhelming.

Proper self-care can help you cope with loss, as well as maintaining treatment for any underlying mental or physical health conditions.

Consider adopting self-care practices.

  • Go to bed at the same time every night and follow a bedtime routine that brings you calm. This could include taking a bath before bed, listening to your favorite music, or refraining from using electronics after a certain time of night.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • You should get in regular physical activity. This could be a structured exercise, going for walks or playing with a pet.
  • Find a hobby you can enjoy that helps relieve stress. This could include creative pursuits like art and music, volunteering in your community, or practicing meditation.

Remember, grieving takes time. Some experts even recommend setting aside a specific time each day to reflect and grieve. Doing so may give you a feeling of control when grief can otherwise make you feel out of control.

Everyone experiences grief differently. We can experience grief over a death, a diagnosis, or the end of a relationship.

The effects of grief on the body are quantifiable. Depression and anxiety can be caused by grief, which can cause sleep problems, chest pain, and gastrointestinal issues. In some cases, grief can increase the risk of suicide.

Give yourself time to grieve. Seek emotional support from family and friends, attend a support group, or talk with a therapist. Eating a balanced diet and getting some form of physical activity is what you should prioritize.

For many people, grief is a lifelong process that has ups and downs. Even as you hold onto grief, it is possible to move forward.