The Physical Effects of Grief

The Physical Effects of Grief
Each day is an emotional challenge to function. My heart and mind are with my deceased daughter constantly, from the minute I enter consciousness in the morning to the moment sleep finally settles upon me and lets me rest. Grief usurps your emotional being and leaves you standing alone, an empty shell looking for something to prop up against so that you won’t fall over, shrivel up and disappear. That is the mental state of this cruel life we now know.

Because the mind and heart are elsewhere, the body has little resources from which to draw strength. We are working so hard to manage our emotions that our bodies suffer. The physical elements of grief are serious and sneak up on us without our knowledge because we are so mentally consumed in our heartache. It is so important that we be aware that grief can make us sick. But it is equally important to recognize that physical symptoms from grief are normal.

On the outside you appear lethargic and tired but on the inside your body is in chaos. Losing a loved one is a trauma which creates a powerful level of stress. From what I’ve read, as I’m just learning this myself, stress releases natural steroids into the body and it creates an intensified state of the fight or flight response in the nervous system. This added push on your nervous system can make the heart race and blood pressure rise. Also, your immune system can suffer. T-Lymphocytes are created by your body to help fight infection. Since grief diminishes the creation of these cells the bereaved are more susceptible to colds and other less harmful infections. Additionally, you may notice that any condition you had previously to your loss has worsened; blood pressure changes, diabetes, arthritis are some of the conditions that can go out of kilter with stress from grief.

Depression and anxiety can creep up on you when you are grieving, too. You can experience loss of appetite, lack of sleep, too much sleep, hot sweats, racing heart rate, constant crying, no crying, anger, fear, etc. It is easy to get caught off guard by these physical changes and instead of getting medical attention, seek other avenues like alcohol or prescription drugs which can complicate issues further.

And on top of it all, life moves on around us and other issues/circumstances might arise, compounding our ability to function. For example, a parent might take ill or another child is in need of care and you still have to handle these challenges.

Regardless of what we are physically feeling, we need to be aware that these changes in ourselves are not unusual given our circumstances. Some of these symptoms might settle down as time passes, others may require medical support and still others require support from our families and friends and outside support groups. Of course, this is easier said than done. We have a constant tug-of-war occurring in us: I know I need to take care of myself, I know I need to be aware of my physical and emotional well-being but at the same time I feel I lack the strength and motivation to do anything about it.

But remember, you are valuable. You are needed. And you are strong, stronger than you know. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone needs it now and again, bereaved or not.

A website has been established in our daughter's name. Please click here for more information about our mission. - Aine Marie Phillips

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