Understanding how grief weakens the body can go a long way towards moving through the grieving process and recovering from the loss of a loved one says Mosaic Funeral Group
Finding support in a community who can relate to what you are going through helps as well. In a time of lockdown and social distancing, this can be difficult, but Mosaic Funeral Group has found a way to bring people together online to share their stories and find comfort with their #GrievingAloneTogether campaign.
Grief is a full body experience
Grief is not always thought of as a full-body experience. But just as grief can affect mental health, it can also have physical aspects. In fact, numerous medical studies suggest that intense grief, for example, grieving the death of a child, partner or close loved one can bring about side effects that may feel more physical than anything else.
“Of all the unimaginable aspects of grief, there is one thing we hear people often say – that they really didn’t expect to feel their grief in a physical way,” says Ramon Collins, Mosaic Funeral Group spokesperson. “Most people are surprised by the intensity or type of emotions they experience, but these are aspects that people tend to see coming. The physical response, on the other hand, is an unanticipated and unwanted part of grieving.”
Grief can trigger a number of mental and physical symptoms. According to Collins, knowing which symptoms of grief to watch for may allow you to soothe and address any issues you experience.
Mental and Cognitive Symptoms
The most common mental symptoms of grief include the ones that you would expect to see in someone who is bereaved including depression, loneliness, and anxiety but there are some more insidious symptoms. You could find yourself becoming more forgetful than usual.
“Small things start to become noticeable like constantly losing your keys or misplacing your cell phone. This stems from yet another symptom – the inability to focus. Your mind has so much to deal with that it switches gears to process the unimaginable loss that you have experienced – this leaves smaller things out and therefore you become forgetful. My advice is to designate a spot in your house for the important things – it can help,” Collins advises.
It is tough to focus while going through times of stress if you are distracted and now also forgetful. “We see this in both adults and children – unable to focus at work and zoning out in class or even mid-conversation. Even the memories of your loved one can be a huge distraction. Cut yourself a break and give it time. If these symptoms persist in the long term or start becoming more severe I suggest you seek the help of a qualified professional to gently guide you through it and to help you with some exercises to improve your focus,” says Collins.
The intense and prolonged emotional response to the death of a loved one brings about numerous and, in some cases, severe physical effects. These include:
Heart problems can be brought on by intense stress in a variety of situations but there are particular heart risks associated with grief. One study found the death of a loved one to increase a person’s chance of a heart attack.
There’s also a specific temporary syndrome brought on by the death of a loved one called takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or “broken heart syndrome” which is caused by a disruption in the blood being pumped to one section of the heart. Because of this, it mimics the effects of a heart attack – chest pain and shortness of breath – but is temporary. It is important to note that if you experience chest pain or shortness of breath, you should consult your doctor for deeper causes. This is true for any other severe or long-lasting physical effects of grief.
Some people catch colds or come down with the flu during times of immense stress. They may notice they are more susceptible to these same ailments during a period of intense grieving. This is because, in adults, grief can lower the immune system. As we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to keep your immune system strong.
Body Aches and Pains
Aches and pains are a common physical symptom of grief. Grief can cause back pain, joint pain, headaches, and stiffness. The pain is caused by the overwhelming amount of stress hormones being released during the grieving process. Stress hormones act on the body in a similar way to broken heart syndrome. Aches and pains from grief should be temporary. If they persist over the long term, consult your doctor.
The digestive tract can be sensitive to times of intense stress. It can be all too common to seek comfort in food during stressful periods or to experience a queasy stomach when anxious. Grief inspires these symptoms and others, such as a loss of appetite, binge eating, nausea, and irritable bowel syndrome.
“This is by no means a comprehensive list of symptoms as we know each person’s experience of grief is unique. The goal is to familiarise yourself with the fact that grief can manifest physically so that you can start to take steps to alleviate its effects,” Collins explains.
Fight back with a healthy routine
Collins recommends building a healthy routine as a first step to mitigating some of the physical symptoms of grief. Regular exercise and a nutritious diet can help with pain, heart risks, digestive issues, and sleep patterns. He cautions that the line between the grief period and a mental health issue may be hard to define and that you should consult a qualified therapist or counsellor if you are having trouble with grief or its symptoms.
“Talking about grief with family and friends or a licensed mental health professional can help address the grief directly. Doing this also helps you to build healthy coping skills. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. Reminding people of this is the reason why Mosaic Funeral Group launched the #GrievingAloneTogether campaign.
“Asking for help and sharing your experience and emotions is an important part of the grieving process and in a time when everyone is separated, we have created a place online to find compassion and understanding. It can even be a way to share the symptoms of grief you have experienced and hopefully get some helpful advice from those going through the same thing,” says Collins.
For more information, visit www.mosaicfunerals.co.za
While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.