Grief and the body
by Leanne Billiau
“I don’t know why they call it heartbreak. It feels like every other part of my body is broken too.”
If your heart is feeling broken because someone you loved dearly has died, you may also feel that your body is broken as well. Time and time again, people who are grieving are surprised by the physical symptoms of grief.
Grief is a “whole person” experience and it affects every part of our being: mind, body, and spirit. The death of someone to which we are deeply connected is one of the most stressful events we experience in life. As a defense mechanism, our body’s automatic stress response kicks in, creating a range of physical symptoms.
Working through grief takes a lot of energy and you can become fatigued quickly. Your appetite may be affected, either eating more than usual or having no appetite for anything. Issues with sleep are common as well. Some people may sleep a lot and others have difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Others may have headaches, stomach upset, panic attacks, muscle tightness or pain, to name a few.
Some grieving people become frightened and worry that something is seriously “wrong” with them. Because stress suppresses the immune system, people who are grieving are more prone to colds and viruses. Those with chronic illnesses may have an exacerbation of their symptoms. Even though your grief may be an underlying cause for these symptoms, it may still be necessary to seek the care of your physician as you go through this part of your grief process.
Stress reduction techniques can be very helpful during this time. This can take many forms: exercise, healthy eating, meditation, progressive relaxation, guided imagery, massage, reflexology, yoga, music, being in nature, or anything else that is nurturing and relaxing for you. Try to notice what your body is telling you and honor its needs. Be patient and loving toward yourself and know that as your emotional pain lessens, your physical symptoms of grief will also lessen and resolve themselves. Just as grief is a “whole person” experience, so is healing.