If you are dealing with the loss of a loved one, you may have noticed that grief affects your body. It’s comforting to know that the things you feel physically are a natural consequence of your loss. Many people find that grief affects them physically. Doctors classify grief into two types: acute and persistent. Most people experience acute grief. This happens in the first six to 12 months after a loss and gradually lessens. Some people however, suffer from persistent grief. Persistent grief lasts longer than 12 months.
How Grief Affects your Brain
You may find that you can’t concentrate as well as you used to and that your memory is less sharp. Completing projects seems impossible and even making simple decisions becomes a challenge. You may find that you feel absent-minded. It’s natural.
How Grief Drains your Energy
Grief can be emotionally exhausting. After a loss, people often find that they have trouble falling asleep, wake up in the middle of the night, or sleep too much. This makes you feel worn out. Try going to bed at regular hours. Follow a bedtime routine that will help you wind down slowly before getting into bed. Take a bath, read a book, or do some breathing exercises. To get a good night’s rest avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening.
Your body may release more of the hormone called cortisol into your bloodstream in the 6 months after the loss of a loved one. This is called the “stress hormone.” High levels of cortisol will keep you awake at night. In addition, over a long period, high cortisol levels can raise your chances of heart disease or high blood pressure. Take care of yourself by eating enough, even if you don’t feel like it. And try to exercise. Even a short walk can help you.
Inflammation in your Body
When your body detects something as a threat, your immune system responds to it by making the tissues in your body swell. Inflammation can contribute to heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, asthma, and possibly cancer. Some studies show that the more severe the grief, the more serious the inflammation. Grief may make you more likely to have joint pain, back pain, or headaches. Part of the reason could be the muscle tension caused by the stress hormones your body releases in response to grief. Exercise and eating right can help you manage the inflammation.
If you feel that the pain of losing your loved one isn’t lessening after a year, reach out to your healthcare provider for help.