Grief often gets physical.
“I have headaches. My back hurts. My stomach bothers me almost every day. I have dizzy spells. I think my body is falling apart,” Shirley shared.
Seemingly out of the blue, Shirley’s daughter Corinne was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. The treatment was severe enough that Corrine finally opted to go on hospice care. After six months with a good quality of life, Corinne died at home surrounded by her husband, her two daughters, and the rest of her loving family. She was 44.
“After Corinne’s death, I’ve been getting hit with one thing after another. I had tests done. Nothing. Then I wondered, could this be grief?” Shirley asked.
When grief gets physical
Many people experience new, exacerbated, or strange physical symptoms following the death of a loved one. When grief hits, it smacks our bodies too.
Grief is form of stress. As such, it naturally taxes our immune system and causes our bodies to work harder to maintain health. In the short term, we might be able to manage without too much distress. Over the long haul, however, grief can wear us down. All kinds of health issues can surface.
We can experience headaches, muscle aches, tightness in the chest, and neck pain. Some report chest pain, palpitations, or rapid heartbeat. Others complain of stomach pain, intestinal distress, bowel changes, heartburn, or nausea. Many experience air hunger (the feeling of not being able to get enough air), frequent colds, or persistent respiratory infections. The list goes on and on.
Our immune systems are suppressed. Our bodies are feeling our distress. We are more vulnerable physically.
Grief is not an illness like the common cold, where we can expect to recover and be as good as new in a few days. Grief is more like an extended battle or a demanding marathon. We must learn to pace ourselves and appreciate that our entire system is under duress.
Weathering this physically challenging storm is a long-term adventure. Taking ourselves and our bodies seriously is a key to grieving in a healing and healthy way.
The death of a loved one affects our whole person. Experiencing some grief-related physical symptoms is natural and common.
“I miss you so much it hurts, literally. Grief pounds me, body and soul.”
Some important reminders:
These almost go without saying, but making sure the following three things are in place in your life can make a radical difference in your ability to weather the grieving process well.
- Good nutrition (eating healthy and hydrating well)
- Adequate sleep (since grief is exhausting, you might need more than usual)
- Regular exercise (burns off emotion, releases endorphins, and bolsters the immune system)
Taking good care of yourself is one powerful way to love your loved one and honor his or her memory.
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