4 Ways Grief Can Impact Your Mental and Physical Health 

Shandra Martinez

| 3 min read

Woman mourning, wearing black and holding flowers, someone puts a hand on her to console
Most of us have some experience with grief. We’ve either lived through a loss or have helped a friend recover from one. Grief can come from many different circumstances. Typically, it is caused by the loss of a loved one, a relative, close friend or co-worker. But there can be other reasons people grieve. They may be dealing with the loss of a beloved pet, ending a career, or moving away and facing the loss of easy connection with friends and family. No matter what people are grieving for, the emotion can impact our mental as well as physical health.
The first thing to know is there are no right or wrong reactions when you are grieving. Feeling sad and crying are two things often associated with dealing with a loss, but they are not the only ones. According to Michigan Medicine’s guide to dealing with grief, common reactions can range from being angry to strong feelings of denial. Some people might feel especially confused or forgetful while they are grieving, while others feel guilty that they did not spend enough time with a person before they passed away. There might even be feelings of relief that a person who died, if they were in poor health for a long time, is no longer suffering.
However you work through grief, your individual reaction can impact your mind as well as body. Let’s look at some of the most common ways this can happen:
Physical pain: Dealing with grief can make our bodies physically hurt. Research has shown that in the first six months after losing a loved one, a person has a higher likelihood of having some kind of physical problem. Men are at higher risk of this than women, according to Psychology Today. These physical impacts can manifest in many ways. Some of them include:
  • Chest pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attacks
  • Irregular heartbeat
Intestinal problems: Not as life-threatening as chest pain, the abdominal and intestinal issues that can crop up when people are grieving are still uncomfortable and just one more thing to deal with. Some people find that going through any kind of stress, including grief, will put their gastrointestinal system out of whack. Some signs of this include:
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Acid reflux
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
You will want to talk to your healthcare provider if intestinal symptoms persist. Some people develop Irritable Bowel Syndrome and may need a change in diet or prescription medication.
High stress. Feeling stressed when you are dealing with loss is a normal reaction. The human body is equipped to deal with short-term bouts of stress. But for some people, grieving can lead to chronic stress that can have psychological impacts, according to the American Heart Association. For example, chronic stress can trigger the brain’s “fight or flight” response when the loved one’s name is mentioned, or when a person is thinking about all the obstacles they have to overcome after losing someone close to them.
Disassociation. Sometimes, when people are in tremendous emotional pain, the brain tries to protect itself by mentally distancing itself from these feelings of pain and sadness. This can make some people feel like they are going through their daily motions in a fog. They may find themselves feeling disoriented or confused during certain moments. Even though it might be difficult, people should be honest with their healthcare provider about these feelings. Talking to a therapist or another medical professional can be good for their mental health.
Photo credit: Getty Images

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