CAN GRIEF MAKE YOU SICK? IT SURE CAN.
Updated: Jan 10
By Jill S. Cohen, NYC family grief counselor
Grief can create physical illness. And it’s real. You’re not just imagining things if you don’t feel well.
You know the advertisement for milk, Milk: It does your body good.
Well, the advertisement for grief should be the opposite; Grief: It does your body bad.
You know that after losing a loved one, words like 'heartbroken' or 'hurt' are regularly used to describe the feelings about such a loss. Did you know that 'Heartsarnes', which means 'grief' in Old English) literally translates as heart soreness. So, it just proves what we already know – that grief is quite often associated with physical pain, besides the mental pain that we are familiar with.
Here are just a few of the ways in which grief can affect your body:
An irregular heartbeat Recent research suggests that grief can really break your heart. The observational study of 88,6000 people, published in the Open Heart journal, found those who lose a spouse or partner are more likely to develop an irregular heartbeat, particularly if they're younger than 60 years of age or the loved one died unexpectedly. The risk of atrial fibrillation (a quivering heartbeat) was 41% higher among people grieving the death of a partner. The effects were greatest 8-14 days after a death and only eased completely after a year.
Decreased immunity Another piece of recent research in the journal Age and Immunity found that among the elderly, the recent loss of a loved one could leave a person more susceptible to infectious disease. The older mourners (with an average age of 72) were found to have reduced function of the neutrophils, a white blood cell used to fight off infections. The researchers say that hormonal supplements or similar products could be used to help people at an increased risk of stress, and that a strong network of family and friends are needed to manage the risks.
Feelings of anxiety According to the British Psychological Society, physical ill health is a symptom of grief and can manifest itself in to anxiety-like symptoms. In the case of sudden death, physical affects can be related to trauma and stress, such as a churning stomach, a racing heart, shakes and being hypersensitive to noise. Nightmares are also common, as are weight changes and tiredness.
So, what can you do about this?
Pay attention to your body and your healthfulness or lack thereof. Monitor yourself.
Don’t bottle up your feelings. Cry if you want to. Let it out. Scream if you’re angry – in a place where you are not going to disturb others. Take time out for yourself. Be open about the loved one who is deceased. Talk about him/her. Share memories -both good and those not as good. It’s all what makes up the relationship.
The bottom line is that grief symptoms are real and they can hurt. Don’t hesitate to go to your primary care practitioner to address your symptoms. A doctor may have some ways to get some relief from stomach aches, headaches, respiratory issues and backaches that may arise. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a clergy member, a chaplain or a bereavement counselor to talk to. He or she may be able to suggest some coping strategies to help you regain your self and move forward.
In this, the worst of all times for you, asking for support and expert help can be the best medicine.