The emotional toll of losing a loved one can feel incomparable. Grief can disrupt your mental well-being, social routine, and personal esteem.
Yet grief can affect more than a person’s emotional state. Losing a loved one can actually manifest in a person’s body, too. These symptoms can occur during what doctors call “acute grief” (between one and 12 months after the loss) as well as “chronic grief” (a period of grief that lasts longer than a year).
Broken heart syndrome is more legitimate than its metaphorical name might suggest, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Broken heart syndrome happens when the heart does not pump blood normally due to hormones putting stress on the heart. People with broken heart syndrome often think they’re having a heart attack because they notice symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath. They might even notice other symptoms like an irregular heartbeat and cardiogenic shock, which is when the weaker heart can’t pump enough blood.
However, broken heart syndrome is not a heart attack. Research from this year suggests the brain may have an important role in causing these heart problems. They discovered that regions of the brain responsible for emotions as well as processes like the heartbeat, breathing, and digestion fail to communicate with each other.
Aches and pains
Losing a loved one can hurt physically just as much as it may hurt emotionally. In addition to the chest pain caused by broken heart syndrome, grief may cause pain throughout the rest of the body. GoodTherapy, an information website run by mental health professionals, says grief may cause back and joint pain, headaches, and stiffness. The overwhelming amount of stress hormones released during the grieving process can effectively stun the muscles they contact. However, GoodTherapy says these kinds of aches and pains are usually temporary.
Changes in appetite
Anxiety and depression may cause a person in mourning to feel nauseous or lose their appetite. On the flip side, some people in mourning may reach for high-calorie junk food. In a study published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, researchers from Princeton University recognized how eating sugar releases dopamine, the “feel-good” hormone. Some people may binge on sweets or other junk foods to get the quick high of dopamine.
During the grieving process, the immune system becomes weaker and people in mourning are more susceptible to illness, especially during acute grief. Research published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine looked at medical reports in parents after the death of an infant or child. They found that parents’ acute illnesses, hospitalizations, and medication changes increased significantly in first few months of grief. These illnesses included colds, the flu, headaches, anxiety, depression, infections, chest pain, and gastrointestinal problems.
The five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – can keep your head spinning when you’re trying to fall asleep. According to our contributing writer, Partha Nandi, MD, a lack of sleep can contribute to a higher risk for some serious conditions like obesity, heart attack, immune deficiency and diabetes.