It’s amazing how physically exhausting grieving can be. Your chest tightens as your heartaches. It occurs to you that memory has surfaced that causes your stomach to clench and a cold to run down your spine. You may find yourself racing through the night, your heart racing along with it, and your body electrified with energy to the point of being unable to sleep. Some evenings, you’re so exhausted that you fall asleep almost immediately. When you wake up the next morning, you are still fatigued and spend the majority of the day in bed.
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What is the source of these bodily symptoms? A slew of studies has revealed the significant effects that grieving may have on one’s physical health. Grief raises inflammation, which can exacerbate existing health problems and lead to the development of new ones. You will be drained and vulnerable to infection as a result of this attack on your immune system. The pain of losing a loved one can raise blood pressure and increase the likelihood of blood clots. Intense sadness can cause the heart muscle to become so damaged that it results in “broken heart syndrome,” a type of cardiac disease that manifests itself in the same way as a heart attack.
The emotional and physical elements of sorrow are linked together by stress. The nervous system can be activated by emotional stress just as easily as it may be by physical danger because the systems in the body that handle physical and emotional stress overlap. When stress becomes chronic, the release of adrenaline and the elevation of blood pressure can both contribute to the development of chronic medical disorders.
Several studies have found that emotional pain stimulates the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain. In this case, painkilling medications ranging from opioids to Tylenol have been demonstrated to be effective in reducing emotional pain.
Grief that is considered normal versus pathological
Depression is not a typical aspect of grieving; rather, it is a complication of the process. Depression increases the risk of grief-related health issues and frequently necessitates therapy to alleviate its symptoms, making it critical to understand the signs and symptoms of depression. Sidney Zisook, MD, a grieving researcher and professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, argues that people may tell the difference between normal mourning and depression by looking for certain emotional patterns in their behaviour.
As Zisook explains, “natural sorrow is characterised by the presence of sad thoughts and feelings that come and go in waves or bursts, followed by moments of respite, as opposed to the more permanent low mood and misery of major depressive illness.”
Normal grief, according to him, is characterised by the preservation of “self-esteem, a sense of humour, and the ability to be consoled or distracted from the pain,” while depression is characterised by the presence of feelings of guilt and worthlessness, as well as the inability “to experience or anticipate any pleasure or joy,” according to him.
Complex grief is distinct from both depression and normal sadness in that it is difficult to process. The Center for Difficult Sorrow, directed by M. Katherine Shear, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University’s School of Social Work and head of the centre, defines complicated grief as “a form of persistent, pervasive grief” that does not resolve on its own. When “some of the normal thoughts, feelings, or behaviours that occur during acute grieving get a grip and interfere with the ability to accept the reality of the loss,” it is said to have occurred.
Complicated grief is characterised by repeated attempts to disregard the pain and deny or “rewrite” what has transpired in one’s life. In addition to physical and mental health concerns such as sadness, anxiety, sleep problems, suicidal thoughts and actions, and physical sickness, complicated sorrow increases the likelihood of developing a physical illness.
What Effects Does Avoidance Have on Your Health?
Margaret Stroebe, PhD, a bereavement researcher and professor of clinical psychology at Utrecht University, says that recent research has shed light on many of “the cognitive and emotional processes underlying complications in grieving, particularly rumination.” Dr Stroebe says that rumination is one of the most common cognitive and emotional processes associated with grief.
According to research, rumination, which is defined as repetitive, unpleasant, and self-focused thought, is a strategy for avoiding issues. Reminiscing is a means for people to divert their attention away from painful realities by focusing on bad content that is less frightening than the realities they wish to avoid. Depression is highly related to this type of thought habit, according to the research.
In addition to draining energy, ruminating and other forms of avoidance interfere with the body’s and mind’s natural capacities to integrate new facts and repair itself. According to Stroebe and other researchers, avoidance behaviour increases the likelihood of depression, difficult sorrow, and the physical health problems that accompany these conditions. Efforts to avoid facing the reality of loss can result in weariness, a weakened immune system, increased inflammation, and the prolongation of various disorders, among other things. information graphic on how mourning can impact your body.
What Is the Impact of Role Changes on Your Health?
When someone dear to you passes away, your social position shifts as well. This might have an impact on your sense of purpose and sense of self.
Caregivers must make particularly difficult transitions into new roles. They may feel depleted even before their loved one passes away as a result of the physical and mental demands of caregiving, and losing the person they cared for may leave them with a sense of purpose that they did not have before.
Researchers have discovered that caregivers not only experience high levels of stress during intense caregiving periods, but they also struggle to find the time and energy to care for their health, according to Kathrin Boerner, PhD, a bereavement researcher and professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.