How Grief Affects The Body
With The Feeling Of Grief Being Almost Immediate At The Time Of Loss, How Does This Immediate And Continued Grief Affect The Body?
The spectrum of grief falls into so many different areas of life, including physical and mental aspects, which may or may not be detected at the time.
Grief gives a majority of people an uncontrollable feeling of overwhelm, almost as if the loss has pinned them to the spot where time and everything else is moving so fast around them.
Overwhelm can be incredibly daunting, both at the time and potentially for many weeks and months after the initial loss.
Although it is widely understood that grief is a series of emotional responses to the loss of a loved one, in reality, grief is a holistic process that encompasses both mental and physical responses.
Some are involuntary and unnoticeable until the worst of the grief has been experienced, and hindsight comes into play.
When we look more at how grief affects the body, we talk about how the body can react in line with the emotional responses that grief can provoke.
We, of course, appreciate that grief affects every person who encounters a sad loss in very different ways, and this is by no means an exact blueprint of what can happen or what you can expect to experience following a loss. Still, it is, however, a good indication of some of the potential physical responses that grief can have on the body.
Your Weight Can Fluctuate Dramatically
Grief is one of those feelings that contains so many other groups of emotions, and the complexity of the feelings as a whole can be incredibly overwhelming.
When the emotions attached to grief are so changeable daily and even hour by hour, it can be challenging to focus on other aspects of life; even the essential ones such as eating a meal.
Weight fluctuations are incredibly common in those experiencing the loss of a loved one.
The body will likely fall into two different “pre-sets” when it comes to eating; it will either be
- ravenous for comfort from the hurt that is being felt, guiding the bereaved into the solace of food to fill a void,
- It will switch off the appetite altogether as it will recognise eating as a “non-essential” task at that moment, and even create a feeling of nausea when food is thought about.
There is no telling which one will flag up first, or even if the emotional responses will trigger them at all, but what is helpful to know is that either can be considered normal in the short-term following the initial grief.
Over time, these default settings may start to ease, and your body will begin to behave more rationally when it comes to eating efficiently following a loss.
It is best to try as much as possible to avoid over or under-eating, as this is likely to make you feel poorly yourself, which is something no one wants.
Try little bites of healthy food every 2 hours, make sure your fluids are kept on top of to stay hydrated, and try a little light walking every so often to try and build up a little appetite to regain some strength and control.
Altered Sleep Patterns
Altered sleeping patterns can be a huge factor when looking at how grief affects the body, and the patterns (or non-patterns as the case may be) of sleeping and quality rest may become dramatically changed from what you are used to.
Sleep may be one of the physical responses that you have no immediate control over and one response to grief that can last for a long time after the initial loss has occurred.
Sleeping can be affected in a variety of ways following a loss, including:
- Over-sleeping- the automatic inclination to sleep through the pain and grief, which results in minimal waking hours throughout 24 hours, and you feel exhausted throughout the waking hours.
- Under-sleeping/insomnia- This could result from worrying about what’s going to happen next, what needs to be completed, or even fear over what the future is going to hold.
- Broken and Disturbed Sleep- Broken and disturbed sleep is incredibly common during the days, weeks, and months after experiencing a loss and is a widely felt side-effect of grief. The unusual sleeping regime is part of the cycle that repeats the notions of “Too tired to stay awake but too awake to go to sleep.”
When you are experiencing grief, sleep is one of the elements of your life that can be severely affected, and sometimes, you do not even realise that your sleeping routine has changed until it has happened for a while. A regular sleeping routine can be incredibly difficult to get back into.
It can be beneficial to try some natural sleep techniques if you are finding that you are achieving very little natural sleep.
You could try such things as warm drinks before bed, a relaxing bath, lavender essence in the bedroom, and maybe even some guided meditation for sleep on audio.
Suppose you are finding that you are over-sleeping and cannot achieve being awake for some time. In that case, you may like to try something that increases the adrenaline in your body to give you some gradual endurance, such as a brisk walk or some housework that puts you a little out of puff. These may seem like the last things you want to do, but a little every day will help to regulate an estranged regular sleep pattern.
Altered Levels Of Concentration
While we are talking about how grief affects the physical element of your holistic self, we also need to consider how grief affects the mind.
As we have seen, grief can be an overwhelming experience, even for the toughest of the tough, and this can, in a majority of experiences, affect your levels of concentration while carrying out everyday life.
Elements of concentration that can be affected may be:
- Not being able to follow the flow of a conversation
- Being spoken to and not actually hearing anything that anyone said
- Feeling in a “void.”
- Losing focus on the things you usually take pleasure from
- Not being able to make decisions
- Daydreaming or regressing
As well as everything here, grief can also play tricks with the mind, and it is believed that there are some aspects of the brain that replay significant memories and sounds associated with the loss of a loved one.
This replay and recall element can affect concentration immensely if you see something in your mind’s eye or hear a sound that provokes thoughts regarding the person you have lost, and it can knock you off course.
It may be helpful to try some straightforward mindfulness techniques to ensure that everything you are doing is relevant and necessary.
Grief is challenging, and it’s always advisable to only do what you can manage and what is required during the early stages of grief.
By making sure everything you are trying to achieve is deliberate and needed, you may be able to improve your levels and depths of concentration little by little.
You may find that your loss may trigger feelings of needing to constantly seek comfort from and be physically close to the people who were closest to the person you lost.
These feelings can feel a bit overwhelming if you have not had them before. Seeking comfort can be a way to express that you are feeling lots of grief while connecting those feelings to the people who meant the most to them, in a way to feel close to the person you lost to.
Suppose comfort is something you are seeking, which is a totally normal emotion to feel. In that case, you may find that having the ashes of the person close to you always will serve as some of the comforts you are looking for.
Turning ashes into jewellery is a really great way of providing comfort consistently as you will be wearing the jewellery with the ashes inside, so not only does it look beautiful, you will have the comfort right there whenever you need it the most.
The degrees of which loss can affect the body can vary from person to person, and what one person may be able to manage, another will find that very same thing breaks them apart.
While there are many ways of how grief can affect the body, we are confident that people who experience loss may experience these main features mentioned above in one form or another.
The feeling of grief after losing a loved one is a natural process, but it is by no means a carbon copy of structured events for everyone.
Whatever you feel, and whatever degree you feel it, you have to know that it is ok in body, mind, and soul. It is ok to feel it and acknowledge that we are feeling it, and that is the magic part where the healing begins, and the light at the end of the line can reappear slowly but surely.
Be aware of consistent irregular patterns in the common areas listed above, which are the main areas where grief can start to affect the body, as this may cause long-term issues with your physical health further down the line. Accepting the sporadic behaviour is normal after loss is ok; however, you must gradually revert to some sort of normality to enable you to return to a normalised routine in life.
The body can be inadvertently affected by grief. It can too get overwhelmed in line with the emotions you feel, so it is essential to take small steps towards making sure that when the deep waters of grief become more shallow, you can emerge healthy in your body and mind.