A study in grief

WHAT IS GRIEF?

Grief is the natural reaction to loss.

Grief is a strong, sometimes overwhelming emotion for people due to a loss, particularly of someone or something that the person had a strong bond with or affection for. Although, grief can also be for a relationship that has ended badly, a healthy lifestyle after a terminal illness, or other losses, such as a family home or a job.

FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF:

Denial

Denial is a conscious or unconscious decision to refuse to admit that something is true. This is natural as grief brings sudden and intense emotions. It’s a survival instance to ignore these feelings.

Anger

Anger is an emotional or physical act in which people attempt to place blame. Often, anger is used to hide the emotions being carried through bitterness and resentment.

Bargaining

Bargaining is a negotiative process in which people attempt to distance themselves from reality. This is done in an effort to fight the feelings of vulnerability and helplessness that comes with grief.

Depression

Depression is the feeling of loss of control or hopelessness with a situation. This stage can be heavy and may include isolation, confusion, tears, and heaviness.

Acceptance

Acceptance is a feeling of stability or resignation as people become an active participant in their life. It is not “moving on” from the grief of forgetting about the loss, but instead finding a way to come to terms with your loss and continue life anyway, searching for happiness.

HOW DOES GRIEF AFFECT YOUR BRAIN?

Grief is primarily an emotion and several regions of the brain play a role in emotional regulation, memory, learning, and multi-tasking.

When you’re grieving, a flood of neurochemicals and hormones dance around in your head, touching and affecting all those other areas too. This can cause hormone disruptions, disturbed sleep, loss of appetite, fatigue, and anxiety. When you’re overwhelmed with grief, your brain is too busy dealing with thoughts of sadness, loneliness, and many other feelings to focus on getting the dry cleaning.

Think about depression. Those suffering from depression can and often do have abnormal sleeping patterns, an unhealthy relationship with food, memory loss, and trouble focusing.

Grief brain is a real thing. And it sucks. But it’s not forever.

PHYSICAL RESPONSES TO GRIEF

Anxiety and depression affect you physically, so it makes sense that grief would too. The stress of losing a loved one to death and the subsequent grief can reduce or suppress your immune system, making you more susceptible to coming down with a cold or catching the flu.

Grief takes a serious tole on your body and immune system, often through inflammation making you vulnerable to sickness and infection.

Stress is linked to many physical issues, including back pain, sleep issues, inflamed joints, and increased blood pressure. That doesn’t even mention the physical quirks different people have when they’re stressed, such as biting their nails, pulling at their hair, or picking at their skin.

And the physical response of depression is also common with grief. While depression is not a given or normal part of grief, it can happen as a complication or consequence of long-term grief or of not dealing with grief.

When you’re persistently feeling sad or lost, then your interest for things you used to enjoy diminishes. Depression can cause headaches, chronic body aches, and pain that may not respond to medication.

Disrupted sleep and eating habits can also cause digestive problems, such as constipation, diarrhea, stomach pain, a “hollow feeling” in the stomach, queasiness, or feeling nauseated.

Grief can cause people to not sleep as much. This can deprive a grieving individual of the necessary recuperative benefits provided by a good night’s sleep, affecting physical coordination, cognitive functionality and response, and blood pressure.

Or, you may be like me, and sleep too much when you’re grieving. Sleeping for too many hours at a time, or throughout the day, can actually sap your energy and leave you feeling lethargic.

The same is also often true for food. Many people either eat too much or too little while grieving.

In the weeks and months following a loss, people may exercise less, eat more, overeat as a coping mechanism, eat junk food, and isolate themselves, causing weight gain and other health issues.

Others will “under eat,” fail to eat regular meals, or simply eat nothing at all. Particularly during the first several days or weeks, mourners tasked with planning the funeral and/or memorial may be too busy or distracted to eat. In addition, weight loss might result from the general lack of energy to cook a meal at home, venture out to a local restaurant, or even make a phone call to order in.

COPING – SO WHAT NOW?

Unfortunately, there is no miracle pill for fixing grief.

I wish I could give you a method to eliminate or avoid the physical effects after experiencing a loss.

I really do. But I can’t.

While difficult and often painful, grief is a normal and necessary response to the death of a loved one, and most people will see a reduction of grief-induced physical effects with the passage of time.

But, you can work on it. You may want to talk to your doctor, especially if the physical responses don’t lessen over time.

You should also consider joining a support group or seeing a therapist or counselor. Grief counseling can do wonders for the healing process.

Also, try the following:

  • Planning your meals ahead of time
  • Working out or go on walks
  • Regulate your sleep
  • Drink more water
  • Journal
  • Practice self-care

Grief is like slow dancing with the devil but the song never ends. People try to capture it’s likeness in poetry, art, and song. But I’m not so sure there is anything that can truly show you what grief looks like. What it feels like. Nothing except experiencing it.

This information is just the BRIEFEST overview of what grief does to a persons body. What it does to their mind. But this doesn’t even breathe along the surface.

So, today, try to love on the people you know who are grieving. Sit with them. Don’t try to make it better. Don’t try to tell them you understand, even if you have grieved yourself. Just sit and listen to the music.

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