After Marissa lost her husband, she often felt stuck in a dream. Her colleagues would speak to her, but she could only hear a part of what was said. Marissa could not sleep at night; she felt anxious about loss. She had just lost her husband in a tragic accident and was still in shock. She felt confused; her brain was working slower than usual. Marissa struggled to get out of bed in the morning. She often held back tears throughout the day.
Marissa felt a deep emptiness that she could not shake. Sometimes, she would think that she could see or smell her husband. These events would make her feel like she was losing her mind. Marissa felt overwhelmed with survivor’s guilt. She was not sure if she would ever be happy again. Her body felt weak and sick. Marissa had body aches and flu-like symptoms. Her doctor told her it was grief.
Our bodies tend to break down when stress lasts for extended periods. Grief is a particularly painful stressor that can feel like a broken heart. Here are some reasons that grief feels so physical.
- Elevated Blood Pressure: Experiencing grief can raise our blood pressure as much as moderate exercise. Grieving people are at risk for temporary high blood pressure and other heart-related problems.
- Inflammation: Higher levels of grief and depression after a loss can lead to inflammation. The inflammation can lead to body aches and other more serious physical conditions.
- Stress Hormones: Grief can lead to elevated stress hormones such as cortisol. These stress hormones can wear down our immune system and keep us up at night.
- Digestion: Grief can activate our fight or flight system. When cortisol levels rise, our body focuses on survival. When this happens, eating and digestion suffer.
- Sleep: Losing a loved one can result in a loss of security. Grief can result in struggling to fall asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, or oversleeping.
Here are some pointers to help you maintain your health during grief.
- Practice Self-Compassion: Recognize when you are being harsh with yourself. Understand that grief can slow you down. Use patience with yourself during this challenging time. Speak to yourself like someone you love.
- Focus on Love: Loss can feel heavy. In times of darkness, turn your focus to those you love. Ask to spend more time. Feel free to ask for social support. Express love and appreciation to those around you. Love yourself the way that you would love your lost loved one.
- Drink Water: Make sure that you are drinking enough water. Water can help us regulate our stress hormones. It also works as a detox. Water can also help us feel more clear-headed and present.
- Exercise: Exercise also helps us regulate our stress. Physical activity can also allow us to sleep at night.
- Decompress: Find time for yourself daily to decompress. Relaxation might look different for everyone. Finding time to unwind can help your nervous system escape fight or flight.