How does grief affect our bodies?
In 2009 my mom lost her battle with cancer.
In 2012 my uncle Chuck passed away suddenly from cerebral hemorrhaging.
And in 2016 my uncle Dan lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.
As with the loss of any spouse or loved one, the losses of my mom and uncles came with a lot of grief for my aunts and dad. Grief is a serious thing that I feel most don’t pay enough attention to after death. Many people won’t allow themselves to process grief, resulting in mental and emotional problems. But some people DO go through the process of grief in a healing way. They make progress each and every day to allow their minds and hearts to process the loss of their loved one.
There is no one particular way to deal with grief. We all process it differently. For me personally I spent a few years not fully embracing the loss of my mom. I filled my schedule with activities, sports, friends, and school. It wasn’t until my freshmen year of college that I felt the affects of “delayed grief” which resulted in an unhealthy relationship with food and my body and a slight bout of depression.
I immediately sought out counseling and was able to then process my grief in a healthier way.
Even years later I visit therapists to deal with the loss of my mom because grief doesn’t ever really go away.
We hear so often about how the death of a loved one affects our mental health but we never hear much about how it affects our physical health! In his book, A Grief Observes, C.S Lewis said that bereavement is similar to the feeling of being ‘mildly drunk or concussed.
This made so much sense to me because I noticed a decline in health after my mom and uncles passed away. There isn’t scientific proof that these are link but I found it interesting that…
After the loss of my mom, my dad began to suffer from breathing, respiratory problems, and asthma after years of no major health issues. This could also be related to the poor air quality in California but never the less his health took a turn.
After the loss of my uncle Chuck my aunt was later diagnosed with breast cancer and thankfully by the grace of God is in remission.
And after the passing of my uncle Dan my aunt is now dealing with Afib and recently overcame sepsis of the kidneys.
Obviously in my line of work I’m incredibly interested in how our bodies respond to things. So I took it upon myself to research just how much does grief affect our bodies physically.
#1. Heartbeat irregularities
We often say the phrase, “My heart is broken.” But death can literally cause heartbreak. Statistics show that particularly in people who have lost a loved one (specifically a spouse) who are under the age of 60, have a 41% higher risk of A-Fib (unsteady heart beat).
This one is a given. But do we really know what affects anxiety has on our bodies physically? More than you might think. Anxiety releases a whole rush of chemicals to our bodies resulting in panic attacks, racing heart, shallow breathing, weight gain, headaches, muscle tension, insomnia, social isolation, and depression. Not only these but anxiety affects our immune system as well.
#3. Our immune systems
The recent loss of a loved one can drastically affect our immune system leaving us more susceptible to infectious diseases. (Particularly in the elderly)
#4. Skin and respiratory
Amanda Falkson, a psychotherapist/therapeutic said, “Manifesting physical pain isn’t unusual, nor are skin or respiratory issues. The skin is the largest organ of the body. When we are anguished, in pain and stressed skin issues can erupt. I’ve noticed skin issues in people particularly when they suppress their emotions. In Chinese medical tradition, lungs and sinuses are linked to grieving.”
Our skin is our largest organ so this only makes sense that when we are stressed or suffering from something emotionally our skin will let us know. Who remembers back in high school/ college your face only seemed to break out around finals or a big exam?
As for our respiratory system:
The American psychological association states in an article that,
“Psychological stressors can exacerbate breathing problems for people with pre-existing respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD; includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis). Some studies show that an acute stress — such as the death of a loved one — can actually trigger asthma attacks. In addition, the rapid breathing — or hyperventilation — caused by stress can bring on a panic attack in someone prone to panic attacks.”
So what do we do? How do we cope? How do we overcome these health issues? Grief doesn’t just go away. We don’t wake up one day suddenly not missing the one we lost. But there are steps we can take:
#1. Exercise. I’ll say it once and ill say it 1,000 times. The affects that exercise has on our bodies are astronomical. Even if its for 20 minutes a day and all you do is walk. Physical exercise releases endorphins that help in the healing process. It also allows blood to circulate more through your body resulting in a total body healing.
#2. Talk to somebody. If you haven’t spoken to a therapist/pastor/counselor about your loss of a loved one i highly encourage you to do so. This doesn’t make you weak. In fact it means the opposite. It means you have decided your health and your mental health are of the utmost importance and you refuse to let your well being suffer.
#3. Seek Jesus. (You guys knew I was going to put this in here)
Death causes grief thats for sure. But more than that it gets our minds wondering, “what happens after death?” That can be a scary thought for some. Especially if you have no religious background. One thing I can tell you is the amount of hope and peace I had when my mom passed away knowing that she was safe in her heavenly fathers arms once and for all after she left this earth. Seek Jesus for YOU. The Bible is the ultimate book of healing.
Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Psalm 34:18 “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”