Everyone knows that suffering a loss is unpleasant. However, did you know that grief can actually affect your physical health? Here are 5 ways that grief affects your body.
Increased risk of heart attacks.
In the immediate 24 hours after losing a loved one, someone’s risk of having a heart attack is increased by more than 20 times. Although this risk declines after the first day, it remains elevated for some time: your risk of a heart attack is 6 times higher in the week after you lose a loved one.
Although there are obviously other risk factors involved in a heart attack, extreme grief can be very stressful for the body. This elevated stress can in turn affect heart function, which can lead to a heart attack.
Additionally, some extreme stress levels can result in a change in size of one of the heart’s chambers, leading to symptoms that mimic a heart attack. Fortunately, this “broken heart syndrome” is usually not a serious health risk.
Grief elevates the adrenaline in your body. Over time, the added stress from this condition can actually cause the adrenal glands to burn out, leading to a condition known as adrenal fatigue. The reduced function of the adrenal glands can lead to chronic fatigue, increased body fat, and an increased susceptibility to disease.
Some effects of adrenal fatigue are only temporary and can be reversed once the grief passes. However, the longer you suffer from grief, the more severe the adrenal fatigue may be, and the greater are your chances of suffering lasting damage.
Reduced immune system function.
The longer you experience grief, the more likely it is that you will fall victim to an illness. This is because one of the effects of grief is to diminish your body’s ability to fight off disease. Although the exact physiological causes for this are not completely evident to doctors, the undeniable fact is that too much grief will drastically increase your chances of becoming ill.
Changes in brain activity.
Research shows that after prolonged periods of intense grief the neural pathways in the brain begin to change. This means that grief actually affects the way your brain operates. Some of these effects are measurable in terms of your tendency to gravitate towards negative, sad, or depressing thoughts.
Other effects are less obvious, but still just as serious. The brains of people who have suffered from significant grief may begin to develop problems regulating other body functions such as digestion, memory functions, and cardiovascular functions. This means that prolonged grief can lead to other health issues.
Discomfort throughout your entire body.
The effects of grief can encompass your entire body. Some common symptoms of grief include difficulty sleeping, muscle aches, headaches, and a loss of appetite.
Some of these problems–such as a loss of appetite–are probably related to the fact that when you are grieving you have a hard time enjoying things such as the taste of food. Others, such as headaches, may be related to the changes in blood pressure or elevated stress hormones that you release when you are grieving.
Regardless of their exact cause, the effects of grief can cause additional suffering at a time when the grieving person is already struggling. For these reasons, people who are dealing with a sudden or severe loss should take special care to manage grief.
Grief is a natural part of the process you go through when you are dealing with loss. However, grief which is too severe, or lasts for too long, can have detrimental effects on your health. If you have experienced a loss, consider seeking professional help to assist you during the grieving period.