How Does Mental Health Affect Physical Health When Grieving?
We all know that unfortunately, grief is part of the human experience. Grief comes in all shapes and sizes, from the loss of a loved one to the end of a significant relationship. Despite grief being mostly associated with mental and emotional pain – did you know it can impact your physical health too? There are many ways in which grief can present itself physically – but there are ways we can alleviate these too.
Understanding that there is a Mind-Body connection
The idea of the mind-body connection recognises the significant impact our mental and emotional states can have on our physical health. Studies in psychoneuroimmunology have demonstrated that stress, anxiety, and grief can lead to a variety of physiological reactions, influencing different bodily systems. The interplay between the mind and body is intricate, with constant interaction and mutual influence.
Grief can have an impact on mental health
The experience of grief can take on various forms, such as feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, or emotional numbness. It is a deeply individual and subjective journey, varying from one person to another. The grieving process can be overpowering, giving rise to mental health obstacles like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These emotional challenges can intensify the experience of grief, establishing a cycle that can be hard to overcome.
The physical response to grief
Experiencing grief brings about notable changes in a person's body. Given that you’re suddenly putting ‘stress’ on your body, cortisol and adrenaline are released into your system. In the immediate aftermath, these hormones aid in coping with the initial shock and pain of the loss. Nevertheless, extended or chronic grief can disturb the delicate balance of the body, culminating in enduring health implications.
Is the immune system effected?
Chronic grief can weaken the immune system, making the bereaved individual more susceptible to infections and illnesses. The immune system's ability to fight off viruses and bacteria may be compromised, leaving them vulnerable to various health problems.
As if some cruel metaphor, grief can take a huge physical toll on the heart. Studies have shown that the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular issues increases significantly in the weeks and months following the loss of a loved one. The emotional pain experienced during grief can lead to increased blood pressure, inflammation, and changes in heart rate, all of which can contribute to heart-related problems.
It goes without saying that sleep is one of the most important things we do as humans. Sleep helps us to repair, regenerate and generally be alert and prepared for the day. Grieving individuals often struggle with sleep disturbances. Insomnia, nightmares, or frequent awakenings are common during the grieving process. The lack of restorative sleep can further impact mental health and physical well-being, creating a vicious cycle of grief-related issues.
Finding coping strategies
While grief is an inevitable part of life, how individuals cope with it can significantly influence its impact on mental and physical health. Some people turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse or isolation, which can exacerbate the negative effects of grief. On the other hand, healthy coping strategies like seeking support from loved ones, counselling, or engaging in physical activity can promote healing and resilience.
Practicing mindfulness can help
We know that this can sometimes be an annoying thing to hear but trust us. Practicing mindfulness can be beneficial for those experiencing grief. Mindfulness involves being present in the moment without judgment, allowing individuals to acknowledge and process their emotions in a non-threatening way. Research has shown that mindfulness can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, improve sleep, and even positively affect the immune system.
Should you seek professional help?
It's essential to recognise when grief is becoming overwhelming and affecting daily life. Seeking professional help from therapists, counsellors, or support groups can be instrumental in navigating the grieving process. These professionals can provide the necessary tools and support to cope with grief in a healthy manner.
At EverWith, we know first hand how much grief can impact our day to day lives. We created memorial jewellery to help bring you comfort in a time you may be struggling. Although no one can ‘take away’ your feelings of grief, you certainly can find comfort in the little things. Always take care of yourself, and do what feels right for you – but remember to seek professional help should you need it.