5 ways your physical body processes grief

It may surprise you to learn that grief impacts on your physical body.

The feelings and emotions we experience in life are not just in our heads. Anything we experience impacts on our bodies in various ways. This blog is about some of the ways our bodies are affected by grief.


According to a small study, there is a greater risk than normal in the week after you have suffered a bereavement of having a heart attack. This is because the body responds to the stress of bereavement by increasing blood pressure, heart rate and clotting. Of course having a higher risk does not mean you will definitely have a heart attack. It is a good reminder to look after yourself in this time.

There is also a condition sometimes called broken heart syndrome where the left side of the heart, which pumps blood around the body, weakens. So if you are feeling tired and becoming more easily breathless and fatigued don’t push through. Take time out to rest and seek medical attention if it is needed.


For the first six months after bereavement you may find it harder to sleep at night. You may also feel your digestion is affected. This is because the stress of losing a loved one causes your adrenal glands to release more cortisol. This impacts on sleep and digestion.


Cortisol also affects your immune system by lowering your ability to fight infections. This also affects your immune response to vaccines. The result is you may find yourself getting sick more often and any vaccines you have may be less effective.


A lot of processing goes on in your brain during grief.

In order to work efficiently, your brain keeps very busy with housework. This includes tidying up neuronal pathways that are no longer needed.

When the one you love dies your neuronal connections to them are no longer needed. You don’t need to remove neuronal pathways every day and work like that is quite major for the brain to do. Don’t be surprised if you get headaches, fatigue easily, find it hard to string thoughts together, forget things and generally feel you are in constant fog.

Raised cortisol levels in your body just add to the brain fog.

Remember to be kind to yourself. You are not mad. You are not stupid. You are grieving and just getting through the day is an amazing achievement.


Because of the raised Cortisol levels in your body, you may find you are more likely to feel stressed and overwhelmed, even by things that were once simple and non stressful. You may also find it harder to calm down after stressful incidents.

Again, be kind to yourself. Allow yourself time to calm down. Practising simple meditations may be helpful. As your concentration is impacted it is better to keep mediations short.

Be mindful of your health and remember to get regular check-ups from your health practitioner. The stress caused by grief is known to raise inflammation in your body and that inflammation if more likely to become chronic. Inflammation is often experienced in sore joints, flare ups of skin conditions, allergies, arthritis and digestive difficulties.


Life is stressful. Some events cause greater stress than others and are therefore associated with greater risk of stress related illnesses.

Grief is one of the most stressful events you can experience.

A lot of the physical impacts of grief are caused by your body’s response to the pain you are experiencing. There are ways to limit that.

Understanding the impact of Grief is important.

Understanding that your body will be responding to the stress of bereavement will allow you to make allowances for yourself.

Focus on looking after yourself. I realise that is often the last thing you want to do in this situation, but it is important you allow time for you.


Remember grief is there to comfort you, not to make your life difficult. Bereavement makes life difficult. Grief just picks up the pieces.

Do see a doctor if you are experiencing severe physical symptoms.

In the meantime, when you feel able to eat try to eat nutritious foods. Get as much rest as possible. Try simple, short meditations. Even if you stop for a minute every so often to focus on your breathing and just let go of whatever is on your mind at the time can be helpful.


I can’t say this enough! Be kind to yourself. Don’t expect to be able to achieve magnificent goals at this time. Accept that some days, just getting through the day is a fantastic achievement.


It can help to talk to a counsellor about your feelings. To feel free to express all the thoughts that you may feel you can’t express to other people. To know you are not crazy. When you are ready you may find a support group is helpful.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

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