This Pandemic has created loss of the most essential kinds – identity, connection, income safety, isolation from support systems and people, even loss of our daily routines and conveniences.
Initially, we are mobilized to find new ways of coping, new ways of living within the confines of an unseen threat. At some point grief follows, the natural response to loss of any and all kinds. We typically think of grieving as an emotional response but the first signs can sometimes appear in ways we don’t label as grieving.
Grief can be physical
- Your heart literally aches.
- A memory comes up that causes your stomach to clench or a chill to run down your spine.
- Some nights, your mind races, and your heart races along with it
- Your body can be so electrified with energy that you can barely sleep.
- Other nights, you’re so tired that you fall asleep right away. You wake up the next morning still feeling exhausted.
- You lose your appetite or are driven to eat too much.
- Headache, nausea, dizziness can occur
- It’s hard to focus or concentrate
What causes these physical symptoms? A range of studies reveal the powerful effects grief can have on the body:
Grief increases inflammation, which can worsen health problems you already have and cause new ones.
It batters the immune system, leaving you depleted and vulnerable to infection.
The heartbreak of grief can increase blood pressure and the risk of blood clots.
Intense grief can alter the heart muscle so much that it causes “broken heart syndrome,” a form of heart disease with the same symptoms as a heart attack.
Stress links the emotional and physical aspects of grief. The systems in the body that process physical and emotional stress overlap, and emotional stress can activate the nervous system as easily as physical threats can. When stress becomes chronic, increased adrenaline and blood pressure can contribute to chronic medical conditions.
Research shows that emotional pain activates the same regions of the brain as physical pain. This may be why painkilling drugs ranging from opioids to Tylenol have been shown to ease emotional pain.
“In normal, situational grief, the sad thoughts and feelings typically occur in waves or bursts followed by periods of respite. People usually retain “self-esteem, a sense of humor, and the capacity to be consoled or distracted from the pain” in normal grief.
What Can You Do to Cope With Grief?
Emotional and physical self-care are essential ways to ease complications of grief and boost recovery. Exercising, spending time in nature, getting enough sleep, and talking to loved ones can help with physical and mental health.
“Most often, normal grief does not require professional intervention. Grief is a natural, instinctive response to loss, adaptation occurs naturally, and healing is the natural outcome,” especially with “time and the support of loved ones and friends.”
For many people going through a hard time, reaching out is impossible. If your friend is in grief, reach out to them.
Grief researchers emphasize that social support, self-acceptance, and good self-care usually help people get through grief.
- Plan small rewarding activities and try to enjoy them as much as possible.
- Participate in physical activities like going for walks
- Social support helps most when friends reach out.
- Acknowledge it. Don’t spend the whole time trying to distract yourself or push it down.
- But the researchers all indicate professional help is needed to heal from complicated grief and unremitting depression.
And if you feel like your whole life has fallen apart, It has. Now you haven’t lost your ability to decide how to respond.
Part II will follow explaining the difference between “Situational Grief” and Compounded Grief.