Covid-19 Losses – How Grief shows up in your body, Part I

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.

Healing a broken heart, Part I – Healthy Grieving

When my heart was broken by a failed romance I had the advantages of  49 years of life experience and training as a psychotherapist.  I knew something about how emotions work, had survived difficult times before and knew I would live.

Still, I was devastated. Feelings are feelings and I was in pain. By using my resources and searching for new ones, I did survive.  Here is what helped me recover more quickly:

1. CRY and don’t ANALYZE
Crying literally causes a chemical change that gives you relief. Crying rids your body of stress hormones that keep you sad. Let yourself cry and get these chemicals back in balance. This is usually not the time to figure out what went wrong. There is a good reason to wait before you analyze. Because of the way the brain works, when you are feeling sad you tend to think negative thoughts.  Often trying to figure out what went wrong when you are sad, you end up with finding lots of negatives that make you feel worse. Just cry and in about 10 to 20 minutes your mood will improve.

The same pain pathways that create physical pain also are involved in emotional pain, so it actually helps emotional pain to take painkillers. A study done at Ohio State University suggests that acetaminophen-containing drugs like Tylenol may reduce the intensity of emotions. It may blunt positive emotions as well, so use with care.


Research shows that touch releases positive neurochemistry. Get and give all the hugs you can. Hug your friends, your cat, your stuffed animals, yourself. People need tactile stimulation.

Exercise may be the last thing you want to do. You may not feel like moving at all. In long-term relationships, just being around your partner stimulates your body to make endorphins, one of the bodies “feel good” chemicals. When your loved one isn’t there anymore, you don’t create as many.  It is one reason you feel so lousy when a relationship ends. Exercise is a good way to generate endorphins and replenish the neurochemicals you’ve lost.

Chocolate contains neurochemicals that our bodies create when we fall in love!  Consider chocolate to be  “replacement therapy”.

There is strong temptation is to tell yourself you are unloveable and something is wrong with you. The truth is that you were lovable enough to get the love in the first place. You didn’t intentionally lose it. Focus on your lovable qualities and attributes. Write them down. Make a running list. Also make a list of positive things you still have in your life:  health, family, friends, pets, skills, favorite activities, even TV shows, music or books.

Lastly, I reminded myself that when my children hurt  I gave them comfort, sympathy, and a chance to tell me what happened.  As an adult, we often blame ourselves thinking we should know better and end up feeling worse.

I came to believe strongly that the pain of my broken heart was enough punishment for any wrong choice or mistake made!




Part III, Putting the Loss Behind You