How Grief Impacts Health

by Melissa Chichester

Nobody is immune to the pain caused by the loss of a loved one.

It is common to have feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, and many other emotions while processing grief. Grief doesn’t look the same from person to person, either. While grief doesn’t know age and anyone can be impacted by it, as adults get older they often find the loss of friends and family a more frequent occurrence. Because of this, it is necessary to acknowledge feelings of grief, how it influences physical and mental health, and smart self-care steps for healing.

The classification of grief

Harvard Medical School describes grief as typically being classified into two categories: acute and persistent. While acute grief lessens with time, persistent grief lasts longer and is more difficult to overcome.

Persistent grief may require intervention from a physician or therapy to work through the grieving process.

The type of loss also influences how people respond to grief. The death of a child or losing someone in a sudden or violent manner may intensify grief emotions.

Grief and health

While there are here are some common emotions that many people experience when responding to grief as identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying (1969). Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are the stages outlined by Kübler-Ross. When an individual is unable to move past these phases, emotions behind grief response intensify and may cause health problems, including:

  • Intense sadness and feelings of depression
  • Isolation from friends, family, and social activities
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • An increased risk of illness, including heart problems
  • Inability to stop blaming yourself

Emotional pain that is not managed may lead to even more damaging health complications, including substance abuse or a mental breakdown.

Coping with grief

Healthcare professionals are still trying to figure out how to prevent grief because it is so personalized and dependent on circumstances surrounding loss and life experiences. At the same time, there are steps that can be taken to manage and improve grief response.

Talk about it: Talking about the pain of loss with a support group, friend, or family member can help you process the death. Denying the death may lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Maintain physical health: Although it is tempting to skip medications and doctor appointments, this is an essential time to keep up with physical health. Make sure medications are filled and all health appointments are booked for six months to one year to avoid the temptation to skip them.

Exercise: It doesn’t have to be a lot, but even a twenty-minute walk or ten minutes of stretching during the day can help increase feelings of wellness. If you lack motivation, ask a friend for help!

Celebrate your loved one: Just because your loved one is gone, that doesn’t mean they are forgotten about. Frame a photo, donate to a charity in their name, organize a 5K in their name, or create mementos that honor your loved one! Honor your relationship in a way that fits you.

Keep track of sleep: Grief is physically and mentally exhausting. Many people have trouble sleeping after a loss. Keeping a regular sleep routine can help maintain physical and mental health while processing the difficult emotions surrounding grief.

If grief is negatively impacting your health, it is best to discuss it with a licensed healthcare professional.