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This Is How Grieving Actually Impacts Your Brain And Body

Experiencing a bereavement is an incredibly strange experience. It is one of the things that connects us all — we will all experience a loss at some point — but it can still feel staggeringly lonely. The world is still turning while yours is at a standstill. The life you knew with this person or even pet, is now gone for good and all that you’re left with is a tender emotional wound that can feel impossible to treat.

There have been moments in my own grieving when I have wondered if I will ever feel okay again. Will I laugh again? Will I feel that kind of love again? It may sound dramatic but the darkest days of grief can make life feel incredibly heavy with no relief in sight.

Of course, the easier days come in time. Soon, you are able to face the day again, enjoy the company of loved ones again. The grief doesn’t leave you but instead you exist with it. A new normal, with a little more to carry.

Nora McInerny, an author and podcaster who has spoken extensively about grief said in her book It’s Okay To Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too): “Someday, the universe will throw a wrench in the works and your well-oiled machine of a life will grind to a halt.

“And then it will keep going. Because after you got bored of crying and worrying, you took a deep breath and pushed it back into motion.”

Which is exactly true. But what happens in the meantime to your body and mind? These feelings aren’t light, they’re impactful and recovering from a loss is more than just waiting for the darkest days to pass.

What happens to your brain and body after a loss?

During a bereavement, it is more important than ever to look after yourself. While it may be tempting to try and get on as normal, your body needs rest and your mind does, too.

According to Healthline, grief can impact your immune system, leaving you prone to infection and inflammation.

It can also, unsurprisingly, impact our sleep. As the day slows down and there are less distractions as we settle into bed, it’s very easy for our minds to wander to our lost loved ones, leading to sleep disruptions.

Healthline said: “Problems sleeping can also cause further physical symptoms of grief. When you don’t get sufficient sleep, you usually experience less energy during the day from fatigue. You may have trouble focusing or headaches.”

Grief can also raise the risk of chest pain, possibly from the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol can cause blood vessels to constrict, slowing or stopping blood flow, which can lead to chest pain.

Healthline added that severe emotional and physical stress can trigger a condition called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also known as “broken heart syndrome.”

The condition can cause your heart’s left ventricle to become weaker, mimicking the symptoms of a heart attack (myocardial infarction). This type of cardiomyopathy is usually temporary and resolves within a month.

Meanwhile, the mental impacts of grief can worsen the mental health problems that you may already have or imitate mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

You may feel a lot of heavy emotions as you go through the stages of grief and while they are completely normal and understandable, support is available to help you.

How to help yourself when you are grieving

The bereavement charity Cruse recommend the following tips for helping yourself during this time:

  • Try to spend time in nature as walking outdoors in the fresh air is really helpful when you’re grieving

  • Keep a grief journal to help you make sense of your emotions

  • Try yoga to not only keep your body and mind healthy but to help you through the waves of grief

  • Find concrete ways to honour their memory such as memory boxes or even planting a tree in their name

You can also call the Cruse helpline on 0808 808 1677 for one to one support.

Help and support:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.

  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).

  • CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.

  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email help@themix.org.uk

  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.

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