What are the mental and physical effects of grief?

Grief affects the mind and the body. It can go hand in hand with a wide range of physical and mental problems, including memory impairment, difficulty concentrating, nutritional deficiencies, poor work performance, and difficulties in relationships. Indeed, bereavement increases the risk of death from a variety of causes, including suicide.

The emotional maelstrom that grief stirs up can affect behavior and judgment. It's common, for example, to feel agitated or exhausted or to sob or withdraw from the world at times. Sometimes intrusive or upsetting memories surface, as can temporary sensations of things being unreal. Less commonly, grief can be associated with brief experiences of sensing the presence or hearing the voice of the deceased. Frequent thoughts of the person who died and feelings of self-reproach about aspects of the death are normal, too.

At first, your grief may permeate everything. You may find it hard to eat or sleep. It may be difficult to muster much interest in the life going on around you. Symptoms similar to those the deceased had described may crop up in your own body—a frightening experience if he or she died from an illness. Some people, particularly children, may have other physical complaints, such as headaches, stomachaches, dizziness, or a racing heart. Restlessness, appetite fluctuations, and trouble sleeping are also common.

Often, people note a surge in ailments such as colds and more serious illnesses. Studies show that people have a higher risk of sickness and even death after losing a spouse. Research stretching back for decades points to some reasons why this might occur. Many researchers believe that over time, stress-induced physiological changes cause or exacerbate physical ailments. Research reported in The Lancet and The Journal of the American Medical Association noted that the white blood cells in bereaved spouses were less able to fight off disease than they were before the death or compared with those of individuals who weren't grieving. Such research is yet one more reason why it's so important to take care of yourself during difficult times.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.