Losing a loved one, whether they’re family or not, is never easy. While death can end a life, it does not end the relationship or the attachment. Grief is an inevitable part of life that follows the loss of a loved one and grieving is a healing process that is unique to every individual. Grief has a way of affecting not just your mind and emotions but your health too.
In 2020, a year highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, loss and grief has increased globally. It’s perhaps even more important now to understand how grief affects your health and how to engage in it in a way that not only cherishes the memory and life of your loved one but also helps you navigate through the rest of your life.
How grief affects your health
Researchers have studied grief and the grieving process for decades now and so, the medical, psychological and social effects of grief are very well known. A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2019 suggests that both morbidity and mortality following the death of a loved one tend to increase. This study mentions that in the last 40 years or so, scientists have observed that bereavement has a strong association with the mechanisms of the endocrine, immune, cardiovascular and nervous systems, which explains why those who are grieving the loss of a loved one feel a wide range of physiological and psychological symptoms for either the short or the long term.
An article in Harvard Health Publishing characterizes grief into two types:
- Acute grief is what most people go through, and this lasts for about 6-12 months after the loss. Acute grief usually resolves within this time frame and therefore has short-term effects on your health. Chronic stress is one of the most common features of acute grief and may be accompanied with depression, sleep disturbance or deprivation, anger, bitterness, anxiety, loss of appetite, fatigue and unspecified pain in the body.
- Persistent grief is the type that lasts for more than 12 months and is likely to have a more long-term debilitating effect on your health. Not only is this type of grief associated with all the symptoms of acute grief but because it’s prolonged, the effects of persistent grief on the entire body and mind are much more devastating. This type of grief can only be resolved with more structured and professional methods like cognitive behavioural therapy, complicated grief therapy and support strategies that can help manage the pain and stress of loss better.
How to cope with grief
Given this deep impact on your health, dealing with grief the right way is crucial. The Cleveland Clinic says that grief can often lead to an unhealthy spiral and it’s therefore important to cope with it collectively, instead of trying to do it alone. The following are some ways of coping with grief that you could use:
1. Don’t isolate: While it’s normal to feel lonely after a loss, it’s even more important to not cut yourself off completely. Isolation can make your feelings and health worse.
2. Be gentle: Embrace your emotions and don’t judge yourself for grieving or feeling any other emotions. You don’t necessarily have to keep yourself together during this time. Take time to process your feelings.
3. Get more rest: The shock and stress of a loss can be physically and emotionally draining, and it’s quite natural to feel more tired or fatigued. So, it’s important to get more rest and sleep than you usually do to give yourself the time to recuperate.
4. Don’t overlook nutrition: While food may not be right at the top of your mind, it’s important to maintain your nutritional intake to keep your energy levels and immunity up. Eat fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds and don’t forget to hydrate.
5. Exercise: Go for a walk or run, meditate, do some yoga or engage in any other exercise that brings you joy. This will not only help your body feel more active but also help your mind feel better.
6. Look ahead: Moving on can feel very overwhelming. So, set yourself some small, short-term and achievable goals in the beginning and work towards them. This will not only help you get back to a routine but also generate hope for the future.
For more information, read our article on Mental health.
Health articles on News18 are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.