Understanding How Grief Shows Up in The Body

For as emotionally heavy as grief can be, there often isn’t enough conversation about the physical symptoms associated with such loss. But the grieving process can be intensely physical, with people noting all kinds of bodily sensations from chest pain to stomachaches to muscle tension. This speaks to the complex interplay between the mind and body.

Understanding How Grief Affects the Body

The body stores emotions, and the grieving process can affect all parts of your health and well-being. It can also coincide with neurological effects, which may impact how you focus, concentrate, and store memory.

Research shows that a grief reaction results in the brain releasing stress hormones and other signals to the immune system that impact how the body perceives pain and physical discomfort. Studies also show a relationship between acute grief and increased inflammation, blood pressure, and faster heart rate.

Increased Pain

Some people note that grief increases the perception of physical pain. Experts don’t exactly know why this happens, but one theory is that a weakened immune system may impact how the body interprets sensory input. Those with autoimmune disorders or chronic pain may note flare-ups as they experience grief.

Broken Heart Syndrome

Broken heart syndrome is a real condition that’s formally known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, and it happens when the heart’s left ventricle weakens and mimics symptoms of a heart attack. However, in some cases, people have spontaneous heart attacks in response to grief. The grieving process may put someone at an increased risk of heightened blood pressure and heart rate.

Digestive Problems

One of the main physical symptoms of grief is gastrointestinal distress. These GI symptoms can emerge in many forms, but they may include stomach pain, acid reflux, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. It’s also common for people to note appetite fluctuations during grief. You may struggle with restricting food or overeating as a way to cope with difficult emotions. This, in turn, can magnify GI problems.


Grief may contribute to increased headaches or migraines, which could be a response to increased muscle tension. In most cases, these headaches aren’t inherently dangerous, but they can feel distressing, and they may impact your ability to focus, concentrate, or execute certain tasks.

Changes In Your Energy Levels

Many people experience difficulty sleeping due to grief. You may toss and turn at night or have vivid nightmares. You might also sleep enough at night, but you still wake up feeling groggy or tired. Lack of adequate sleep can exacerbate physical symptoms, which can affect your quality of daily living.

Does Grief Make You Tired?

It’s common for people to feel more tired than usual while grieving. This may be due to both the physical and emotional stress that comes with a significant loss. Fatigue is also a common side effect of depression, which may be magnified during bereavement. In addition, managing all the logistics after a loss can be exhausting.

How to Take Care of Yourself Physically While Grieving

Practice self-care: Self-care includes any intentional act of self-directed kindness. Self-care is multifaceted, and prioritizing it means looking after your physical, emotional, and social well-being. Even if you don’t have much free time, try to carve out a few minutes to engage in something that brings you joy or purpose.

Eat regularly: Eating can help keep your mood stable, and nutrition provides you with the much-needed energy you need to move through your day. Consider meal-prepping in advance if you’re finding it hard to dedicate the time or mental capacity to cook.

Get a physical health exam: The physical symptoms of grief may indicate the presence of an underlying health issue. For instance, some people only realize they have other GI or cardiovascular problems after first noticing symptoms while grieving.

Try to stick to a regular sleep schedule: Sleep supports every vital function, but sleeping too much or too little can adversely impact your well-being. Instead, aim to wake up and go to bed around the same time each night.

Build your support system: Connection and friendship can bolster both your physical and mental health. Stay connected to your loved ones and consider joining a bereavement or grief support group if you’d like to spend time communicating with people who truly understand the pain associated with such tender loss.

Therapy for Acute Grief and Physical Effects of Grief In Austin, TX

Grief can affect both your physical and mental health, and complicated grief may result in you experiencing intense symptoms without necessarily having names for them. The body holds onto painful emotions, and learning how to

As a grief therapist, I specialize in all forms of grief, including intense grief, prolonged grief disorder, anticipatory grief, and more. I also understand the intersection between grief, chronic illness, and other medical conditions.

If you think we might be a good fit, I welcome you to contact me to schedule a complimentary consultation.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759

(512) 988-3363

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