• Janeen Mary Chasan

The Consequence of Grief [2 of 4]: Grief and the Body

Updated: May 14

Dear Subscriber,

In the last video and blog post, I shared a bit of my nerdy side with you as I got super scientific with what EXACTLY is going on in that pretty little brain of yours while you are grieving.

If you missed that, you can check it out HERE

Today, I’m going to continue to bare by nerdy side and talk about the biological effects of grief on your body and the importance of self care during grief.

Let me start of by telling you the story of Edna and Harry.

Enda and Harry were high school sweethearts. They had a very happy life together and both lived well into their 80’s. One fateful day, Edna died. It came to such a shock to her husband, Harry, because although Edna was 87 years old, she was pretty healthy and there was no sign of illness. Very shortly after, Harry died. After learning of Harry’s passing, everyone who knew Edna and Harry said that Harry died of a broken heart.

Dying of a broken heart sounds so tragically romantic and poetic but there is actually some science behind it and researchers began studying how the effect of bereavement was getting inside the body.

English terms for emotional distress are often wrapped up into physical ailments. We hear terms like heartsick, heart broken, or being sick with grief. Medical knowledge suggests that our bodies already know what words have long implied: that grief can literally make us sick.

And yes, broken hearted syndrome is a real thing. known as stress cardiomyopathy, It happens when extreme emotional stress causes one of the heart’s chambers to balloon, triggering symptoms similar to those of a heart attack.

Unlike in a heart attack, though, the condition is usually reversible and very rarely fatal, according to the American Heart Association, with a recovery time as short as a few days.

We always think of grief and mourning to be solely emotional. However, research suggests that the prolonged emotional response to a death may lead to physical symptoms like:

  • Exacerbation of already present physical pain

  • Lowered immune system

  • High blood pressure

  • Less pleasure in food

  • More vulnerable to infection

  • Increase risk of heart attack

  • Digestive problems

  • Fatigue

  • Feelings of heaviness

  • Headaches

  • Insomnia

  • Loss of appetite

  • Sore muscles

  • Weakness

Finally, prolonged high levels of cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.” may have harmful and stressful physical effects on the body. So the longer the stress from grief continues, the more stress hormones will be present in the body as well.

Abnormally increased amounts of this hormone also cause problems with the production of white blood cells. Without the normal production of these cells, our bodies cannot fight germs as well, increasing the likeliness of getting sick.

Self Care

I know I know. The term ‘self care’ gets thrown around a lot.

Self care is a movement that has entered into the workplace to prevent workers from burnout and exhaustion in the workforce.

But for grievers, the emphasis on self care is even more important. After the loss of a loved one, we are emotionally and physically exhausted.

I invite you to take a moment to plan a self care road map for yourself as you grieve.

Think about 3 things that bring you joy

Think about 3 comforts that help you to recharge

Think about 3 activities that you could do that fill you up.

If you have been physically run down and feeling like your body needs some TLC, make an appointment with your physician.

Love to you,

Janeen Mary Chasan LCAT ATR-BC

Licensed, Registered and Board Certified Creative Arts Therapist

Filmmaker, Podcaster and Online Educator


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© 2015 Janeen Mary Ilardo. No images, audio, or video may be reproduced without permission