I am in the process of grieving for my stepfather who died earlier this month from lung cancer. I’d known Bill for over 20 years. His death has shaken me and my mother, but together we will get through this difficult time. It is well known that grieving affects our mental health. However it is important to recognize the physical symptoms of grief and understand what is normal to experience.
What is grieving?
We tend to associate grieving with death. But grieving can also occur under such circumstances as divorce, job loss, or loss of a body part (as with a mastectomy or amputation). Grieving is a mourning period after we have lost something or someone so important to us, it feels as though a part of us is now gone.
Physical symptoms of grief: What is normal?
When we begin the grieving process, our bodies go into a state of mental and physical stress. These are some of the normal physical signs of grieving that I have and continue to experience:
Loss of appetite – Two days before my stepfather died, I could hardly eat and even had trouble eating for at least three days after his death.
Weight loss – Due to lack of eating, I lost about three pounds. With my appetite improving, I have gained back one pound.
Gastrointestinal distress – I already come from a family with a history of gastrointestinal troubles. But the grieving process has brought on more stomach aches and nausea.
Insomnia – I have odd sleeping patterns because of my night shift hours. But in the days before and just after my stepfather’s death, I found myself sleeping as little as 5 hours a day
Headaches – Sometimes they’re just annoying, but every so often I need to take a pain reliever.
Other physical signs of grief can include chest pain, fatigue, lower immunity, and even hair loss. However, I have not experienced any of these.
How I cope with physical symptoms of grief
Some of the things I have done to ease the physical symptoms of my grief and that I recommend to others include:
Eating small but healthy snacks like a banana or yogurt
Exercising helps with sleeping as well as taking melatonin supplements
Taking pain relievers like Aleve as needed
Watching funny movies and listening to music. This not only deals with the emotional signs of grieving but also provides a healthy distraction to help reduce physical stress on my body
Consuming Vitamin C supplements is good for immune health. Although I haven’t seen any immediate signs of my immune system weakening, I’d rather be proactive
Note: Some physical signs of grief like chest pain pain could be associated with a more serious health condition. Speak with your health care provider immediately if you experience other symptoms with chest plain like pain in your jaw or shoulder.
Family Caregiver Alliance (Caregiver.org), Grief and Loss
PBS.com, This Emotional Life: What is grief and loss?
University of Michigan: Mhealthy, Grief and Loss, 2010