Have grief and loss affected your health?

If you've ever been through the loss of someone close to you, then you may find yourself taken by surprise at some of the physical symptoms you experience, such as brain fog, fatigue, headaches, digestive issues, or anxious thoughts. It's common to think of grief as causing predominantly emotional discomfort but in many cases, physical symptoms can be felt too. The impact of some losses can be considerable, affecting our whole being.

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As a nutritional therapist and holistic grief coach, I find it interesting to hear how clients describe the impact of their loss in physical terms. One woman described the physicality of her grief as like to being run over by a double-decker bus; another told me her brain felt as though it was swollen and stuffed with cotton wool.


The stress of grief

Grief can place enormous stress on the body. Like other major stressors, grief has the ability to affect the endocrine, immune, nervous, digestive and cardiovascular systems. It can potentially increase inflammation in the body quite dramatically.

The physical manifestations of grief are often overlooked by the conventional grief support on offer (counsellors and therapists) yet there is a surprising amount of research into the effects of grief – studies that, for example, show that becoming widowed is associated with an increase in the risk of mortality of between 48-66% within the first few months of bereavement; that the likelihood of bereaved spouses having a sudden cardiac death rises significantly
in the six months following a death; and that traumatic grief can precede illnesses such as cancer.

Broken heart syndrome

People will sometimes say "she died of a broken heart" and, in some instances, there is truth in this if the loss has been particularly traumatic. There are several studies to be found on broken heart syndrome, also known as reversible heart failure. This is now becoming recognized as a very real medical issue and is found, almost exclusively, in post-menopausal women. Apparently, scans show that the heart of someone with broken heart syndrome can look identical to the heart of someone who has heart disease. Fortunately, broken heart syndrome can usually be reversed given time, and if grief is supported effectively both physically and emotionally.

The physical impact of grief

However, in most cases, the physical impact of grief may more commonly reveal itself in symptoms such as IBS, insomnia, brain fog, low mood, poor appetite, feeling tired or, conversely, 'wired'. Many people (including practitioners) don't necessarily make the link to grief as the underlying cause of these symptoms, especially if the bereavement isn't perceived to be recent (though actually early grief is considered to be the first two years). Yet a lot of these issues may not have been present before the loss - and even if they were, they may have now worsened considerably.

Recognising grief as the root cause can be the start of resolving the physical symptoms, as well as improving an understanding of how grief can have a far-reaching impact. This can then assist with processing all aspects of grief, helping us to cope better with our loss and begin to live a life alongside our grief whilst at the same time acknowledging all that we've been through.

The body keeps the score

In some cases, physical symptoms may appear because grief is not being fully processed on an emotional level and then 'the body keeps the score.' In other words, the body may 'express' the grief for us. That's why an integrated, holistic approach to grief can be so important and why working with someone who can help you address both the emotional and physical impact of grief - and the understanding of how one affects the other - can be the best way to help you heal on all levels.


How I can help you

As a BANT nutritional therapist and grief coach, with personal experience of traumatic loss, I take a unique approach to supporting clients whose physical symptoms may be the result of their grief and loss. As a coach and certified grief educator, trained by leading grief expert David Kessler, I can support you with the emotional impact of grief too. If you like the sound of this integrated approach to dealing with grief and loss, then please get in touch via my website.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, W7 2DR
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Written by Vanessa May, BSc Nutritional Medicine, ILM Wellbeing Coaching, BANT, CNHC
London, W7 2DR

Vanessa May is a BANT registered Nutritional Therapist with sixteen years experience. She is also a trauma-informed holistic grief coach and certified grief educator who helps clients address both the physical and emotional aspects of grief and loss.

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