Grieving Can Impact Your Health, But You’re Not Alone

By Andre Bierzynski

Grief is a normal part of the human experience. Yet, everyone navigates loss in different ways. Coping with the death of a loved one is certainly a mental battle, but it can manifest in physical forms, too. It's important to know that bereavement can impact your health and wellness, but that you are strong enough to overcome it.  

Health complications from grief include: 

    • Heart problems: For some, grief comes with anger and stress. These feelings can elevate blood pressure and heart rate, especially for those already diagnosed with heart disease. Studies have shown that the risk of heart attack was 21 times more likely in the first 24 hours after losing a significant other. After one week, heart attack risk is still almost 6 times as likely. 
    • Depression: Depression is a psychological condition that can have dramatic effects on brain composition, hormones, chronic pain and more. It is extremely common for those dealing with loss, especially widows or widowers, to experience some type of depression during the first year after the death of a loved one. 
    • Lack of sleep: People dealing with grief face many sleepless or restless nights. Sleep directly impacts your health. A lack of it could increase the risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease
    • Weight gain or weight loss: Grief can trigger a change in appetite patterns. Rapid weight gain can occur due to emotional “comfort eating” while a lack of interest in food can spur rapid weight loss. Both come with dangerous complications such as high blood sugar or malnutrition.    

Here are ways to cope that can reduce the risk of health problems: 

    • Ask for help: Small household tasks like buying groceries and doing laundry can feel impossible when dealing with grief. Remember, there is no shame in leaning on the people around you for support. 
    • Stay active: Facing the reality of loss sometimes leads bereaved people to avoid getting out of bed. Surrounding yourself by those you love while doing the things you like to do will nurture your mind and your body. You can go on a hike, walk to a friend’s house, or garden in your yard. The endorphins released from moving your body will help to shift your mood even in the hardest of times.
    • Join a support group: Spending time with family and friends is very important during periods of heartache. But it can be even more beneficial to be around people going through similar circumstances. Support groups are offered online or in-person and can make a big difference in the way you perceive, navigate and heal through grief. 
    • Take time for yourself: You will only be able to healthily move through grief if you take time to digest your emotions, introspect, and be kind to yourself. Shoving your feelings inside will do nothing positive for your health. The more time you spend working on healing, the easier it will become. Try journaling each morning and night as a restorative way to process your feelings.
    • Talk to your doctor: It might not be your first instinct to tell your doctor about your emotional health, but it can be very beneficial. Your doctor may be able to refer you to helpful resources and make sure your grieving process remains safe and healthy. 

It is important to remember to take care of yourself during times of sorrow and heartache. If that proves too difficult, allow the people around you to lend a helping hand. Similarly, if you know someone dealing with grief, take that extra step to show them you care. Often times, a small gesture of love can be the most effective way to say, “I’m sorry for your loss and I am here for you.” 

Your journey through grief is personal, but you are not alone in this. 

This content is provided for your information only, and should not be relied on as medical advice; you should always consult your own physician before making changes to your own health or treatment plans.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at  1–800–273–TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.