Our emotions aren’t futile. They have a huge impact on our overall well-being. One such emotion is grief. Grieving is always counted as a single unit, but it is multifaceted. It comes with pain – both physical and mental. That’s why it becomes all the more important to understand this emotion to tackle it better.
One of the biggest reasons for grief is the loss of a near and dear one. Dr Sonal Anand, psychiatrist from Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai suggests that grief comes with a purpose i.e. to serve our emotional health, and is essential for us to adapt to our new life circumstances.
“Grief is an important emotional and cultural aspect of human evolution. Unfortunately, in some cases, grieving can become prolonged and cause immense distress leading to pathological grief which is an altered mental state requiring treatment”, she says.
Here are the five ways recommended by Dr Anand, which explains how grief affects our body:
Any kind of stress causes the release of cortisol, and the flight or fight response makes react in different ways — whether it is faster heart beat, increase in blood pressure, dilatation of pupils, increased breathing, or certain endocrine changes.
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“The body can adapt to all these changes for a short while, but chronic exposure to such situations comes with its own set of problems. Chronic hyperdrive predisposes to the metabolic syndrome conditions like diabetes, hypertension, heart problems, mental disorders”, she says.
Grieving way too much can numb the body, and give rise to sleeping problems. Stress hormones released in the body keeps it awake. The diurnal variation can become a problem too.
“Some people have inverted sleep problems where they sleep in the day, and remain awake in the night. A few people may have hypersomnia, where they suffer from excess sleeping issues, which can last for a few days. This is a kind of defence mechanism to avoid dealing with the situation”, she explains.
Dr Anand suggests that body aches are also seen in people, due to the constant release of cortisol. Muscle is also experienced by some people.
“New onset headaches can be seen or rise in frequency of migraines is also common”, she cautioned.
Grieving can alter your appetite to a large extent. Physical needs are left behind due to the trauma of grief. Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and irritable bowels could be the changes seen in the gastrointestinal system. Some people could go through stress eating or binge eating and find comfort in eating. Weight loss or weight gain, nutritional deficiencies are the after effects.
We all know how immunity has become a buzzword these days, but grief can make you compromise on that too. “Stress triggered by grief causes inflammation in the body and weakens the immune system. It also causes direct changes in the blood indices, which can lead to a weakened immune system. This predisposes to other infectious or worsens any ongoing inflammation”, she explains.
“Anxiety and panic are physical signs that you experience, while grieving. There may be a complete denial of death initially, but as the grieving continues acceptance comes in gradually. Feeling sad comes in waves, and between these spurts, opportunities to be consoled are accepted. Some people feel a strong urge towards alcohol , smoking or even drugs for relief. However one must realise that these high risk behaviours are detrimental. Self-harm ideation can also become a coping mechanism”, she says.
Not just that but she said that there is a sudden drop in the concentration levels of the person. Too many thoughts run in their head, flashes of old memories, or traumatic events are seen over and over again.
“Crying is a physical response, and can actually relieve the body of excess pressure. Having a few emotional changes are bound to happen during normal grieving. Help must be sought if grieving is leading to depression or too many physical problems, or the inability to cope”, she concludes.
The bottom line is that even though grieving and crying your heart out can make you feel lighter and better, if it is prolonged it can mess up with your head and health. So, watch out for all these signs and don’t get trapped.