Grief can affect each of us in a number of different ways. It isn’t just the mental and emotional impact that the loss of someone close can have on us that we should be aware of. It is well-documented that grief can have very physical symptoms, too.
Many of these symptoms are things we would also associate with other mental conditions like stress or anxiety. They include things like feelings of tightness in the chest, a hollow feeling in the stomach, over-tiredness and a lack of energy, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping. These are common to a wide range of circumstances when we find ourselves under considerable mental and emotional strain.
Left unresolved, these kinds of physical signs of stress can easily develop into something more serious. Not eating and sleeping properly, for example, weakens our body’s natural defenses and leaves us more exposed to diseases we’d usually fight off. Irregular eating patterns over an extended period can cause damage to the digestive system. The stress hormones that leave us feeling tight in the chest can cause heart problems.
In other words, grief can make us ill, mentally and physically. Coping with feelings of loss, emptiness and profound sorrow is not just a case of coming to terms with a loved one’s passing and moving on. It is essential for looking after our own long-term well-being.
Counselors and professional therapists tend to agree that problems with grief start with the ‘flight’ instinct – when confronted with the powerful flood of emotions typical after someone close to us dies, avoidance is often a natural reaction. We tell ourselves we don’t know how to deal with the situation, we can’t cope.
Not only does this tend to worsen our despair, but it also makes us inclined to avoid talking about how we are feeling, either because we don’t know where to start or because it hurts too much. This is made worse in older age when partners lose their companion – over 3.6 million older people in the UK live alone, while one in three elderly Americans reports feelings of loneliness.
It’s good to talk
But talking is recognized as a key part of the grieving process. It acts as a vent for all of our confused, pent up, overwhelming emotions. Once out there and shared, we might be able to start to make sense of them, put them in perspective. We might also take comfort in knowing that other people feel the same way, that we are not alone.
Sharing your loss
That is why sharing your grief with other family and friends is important. Opening up to a therapist further down the line is one thing, but by then your grief has already become a problem. Accepting the comfort and companionship of fellow mourners can mean this is never necessary.
This need not even be in person, such as when people learn they have lost a friend they have made online, and then finding a place and group to support them also on the internet.
An on-going process
A common mistake people make when dealing with grief is seeing the funeral at the end of the mourning process. As important and as reassuring as it is to gather together all the friends and family of a person who has passed away to celebrate their life, a one-off event does not reflect the realities of how we cope with grief. It can take much, much longer to get over, and you need the mutual support of other people throughout.
If the dearly departed has been buried, visiting the grave regularly is a comfort for many. If a loved one has been cremated, placing an entry in the book of remembrance at the cemetery provides a lasting memorial, and an annual commemoration as well as a chance to reflect on loving and cherished memories.
So, if you have just lost a loved one and you are arranging their funeral, don’t let that be the last time you reach out to the wider circle of people who knew and cared for them. Keep in touch, perhaps send out a thank you card after the funeral making the point that you are there for them if they need you. If you are there for other people, they will be there for you.
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About The Author:
Stacey Smith is a freelance health writer. She is passionate to write about women’s health, dental health, diabetes, endocrinology and nutrition and provide in-depth features on the latest in health news for medical clinics and health magazines.