Can Grief Break Your Heart? by Emily Thiroux Threatt

Emily Thiroux Threatt, author of Loving and Living Your Way Through Grief, has written a new blog post on the effects grief can have on your mind and body.

Grief actually does have physical effects on your body which can be severe. Have you had your heart race through the night leaving you exhausted when you wake in the morning? Has your whole body ached? Do you barely have enough energy to get around? Have you had unexplained headaches? Has eating become a challenge, or does just the thought of eating make you nauseas? Is your blood pressure high? All of these symptoms are common especially in early grief.

Studies have shown physical reactions your body can have to grief, each of them causing lots of symptoms. Inflammation is your body’s attempt to dealing with things that harm it. When your body gets inflamed during grief, it can worsen health issues you are already dealing with or it can cause new ones.  This inflammation can affect your immune system which can lead to infections. You may develop high blood pressure or a racing pulse. All of these issues require medical attention. They may lead to PTSD, which my doctor told me I was dealing with. Or they may lead to something called Broken Heart Syndrome where intense stress leads to your heart becoming physically weak.

The message here is to take care of yourself. Here are a few things you can do.

  • Eat wisely. I know eating may be the last thing on your mind, but your body needs the strength and energy food provides. For me, I had a really hard time eating at all and lost much weight after each husband died. This led to low energy. I have also known many widows who gained lots of weight, using food as a comfort. This also doesn’t you’re your energy level and can lead to many other physical problems. The key here is good choices both in what you eat and the amount of what you eat.
  • Move your body. Exercise is likely to be the last thing on your mind, but just sitting can be deadly. Do something you really like. Walking, swimming, dancing, and running are all good. As is yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong. There are lots of good videos online that you can watch and move along with.
  • Sleep can be tricky in grief. Often you either want to not stop sleeping or get out of bed, or you can’t seem to fall asleep no matter what you do. Figure out what works best for you and aim for 8 hours of sleep for every 24. I couldn’t sleep for a long while after Jacques died and finally got a prescription from my doctor. I ended up taking it way too long, not realizing that was a problem. Stopping taking it was hard at that point, but I did. Please be careful if you do try taking something. And be sure to be clear with your doctor how long you should take it.
  • Talk to someone. And talk about whatever you want to whether it be the story of your loved one’s transition or the flowers in your garden. Talking can be hard, but it can help so much to get things out instead of bottling them up inside. If you don’t feel like talking to a person, write. Write and email, text, or letter. Or write in your journal. Expressing what you are feeling helps take the pressure off. And don’t hesitate to go to a counselor if you feel you want to. Or you can join a grief group like the private ones I offer online where you can meet new friends virtually.

Amy Davis offers this great advice: “Lean into it. You only get to grieve your loved one once. Don’t spend the whole time trying to distract yourself or push it down. It does go away eventually, and you will miss feeling that connected to that person again. And if you feel like your whole life has fallen apart, that’s fine! It totally has. Now you get to decide how to put yourself back together. Be creative. There’s new life to be lived all around you.”

As I always say, live in the moment. Focus only on what you are dealing with in any moment. And be sure to love yourself in the process.