• The physical symptoms of grief are an oft-overlooked aspect of the grieving process, that creates a physical manifestation of someone’s negative emotions.
  • Physical symptoms of grief can include migraines, sore neck muscles, fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, and loss of appetite, among other issues.
  • While grieving, it’s important for those who have experienced a significant loss to acknowledge what they’re experiencing and take adequate steps to protect both their mental and physical health.
  • Solutions for reducing the physical symptoms of grief include yoga, meditation, Epsom salt baths, getting plenty of rest, and more.

When we think of grief, often the first thoughts that come to mind are of the emotional waves that come crashing down. Feelings of powerlessness, disbelief—and even shock.

These powerful and dysphoric emotions are not just limited to their impact on the mind. In fact, researchers have long known that the physical symptoms of grief are real, lending to a grieving process that is both a mental and physical challenge

Follow along as we explain how grief, bereavement, and significant loss can affect someone’s holistic health as well as what and how treatment can help.

How Does Grief Affect the Physical Body?

The physical symptoms of grief can affect the body in different ways. The main body systems that are affected by grief are the nervous system and the musculoskeletal system. Grief triggers the sympathetic nervous system and major muscle groups to be active; this is the nervous system responsible for “fight or flight” behaviors. 

This activation of this nervous system serves as a way for us to be hypervigilant, in order to avoid any potential future losses. The physical symptoms of grief can also affect the musculoskeletal system, as well. 

Over long periods of time, muscle tension may cause:

  • Cramps 
  • Soreness
  • Headaches 
  • Back pain 
  • Neck pain
  • Spasms

These sensations can also change and shift due to the duration and severity of the grieving process.

What Is a Common Physical Symptom of Grief?

There are actually many common physical symptoms of grief. Common physical manifestations of grief include: 

  • Crying
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headaches
  • Brain fog
  • Back pain
  • Gastrointestinal distress and stomach pain
  • Reduction in appetite
  • Increase in appetite
  • Muscle spasms 
  • Muscle pain
  • Dry mouth

Grief also impacts multiple areas of the human body, so it’s common to have multiple co-occurring physical symptoms described above.

Oftentimes, a grief event involves much of a person’s capacities and attentions and people often report that they feel less or more hungry or experience nausea as a result of the emotional intensity that they are experiencing. 

The severity of the physical symptoms are largely dependent upon the person’s level of denial and willingness to admit that they are experiencing above symptoms.

If you or someone you know has experienced a major loss in whatever form, it’s likely that the physical symptoms of grief will follow. Connecting with a mental health professional, who can help offer emotional regulation tools and processing skills, is an essential resource that shouldn’t be discounted lightly. 

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Can Grief Make You Physically Ill?

Absolutely, grief can directly cause physical illness.

The mechanism behind why physical symptoms manifest is due to your sympathetic nervous system being activated as a result of the direct intense mental and emotional pain that grief causes. Your body will often experience physical illness as a result; the more intense and chronic the grief or associated loss is felt emotionally, the more intense the physical symptoms of grief can be. 

What Body Parts Are Associated with the Physical Symptoms of Grief?

There are no specific physical body parts that are associated with the physical symptoms of grief. However, many clients report experiencing disruptions in gastrointestinal processes and digestion as well as headaches. Headaches are largely thought to be caused by high blood pressure (typically correlated with high amounts of stress), which we know grief can have a direct impact on. 

Also worth noting is that the gastrointestinal process is very delicate, and there are nerve endings in your stomach that directly commute with the brain. This means that emotions have a very direct impact on the gastrointestinal tract.

How Does Grief Change Your Face?

Grief can have direct impacts on hormone levels and blood pressure levels, both of which can cause changes in the physical appearance of your face. Acne is a very common hormonal response to dysregulation in the body and grief can absolutely cause breakouts and even intensify cystic acne. 

Further, experiencing high blood pressure due to the high emotionality of the grieving process can cause redness, swelling, and puffiness within the physical face. Lastly, prolonged chronic stress and anxiety are known to dry out the skin on your body, so this can cause patches and flakes.

Can Your Body Go into Shock from Grief?

Yes, your body can go into shock from grief. Physical shock occurs when an unexpected stimulus happens and the person experiencing this event has minimal protective factors in the moment. 

Feelings of powerlessness and lack of control can significantly increase the likelihood and severity of a shock response. Thus, mental health professionals see these symptoms occurring within the grieving process, thus the grief process can cause the body to experience physical shock. 

How Long Does Grief Affect the Body?

The duration of the grieving process is dependent upon many factors including the person’s risk factors, protective factors, and the nature of the grief event itself. Things that can prolong the grief experience can also prolong the time duration of how grief affects the body. 

Typically, people see physical symptoms of grief linger longer after they experience emotional resolution or closure from the grief event. The way that people interact with their grief and the level of care that they provide for their body can also determine how long; sometimes symptoms can last years.

How Do You Release Grief from Your Body?

There are many different ways to release grief from your body and the most effective way is dependent upon personal choice and convenience. The best way to figure out how to release grief and efficiently process it is to experiment with some of the activities listed here: 

All of these, and many other types of home remedies can reduce muscle tension and inflammation. It is also helpful to connect with a grief counselor, or a psychiatric provider who specializes in grief counseling, and who can educate you about the stages of grief and the healing process involving both mind and body.