Grief is physical

“Grief is a whole-body experience.” - Christina Chipriano

Grief can really take a toll physically on people. We hear all the time from people that grief can make you feel exhausted, like you really can’t get out of bed. Grief can change your appetite, so people often talk about not wanting to eat for weeks at a time after the death of a loved one. Grief can also cause inflammation in the body, so you often hear of individuals having health issues after the death of a loved one, and we believe there may actually be a biological cause to that. . .

Grief can have a wide range of physical effects.

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Digestion issues
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Changes in appetite
  • Back pain
  • Difference in energy levels
  • Joint pain
  • Overall muscle pain

We asked grievers to share the physical effects they experienced as part of their grief:

Play Video placeholderMichelle Winship: Exhaustion

Physically, I think grief made me exhausted. Um... I physically would be exhausted day to day, but I had to go through the motions of my day. I had to go to school. I had to go to work. I had to get my children ready for school the next day. know, grief doesn't stop because you've got to go on with your life. It just follows you.

Play Video placeholderJack StockLynn: Fatigue

That physical feeling of grief was, um, heavy and tired. And, in many ways it felt like I was sick with grief and my body didn’t work right. And as an athlete I'm used to my body working in a certain way, and it just wasn’t available. It was really a very strange experience.

Play Video placeholderSteve Bolich: Weight Gain

I found out in that un, in that situation I become a tension eater. There was so much food in the house and anytime I walked by food, I was grabbing it, I was eating it. I think I may have put on 10, 15 pounds, just from eating stuff. I don’t remember this, but I'm told there was a tray of sticky buns and I was walking around with it, eating it. I have no recollection of that but I don't doubt it one bit.

Play Video placeholderCarmichael Khan: Weight Loss

If I’m stressed and in grief, I would lose weight. I mean, I would lose a lot of weight. (chuckles) It’s not question of not eating, you know. It’s just um, your body just is operating, uh, metabolic activity is different. And um, people would ask me about eating and I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t care. I was consciously starving, I think it’s just, uh I had to go through that physical experience.

Play Video placeholderAsia Khan: Aches and Pains

My body felt pain. I felt aches. When I would wake up or when I was sad. Um, sometimes I’d have trouble breathing if I thought about her too long, like the sadness of it, not the bad, not the good memories. But, yeah, there was physical pain from the emotional state of it all, which was crazy. You wouldn’t think that you feel emotions would give you physical pain, but it would hurt.

Play Video placeholderKate Suddes: Rashes

I, a few days, probably about a week or so after his birth, I broke out into this full body rash and nobody could figure out what it was. And we finally figured out that you can get like stress hives and that basically it was like reaction to grief and you know. At that point we were just like, okay, great. It’s like just one thing after another.

Play Video placeholderZee Wolters: Tension

I think I really took a lot of the emotional grief, um, and sort of transformed it into physical pain. Um, because I was keeping, I was holding a lot in. I wasn’t able to articulate a lot of my feelings. Um, and so, I’m not just closed down emotionally and verbally, but also, kind of really physically held it in and really, you know, kept my body very tight to kind of hold all of that. Um, and it was very difficult to sort of physically relax. Because I couldn’t mentally or emotionally relax.

Um, and so I think a lot of the, the pain just came from being so tense and from holding all of that in. Um. I definitely, well, eventually, realized that my body was grieving when I wasn’t necessarily conscience of it.