How Grief Affects Your Mental Health

The loss of a loved one is a universally devastating experience. You may go through a wide range of emotions—sometimes conflicting, often debilitating—as you try to process grief and rebuild after a profound loss. 

Grief has two types based on how long you mourn: acute and persistent. The first is the more common type of grief that takes place in the first six to 12 months after a loss. Over time, it dissipates. The second type is grief that extends for more than a year and may require clinical intervention. 

In both types of grief, experiencing stress is common since your body might release higher levels of cortisol or stress hormones to respond to the loss, negatively affecting your sleeping and eating patterns.

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The Many Faces Of Grief

When you’re in mourning, it’s natural to flash back to your dearly departed memories. You may remember them in the spaces you once shared or in the sights you see. It can trigger a wave of intense emotions like sadness, anger, guilt, bitterness, or regret. They can come all at once or build up over time.  

Although grief can bring about intense feelings, it can also suck the pleasure out of the activities that used to bring you joy, leaving you feeling numb. You may notice this when you can’t focus or when you have no energy to go through the day nor time for the hobbies you once enjoyed.

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Grief And Psychological Disorders

Grief can also bring psychological disorders like anxiety to the surface. Given the highly uncertain situation that a loss puts us in, it’s common to have questions like: how do you move forward? What does “forward” even look like? 

According to an expert, anxiety is a normal response to loss and should be part of the stages of grief from denial to acceptance. After a loss, your life is never the same. Each day may feel lacking due to the absence of your loved one and of a sad future without them.

Beyond the intense emotions of sadness and abandonment, a loss forces you to think about your mortality. Although death is a fundamental truth of life, we have the unhealthy tendency to sweep it under the rug or to postpone it to an unnamed day in the far future when we’ve got our affairs in order. 

But life hardly moves the way we want it to, and when a loss becomes personal, you need to grapple with the limits of your own life and the path you’ve chosen so far. This daunting realization may trigger anxiety attacks.

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Grief can also make a person more vulnerable to developing depression. It’s common to mistake one for the other since they share several characteristics, but they are distinct experiences. It’s essential to make this distinction since early diagnosis and treatment for depression may spell the difference between life and death.

Unlike depression, grief tends to ebb over time, although it can arrive unexpectedly with occasional prompts. Over time, you can move on from grief, feel positive emotions, and remember the good experiences you shared with your loved one. On the other hand, depression tends to be more persistent, requiring additional help, medication, and support systems. 

Physical Manifestations Of Grief 

The adverse impacts of grief are not limited to the mind. Since your mental health and physical well-being are closely linked, your grief can physically manifest in various forms. 

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You might feel aches and pains all over your body since stress hormones can cause your muscles to tense up. Your immune system can also make tissues swell as part of its anti-threat response, which increases the risk of developing heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and asthma. 

There’s also some evidence that suggests that persistent grief can impair your body’s ability to defend itself against illness and infection, showing the close link between our mental state and our body systems. 

Final Thoughts

Grief is a complex and personal experience, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to processing the emotions that come with it. 

If you have persistent grief, it’s best to seek help from a therapist or a counselor who can provide focused treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy. 

If your grief is acute, some strategies can reduce stress, like staying active, maintaining a healthy diet, and going to bed at a scheduled time. Don’t forget to make an effort to reach out to your family and friends and maintain meaningful connections. 

It may be challenging to find the energy for these activities when your grief is at its most pronounced, but know that you will overcome grief and healing will take its course. Someday, you’ll be able to move forward and commemorate your loved one in one of the best ways possible: making the best out of your own life.  

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