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The physical toll of bereavement

by Christopher Southerton

A lot of articles I read online talk about bereavement in terms of mental health, but few discuss the very real physical symptoms that occur when a loved one dies.

One of my clients recently opened up to me about the loss of her parents, her father having passed away suddenly from a heart attack in 2016. She told me that losing a second parent was somehow easier to cope with and she didn't sink into a deep depression like she had when her Mother passed because she felt as distressing as it was, she had the tools to cope having been through it once before.

However, she did tell me that it had a real effect on her physical health with a year of painful bouts of interstitial cystitis (inflammation of the bladder), lethargy and a headache that had lasted for no less than two months! It had been then that she had sought help from Guys and St Thomas' hospital only to be diagnosed with a trapped nerve. These physical ailments she put down to grief.

I got to thinking about a bereavement of a close family member in my own life, and yes, looking back I hadn't been well for a period of many months, becoming prone to colds and flu and not connecting these physical illnesses to my grief at that time. So I got to researching on the internet and after numerous articles compiled a list of some of the symptoms experienced by others following the death of a loved one:

  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • loss of appetite
  • dizziness
  • aversion to sunlight
  • cystitis
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • insomnia
  • chest pains
  • blurred vision

In fact, grief can cause inflammation anywhere in the body leading to joint and muscle pain and in time this can have a detrimental affect on your ability to do every day tasks and concentrate at work.

If you are grieving then consider a regular massage to get through this period. This is exactly what my client did, turning to me for help and support to alleviate her trapped nerve but in time opening up that it had improved her overall physical and mental health. She felt relaxed, more at ease and generally able to cope better at work and in supporting her own children through the process of losing their grandparents.

Don't underestimate the real physical toll that bereavement has on the body and look after yourself. You have to put yourself first if you are going to be there for others to support them and whilst I can't take the pain away from losing a loved one, I can certainly help you to prioritise your own health and wellbeing. 

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