Coping with the death of a loved one can be one of the hardest and most stressful things one can face. The death of someone you care about can affect both your emotional health as well as physical health. Unfortunately, many people fail to realize the extent to which grief affects them.
There are basically five stages of grief. These include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is important to go through all the stages in order to heal properly. But not all people manage to complete the five stages successfully. Some take longer to move from one stage to another while others get fixated.
For example, you can remain in denial for a long period of time or get angry with the death of a close friend or relative. A prolonged stay in one particular stage can easily drain you both physically and emotionally.
How does grief affect your health?
Believe it or not, grief can affect your health in a number of ways. As mentioned earlier, grief has five stages and failure to undergo each stage as expected can strain both your emotional and physical health.
Below are 5 ways grief can affect your health:
1. A weakened immune system
The main role of the immune system is to protect or shield your body from anything that can hinder the normal operation of your body. The experience of losing a loved one can generally affect the whole immune system. One study showed weakened immunity among older adults who had lost a close friend or relative compared to those who had not lost anyone.
When your immune system is weakened, your body becomes vulnerable to infections and illnesses. One study revealed that 250 people who lost a child or infant reported more than 400 acute illnesses within the first year of death. The most frequent cases included anxiety, headaches, angina (severe chest pain), and depression. Just like an army of soldiers that have been wounded by the enemy, a weakened immune system is not able to properly fight illnesses and infections attacking the body.
2. Heart problems
One study revealed that the risk of having a heart attack is 21 times higher within the first 24 hours after the death of a spouse. The risk was still six times higher one week later. The study also showed that the impact was greater among persons with a high cardiovascular risk. This simply shows how impactful the death of a loved one can be.
Stressful events like a divorce and the death of a loved one can also result in a medical condition known as Broken Heart Syndrome. This is a temporary heart condition in which the heart is not able to pump blood in a normal way. The condition can occur to anyone irrespective of your current health status.
Scientists believe that a sudden increase in the number of stress hormones can temporarily cause harm to the heart. This includes sudden and excessive chest pain. The pain can sometimes be mistaken to be a heart attack. The good news is that Broken Heart Syndrome is a treatable condition.
3. Alcohol and substance abuse
Losing someone close is not easy. It normally leaves you feeling empty and hopeless. That’s why some people end up drinking heavily and abusing drugs. In a study that involved 235 sons and daughters who had lost their parents, it was established that the majority of them had a higher risk for alcohol and substance abuse. This is unlike those young people who had not lost any of their parents.
What does that tell you? It clearly shows that most young people tend to find ways of forgetting their worries and woes through alcohol and substance abuse. But the truth is that taking alcohol excessively or abusing drugs doesn’t solve anything. It only makes things worse for those engaging in such activities. The unfortunate thing about alcohol and drug abuse is that it only postpones the problem at hand.
Depression is a serious mental condition that many people take lightly. Most people who lose their loved ones usually love spending time alone. But while doing so is allowed, it can lead to a lot of thinking and eventually turn into depression. It is important to be open and speak to other people when you feel overwhelmed by feelings of fear and loneliness.
A study conducted recently revealed that approximately one in every four widows and widowers suffer from clinical depression within the first year after losing their spouse. Depression is largely attributed to loneliness and constant stressful moments. The best way to deal with depression after losing a loved one is to try as much as possible to be open about your feelings and to interact with family members and friends.
5. Sleep problems
Sleep is very important for perfect health. It is recommended that you get at least eight hours of sleep every day. Failing to do so means that your body will not function as expected. A lot of studies have shown that individuals dealing with grief had difficulties falling and staying asleep. This happened to those who were depressed and those that were not.
It may not be easy for someone who has never been bereaved to understand, but losing a loved one can prevent you from sleeping normally as before. You will find yourself taking too long to fall asleep or at the same time waking up in the middle of the night.
It is important to practice good sleeping habits like having a glass of warm milk, taking a bath right before you go to bed, and waking up at the same time every day.
In a nutshell, grief can affect your health in many ways. Losing a loved one usually takes its toll on your emotional as well as physical health. For instance, it can weaken your immune system and leave your body vulnerable to all manner of infections and diseases. It is good to find ways of dealing with grief in a manner that prevents it from negatively affecting your health.