Physical Symptoms of Grief

When we lose someone we love, we almost expect the emotional symptoms the shock, the numbness, the anger, the yearning to name a few. But what we don’t expect, is how hard the grief can hit us physically. Our body’s reaction to grief can be to shut down, and at a time of such an emotional loss we are just not prepared for it. You might have powered through the first few weeks, or months running on adrenaline, doing what needed to be done to get you through it, sorting out the remnants of your life after your loss, and then suddenly your health starts deteriorating.

Physical symptoms of griefBereavement is a devastating loss, however we can’t discount other major losses in our lives that will also trigger symptoms of grief, such as losing your job, a breakdown of a significant relationship. After the loss we’ve suffered, we know how quickly our lives can change, and this brings on more anxiety about our own health and mortality – we start thinking about who we would be leaving behind if something happened to us. Suddenly the headache that never goes away is a sign of something really bad.

Below we look at some of the physical symptoms of grief, and how you can manage them.


Overwhelming tiredness and exhaustion are common symptoms of grief. No matter how much sleep you get, it doesn’t seem to be enough. Some people don’t want to get of bed, others don’t have the energy to do anything but stay at home. Even finding the energy to go your local shop, or calling a friend for a conversation seems like too much.

When you are having days like these, don’t set too many goals for yourself. Having mini-goals instead will make them seem more achievable. Your mini-goals could be:

  • Getting out of bed and taking a shower.
  • Or eating some breakfast.
  • Texting a family member or a friend.
  • Going out for a walk – even for couple of minutes.

Sometimes, our fatigue is from insomnia, no matter how much we want to, we can’t switch our minds off. Establishing a bed time routine could help, such as a bath before bed, a bit of reading, or even writing down your thoughts could help relax your mind enough for you to drift off.

Difficulty Breathing

Tightness in chest, shortness of breath even heart palpitations can be caused by grief, however you still need to get these checked out. Anxiety attacks can cause the same symptoms, including dizziness, but it’s always recommended that you be examined by a medical professional, just so they can rule out any chronic or severe cardiac issues.

Deep breathing is very useful exercise that can regulate the oxygen in your body, and the more you do it, will help stave off anxiety attacks. However starting a deep breathing in the middle of an anxiety attack will probably not work, unless you’ve practiced it before-hand. So try a few minutes of deep breathing in the morning and a few minutes at night, every day. Regular meditation is another thing that can really help with regulating your breathing; again start with a few minutes in the morning and then work your way up to 15minutes a day.

Change in Appetite

Changes in appetite are common; some people experience a loss of appetite and others find that they are eating more than normal. Comfort eating can be a gradual process, where you may not even realise that you have increased your food intake until you notice changes in your weight. Writing down how you are feeling on a day to day basis can help you come to terms with your loss; burying our feelings by keeping ourselves busy will not be necessary.

Food is such an emotional subject that no two people will react to grief in the same way. Making sure you meet your basic nutritional needs is paramount in keeping your energy levels up. If you’ve lost your appetite then focus on eating foods high in vitamins, minerals and nutrients, or even talk to your GP about vitamin supplements.

Some people can also get digestive problems; symptoms can mirror those of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and ulcers. It is important that you see your GP and get these symptoms treated.

Muscle Weakness

You may find yourself experiencing aches and pains across your body. Headaches are extremely common when you’re dealing with grief; the amount of stress supressed emotions put on your body can take their toll. Other aches and pains may include back ache, neck pain, ribs and chest pain. Again with these, it’s always better to get them checked with your GP to rule out any other diagnosis, and it usually makes us feel better once the test results come back clear.

Yoga is a great way to stretch and destress; it loosens up the body and calms the mind. Even if you can’t make it to a local class, there are some great stretches that you can do at home that can alleviate muscular pain, even if it’s for 15minutes a day.

Weak Immune System

You may find yourself constantly catching a cold; that’s your body’s way of telling you that you’re run down. If you find that you seem to have a cold every few weeks, then it’s time to prioritise your basic needs – even if you don’t feel like it. Resting, nutritious food, and plenty of water will go a long way towards boosting your immune system. Being at home, resting, is the last thing we want, especially if we have got into the habit of working till we’re exhausted so we don’t have to fully experience our emotions, but taking a few days off work might be just what you need to restore your emotional and physical health.

Difficulty Concentrating

Our inability to concentrate can also be a symptom of grief. Not being able to remember certain things around our loss, forgetting things on a daily basis, being distracted can all affect how you function professionally and personally. I know it doesn’t sound normal, but it is – you have suffered a major loss, you will need time to adjust to your new reality.

Sometimes, it’s not just the forgetfulness but also the restlessness that can cause a great distraction. Your inability to sit still quietly can add to feelings of tiredness, especially if your restless behaviour involves keeping yourself busy all day every day. Practicing mindfulness, even if it’s during your daily chores can help you feel more grounded.

If you want to talk to someone regarding the issues raised in this blog, please contact us. We are offering a free two week trial for online counselling.