Understanding the Physical Symptoms of Grief

By: Serenity Funeral Home
Friday, March 2, 2018

Grief is commonly seen as the emotional response to a loss, but it often has effects on our physical health. There is no way of finding out how a loss will affect us until it happens. Each loss affects us in unique ways. The emotional roller coaster that grief puts us on is what we expect, but the physical symptoms hit like a ton of brinks because we are not ready for them. If physical symptoms happen it can be very distressing.

Grief adds a new level of anxiety to physical symptoms. Before a headache was just a headache. After the loss of a loved one, we start questioning everything that is going on in our bodies. Suddenly a headache is a sign that something is terribly wrong with you. Here are some common physical symptoms of grief, and how to help reduce these symptoms.

Aches and Pains

This is real, and it can be very painful at the time. You are dealing with constant stress, getting little to no sleep, and your body is tense. It is common for people to describe muscle aches when they are grieving. For some people, this pain feels like the flu. Research has found that grief can ‘aggravate’ symptoms of physical pain in seniors.

Body relaxation can reduce these symptoms. Stretching, meditation and massages could help reduce the pain. Be aware of ‘self-medicating’. Before taking any new medications, speak with your family doctor.


Feeling exhausted all the time is very common when we are grieving. However, often we are always ready to sleep or nap but are unable to. Even if you are getting plenty of sleep, you could feel fatigued from the emotional strain.

Sleep can help reduce fatigue, but it is not the only answer. Reducing caffeine intake can help reduce fatigue during the middle of the day, and could help improve sleep.  There could be other symptoms that are making sleeping difficult or affecting your sleep. Treating other symptoms often helps reduce fatigue.

Shortness of Breath and Tightness in the Chest

These symptoms can be worrying as they are regularly associated with cardiac issues, so it is recommended to have these checked out if they are chronic or severe. However, more generalized shortness of breath and chest tightness could be caused by anxiety, which can be a grief reaction. This could be a constant dull tightness, to waves of shortness of breath and painful chest tightness.

Meditation and deep breathing can help reduce symptoms of anxiety. However, using these techniques can be difficult in stressful situations. Avoiding known anxiety triggers can also help.


Headaches are a type of pain, but they are a very specific type of pain and very common. The most common cause of headaches is stress, and grief is a stressor that encompasses our lives after a loss. The tension that is caused by grief could be the source of chronic headaches.

Managing tension headaches is simple to do, but most only dull the pain for some time (think ibuprofen and a cool compress). If you are having chronic headaches, you should speak with your doctor about treatments.

Getting Sick More Often

There are many studies that have found that stress and grief takes a toll on the immune system. When coupled with not getting enough sleep or too much sleep, and not eating well, it is no wonder that we get sick more often.

Treating other physical grief symptoms can help lower your risk becoming sick. If you are worried about becoming sick, you can talk to your doctor about supplements and nutrition that could boost your immune system.

Changes in Appetite or Digestive Issue

Stress, especially grief can have a huge effect on your appetite. Some people only eat 2 pieces of toast in a week, while others will eat nothing but fast food. Appetite can change from day to day. Even if your appetite is the same, there could be digestive issues being caused by the stress and grief.

Food plays important role in both emotional and physical health, so trying to keep what you are eating in check is important. If you have no appetite, it is important that your basic nutrition needs are met. Focus on foods that are high in nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. Healthy soups and smoothies are a great way of helping you met your nutrition needs without making your stomach upset.

Overeating is also not healthy. Comfort eating is common and is a hard habit to break. Consciously considering if you are hungry, and paying attention to your triggers can help reduce overeating.


Forgetfulness is one of the most common physical symptoms of grief. It could be forgetting to eat, losing your keys, forgetting to pick the kids, or missing appointments. At times, forgetfulness can feel like a new way of life. This can happen even to people who had great memories. Try not to be worried. For most people, their memories improve over time. However, if you are not seeing improvements, speak with your doctor to make sure nothing else is causing the forgetfulness.

Making to-do lists, and setting phone reminders/alerts can help remind you of what needs to be done. Make an ‘important stuff’ spot in your home. It doesn’t have to be organized, it just needs to be a place to put important items. Try to keep a sense of humor about everything. It can be hard to laugh at yourself with you are emotionally tired, but it can help if you can.

Unable to Focus

The headaches, fatigue, stress, and the forgetfulness makes it feel like everything is impossible to achieve. You may start zoning out at work, in conversations, and just about everywhere else. You could be distracted by thinking about your loved one, or the new stressors. It could be simply unable to take in information, so you zone out. Either way, this is normal even with how crazy it feels at times.

Improving focus is a challenge, even when grief is not involved. Improving your environment and habits can help are work or school. Nutrition also plays a part in the ability to focus, so improving your diet could help.

Grief is unique, and its effects vary greatly. Physical symptoms of grief can be very worrying at times as they are similar to symptoms of illnesses. If you are worried about any symptoms, you should speak with your doctor.

Leave a comment
Please enter the letters you see in the image.


Please wait

Previous Posts

How to Plant Your Balsam Fir

Balsam Firs are great memorial trees because they are native to Nova Scotia, are easy to care for, and grow quickly. In ideal conditions, a balsam fir can grow about a foot a year. In the wild, the...