Coping with the Physical Effects of Grief

Grief Physical Effects

It makes sense that you would feel the physical effects of grief taxing your body and emotions when your child’s death first happens. Everyone offers his sympathy and nods his assent then.

They may not know grief personally, but they can relate to your feelings. After all, you just experienced the tragic loss of your child. That’s not supposed to happen.

But what about two months later? How about the six- or nine-month mark?

By that point, admitting that you’re still experiencing grief could draw a few raised eyebrows and hidden whispers.

I want you to know that you’re not alone.

I’m realizing more and more just how much this trial has drained me. Quite honestly, I’m frustrated and exhausted. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with these effects!

Without going into too much detail, I’ve dealt with moderate anxiety, stomach pains, headaches, sleepless nights, fear, and exhaustion. Yes, I listed several emotions in there, but you bet that I’m feeling them physically.

For example, I never struggled with worry or fear before. I did have a tendency to fidget with nerves in the face of a new life event. But college, marriage, child birth? Bring it on!

Now, sometimes I’m afraid to leave my house. When I’m home alone, I fear a break-in. At night, I fear a sudden, unexpected death. If I’m driving, I feel my chest tighten when I pull beside a tractor trailer.

So just stop worrying, right? It’s not that easy. I’ve actually worked at worrying less, but I still do worry all the time.

In fact, worry feels like a natural reflex to me, my constant companion. There’s rarely a moment when I’m not worrying about something, or at least trying not to worry.

Don’t feel sorry for me; I’m learning to accept this new normal. For the things I can actually control, they’re slowly improving.

I’m reminded every moment that these are the effects of our imperfect world. Instead of fantasizing about my life before these unwelcome events, I should relent to them and accept my life now. Only then can I conquer these bad boys.

I’m mostly writing this article because it helps me to admit my problems. At the same time, if you’re dealing with your own physical effects, you need to know that you’re not alone. You’re not going crazy, and you’re not an outcast.

physical effects of grief

Your life has changed forever.

I think this thought has helped me make some changes recently. The idea that your life will never go back to its previous state might sound awful.

But I found it extremely liberating. Your life has changed for good, and it’s okay to live with this change. You don’t have to be who you were before.

Knowing this fact, you can take baby steps toward healing your physical symptoms. For chest pains, you can see your doctor. For anxiety, you can mix breathing exercises into your day and cut more out of your schedule that you would have never considered before.

For fear, you can avoid watching scary movies and exposing yourself to unnecessary factors (don’t let it rule your life, though). For sleepless nights, you can schedule naps that you would have never taken before.

These changes are okay and completely necessary, and you’re not the only one making them. I’ve noticed that many people feel physical symptoms caused by grief.

Here’s a handful of changes you might be experiencing. And yes, you might struggle with them months or years after your child’s death; but you can help them improve.

Chest Pains/Heart Palpitations

This physical effect boggles me the most. Many women have these ghost pains cleared by doctors, their only explanation being grief. They even experience the pain at random times when they’re thinking little about their loss.

I too feel my chest tightening when I have fear, stress, or anxiety. A doc hasn’t cleared me yet, but I assure you that I’m getting it checked out soon. When my chest starts to tighten now, I try to breathe a few deep breaths and pray silently for God to ease any anxiety.

Stomach/Digestion Issues

Some of these symptoms could come from the physical strain of pregnancy. They could also arise from the constant emotional distress you probably have after going through such a personal trial. Either way, your symptoms could be causing you much pain and heaping anxiety on top of your hardships.

If your symptoms persist severely, you may consider a doctor’s visit. Personally, I like to try natural solutions like diet changes or supplements first and visit a doctor only when necessary.

Mood Swings

Thankfully, I don’t struggle too much with this one. Still, many parents who have lost a child do.

Not only do they deal with the fears and anxieties controlling their lives, but they also shift from those to anger to sadness and back again. These mood swings can control your social life and damage the relationships that you cherish and need the most.

If you’re struggling with mood swings, I suggest taking multivitamins, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, and paring down your busy schedule.

All of these factors can push you to overreact when you would normally cope well. Then, of course, you should address the emotions themselves.

Find verses to repeat or read when you notice the varying moods, and train yourself to keep quiet when you feel an emotion like anger. You don’t want to regret something you said later.

Unexplained Fears

Again, this one disguises itself as an emotion at first. It can, however, lead to very physical effects, causing panic attacks, digestive problems, or insomnia.

You can approach the factor causing the fear or the fear itself. You may actually need a combination approach to completely overcome this effect.

For me, I try to ask myself if I’m fearing a rational event or an unlikely one. If it’s unlikely, then I will calm myself with prayer and deep breathing. I have noticed that I feel better after exercising too.

If I have a legitimate fear, I still try not to dwell on it. Depending on how I’m doing that day, I may expose myself to that factor purposefully. Or on an already stressful day, I may remove myself from it altogether. I’m still working on this area, but these tips have helped tremendously.


Nearly 60 million Americans suffer with insomnia in general, and I wonder how many would pin grief as a cause. With emotions running circles in your mind and physical effects causing stress throughout the day, you simply cannot sleep well. Maybe you do sleep, and you’re just exhausted by all the above stresses in your life.

I would fall in the latter category. If sleeplessness rules your life constantly, try turning off any TVs and other devices a few hours before bedtime. Go to sleep half an hour or an hour early to give yourself time to unwind.

If you wake up in the middle of the night, read a few chapters in a book or clean the house until you feel tired again. Definitely do not reach for your phone or computer to lull you back to sleep. Also, don’t be afraid to schedule power naps throughout the day or as soon as you get home from work to help you through the evening.

Overall, understand that you can lead a different life than you did before. At times, you’ll tire of the physical effects of grief, but don’t despair. You’re not the only one out there, and you can ease these effects with baby steps. Accept your new normal; then, get to work, changing your habits and schedule as necessary to improve your situation.

Are you experiencing or have you experienced the physical effects of grief? How have you coped with them?

by Sarah George


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