The physical effects of grief after bereavement

Although the focus tends to be on the obvious emotional symptoms of bereavement, the loss of a loved one is also defined by common physical effects of grief. The shock and trauma associated with it trigger series of physiological reactions and changes in your body which are designed to protect you against it.

The following are some of the most common physical effects of grief and bereavement:

Weakened immune system

The heavy secretion of stress and other hormones which is a common physical reaction to your loss, can weaken the immune system and make you more vulnerable to illness. It can also worsen the symptoms of existing health conditions and make you more susceptible to flu, colds and other infections. You may even notice some skin irritations.

Aches and pains

Headaches, migraines, heaviness in your limbs, back and joint pains as well as aches and pains all over your body are normal physical effects of grief and bereavement. If you have any chronic conditions, you may also notice a worsening of your symptoms.

See your doctor if these aches and pains become intolerable.

Disturbed sleep

The stress and pressure of bereavement are almost certain to affect your sleeping. Disturbed sleep patterns and difficulties sleeping are among the most common physical effects of grief. The lack of sleep restricts your body’s natural ability to repair itself whilst sleeping too much, can make you lethargic and tired when you wake up.

Digestive problems

Stomach pain, constipation, diarrhoea and other digestive system problems are common companions to grief. It can also make you feel queasy and nauseated. These effects are temporary but if they persist or begin to affect your daily life, you need to see your GP.

Weight gain or loss

The overwhelming feelings and physical effects of grief, combined with your ability to cope in such highly stressful situations can result in weight gain or weight loss. Some people turn to comfort eating whilst others don’t eat enough. These changes are normal and temporary but if you struggle with your weight you must see your GP.


The lack of appetite and disturbed sleeping combined with the stress of bereavement are likely to drain your energy levels quite quickly resulting in fatigue and exhaustion.

You can find more information and advice about coping with the physical effects of grief in the Physical Health section of this grief guide.

Which physical effects of grief have you experienced?

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