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While many understand the emotional stress inherent in grief from a significant loss, the death of a partner, child, or parent for example, it is only recently that the physical toll of stress from loss has begun to be understood. Research into grief reactions has shown that the evolutionary fight or flight response to grief can have a profound effect on those who are dealing with loss; a physical impetus to take action to protect oneself from the threat of losing someone close. Yet, because the perceived threat is emotional rather than physical, the choice between standing and fighting or running away merely increases the stress one feels.
Your physical reaction to grief
As explained in the article Physical Stress of Grieving, by Elizabeth Harper Neeld, Ph.D., your body will go through actual physical changes in response to grief, much as it does during a life-threatening situation. “Emergency-mobilizing chemicals are released. As our stress increases, the chemical levels increase; and our central nervous system becomes highly stimulated.”
Such reactions can have a profound effect on your body, directly affecting breathing, sleeping, and digestion, as well as the ability to think clearly and rationally. Of course, this is all in addition to the emotional turmoil already affecting you in your time of loss.
As with any physically or emotionally trying situation, your response to the increased stress you’re feeling will determine how well you handle it, and whether you can come out of the situation feeling stronger and more able to cope. The use of recognized stress management techniques and strategies will go a long way toward helping you deal with the stress of loss, and can help you to cope with other types of stress in the future.
The following are some reliable strategies for coping with stress at any time, but especially stress from loss:
- Take some time away from work
- Eat healthy meals
- Drink plenty of water
- Set aside time to relax
- Get some exercise
- Try a massage
- Simplify your schedule and reduce demands on your time
- Eliminate non-productive activities
- Pray and/or meditate
- Give yourself permission to feel bad
- Talk to a professional grief counselor or therapist
On an emotional level, grieving is a process of learning how to live in a changed world. The intrusion of physical stress in the process, while completely natural, merely adds another aspect to the challenge of overcoming and coping with your loss. The use of the above stress management techniques can help you to control the physical stress you’re going through, allowing you to focus more fully on the emotional work that needs to be done.
The work involved with coping with loss is significant and important, and include:
- Coping with the reality of the loss
- Managing the feelings and reactions of grief
- Rebuilding social networks and relearning roles
- Creating meaning in a changed world
If you’re struggling to overcome the grief and loss of a loved one: Contact us today for a consultation.