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The Physical Pain of Grief: 4 Things You Can Do To Help

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Grief is a precious gift. It helps us shed layers and get in touch with our more human, authentic, and vulnerable selves. And although grief is a natural part of the human experience, it is also one of the most challenging things we go through as people.

Many people think of grief as one-dimensional—as only an emotional experience. But grief is actually a powerful, multifaceted, and typically uncontrollable response to a personally painful or traumatic event that can affect us not only emotionally but also physically. Here we will examine some of the physical symptoms that arise from grief and how to overcome them.

How grief impacts your body

Grief is known to cause a host of physical symptoms. This may be a surprise to most people but it’s important to remember that grief is a full-body experience. Grief can cause body aches such as back pain, joint pain, intense stiffness, and even headaches.

There are several ways that grief can cause pain. When you grieve, your body produces extra amounts of stress hormones that can stun your muscles and joints. This can cause aches that may be constant or come and go, lasting from weeks to months.

Research has also shown that grief is linked to increased levels of inflammation in the body, which can worsen painful inflammatory conditions like arthritis. Additionally, grief can lower your immunity, making you more susceptible to infection and the crummy feelings that come along with viruses like the common cold or flu (Fagundes, 2018).

So what can you do? How can you alleviate the physical discomforts of grieving? Here are four ways to get relief.

1. Be intentional with your emotions

Expressing your emotions is your primary focus when you are grieving. It is said that what you don’t feel, you will not heal. Therefore it is important to give yourself permission to feel your feelings. Practice self-kindness often. It’s not necessary to regulate this aspect of your life, especially during a season of grieving. However you decide to express your emotions is your choice. You can journal or create a blog or even video blog (vlog) as forms of expression. Seek out professional help with an online or in-person therapist or health coach if needed. Joining a support group at a local community or religious center is also a great option to tap into your feelings.  

2. Maintain your social connections

Social support is one of the most significant factors in grief recovery. It is very common to feel alone and sad after experiencing a loss. Social support reminds you that even when life is hard, you are not alone. Try to set up a weekly get-together with a close friend, a few family members, or even well-meaning neighbors. A monthly potluck is another great chance to socialize and be around people who care about you and want to walk with you in your grief journey. Lastly, make an effort to communicate with someone every day. Whether by phone, email, or even a text message, it’s a good idea to maintain communication in some way that is meaningful for you.

3. Participate in mindful movement every day

Taking the time to be active every day can help relieve the physical pain of grief. Mind-body activities (like yoga, tai chi, or qigong) can be particularly helpful in relaxing the body and reversing the effects of stress and anxiety. Research shows these forms of exercise work their magic on a molecular level by decreasing the activity of genes that promote inflammation in the body (Bui, 2017).  

Other ideas for mindful movement include participating in breathwork, creating a meditation practice, or taking a walk or hike outdoors. These activities can ease depression, agitation, and self-pity. Enlist a friend for support or join an exercise class. Look online or at your local community center for options that spark your interest—feel empowered to connect with an activity that restores your soul and makes your mind and body feel alive.

4. Eat, rest and repeat

Maintaining a healthy diet can be challenging when you don’t feel your best.  But it’s important to eat foods that support your healing. Highly-processed foods that are heavy on calories, sugar, and fat typically make you feel worse. You might even crave them during this time, which makes avoiding them extra difficult.  

Try to focus on a well-balanced diet. Foods to take in daily include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Increase your water intake and try your best to minimize alcohol, which can dehydrate you and leave you feeling depleted.  

Emotional exhaustion can also be at an all-time high when you’re grieving, and when you don’t rest you can make your symptoms worse. This is why it is important to create and stick to an efficient bedtime routine. Go to bed at the same time every day and avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening as they disturb your sleep patterns. If you have trouble falling asleep, try an evening meditation or light stretching exercise to relax your body so that you rest better.

Key takeaways about grief and pain

  • Grief is a normal response to losing someone you love or any major life change such as job loss, unfulfilled expectations, divorce, or losing a pet—just to name a few examples.  
  • Grief affects everyone differently, but often, you feel it both emotionally and physically. It’s important to find ways to express your grief in order to help alleviate the toll it takes on your body.  
  • Somedays it might not be easy to find the relief you so desperately want and need. It takes time. So be gentle with you and your emotions. A beautiful quote by artist Yumi Sakugawa to remember as you travel this road of love and loss sums it up perfectly: “Sometimes it’s okay if the only thing you did today was breathe.”

For personalized support for back, neck, or joint pain, schedule a visit with a Care Team. We’ll listen to what matters to you and personalize treatment to get you back to feeling like you again.

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