How does grief affect the body?

Our mind and body are interconnected. Neuroscientists often refer to this phenomenon as “the body remembers the body holds the score”, meaning that our experiences are held in our body. The pain of grief is therefore felt physically in our bodies, affecting how we think, feel and act.
By illume Editorial Team
Last updated: May 1, 2023
5 Minute Read
How does grief affect the body?

While everyone’s experience of grief is different, many physical sensations are similar. In this article, we’ll cover some of the most common ways grief manifests physically in the body and what you can do to manage it.

Grief can often feel like fear. This feeling can tip our bodily system into a heightened state of arousal, causing a stress response in the body. Numerous physical complaints, including exhaustion, headaches, muscle aches, and a weakened immune system, are not unusual.

Your brain and central nervous system are just two of the many parts of your body that can be impacted by grief. Grief’s emotional pain can stimulate the same brain areas that respond to physical pain, lowering immunity and increasing disease susceptibility.

Physical Signs of Grief

  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Weakened immune system

The Physical Risks of Grief

Grief can result in chronic stress, resulting in long-term health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system.

It is an uncomfortable truth that the bereaved suffer higher rates of heart disease than the general population, which gives credence to the concept of being ‘broken-hearted’. Some recent research found that surviving partners were 66 per cent more likely to die within the first three months to the first few years following their partner’s death.

In particular, men in their mid-fifties or older seem less likely to seek support to cope with grief. There is some indication that in not engaging with the difficult emotions of the grieving process, men may have higher mental and physical illness rates and become more depressed later in their grief.

Does it affect the brain or central nervous system?

Overcoming the Physical Effects of Grief

While it’s important to recognise grief’s real and serious effects on the body, there are plenty of ways to take care of yourself and minimise the negative impact. These include:

  • Cardiovascular exercise can help to release the build-up of stressful energy and ease the feeling of fear. Walking, running, or anything else that gets you moving can all help. Group exercise can be even better, as it allows you to connect with others in a context outside of your grief.
  • Relaxation/meditation exercises can help manage anxiety. Structured meditations can be immensely powerful, but relaxing or watching your favourite TV show can greatly soothe your mind and body.
  • Eating regularly and avoiding large spikes of sugar, coffee and alcohol that can cause the body to peak and then crash.

These practices can help you feel more energised and improve your general well-being. And the most regular your self-care regime is, the more effective it will be.

Last but not least, finding new things you enjoy can help you feel better about yourself and may even help you on your path to recovery.

Main Takeaways

  • Our mind and body are interconnected. Grief can often feel like fear. This feeling tips our bodily system into a heightened state of arousal, causing a stress response in the body.
  • Physical symptoms of grief can include fatigue, exhaustion, sleep issues, changes in appetite and weight, headaches and migraines, muscle aches and pains, a weakened immune system, and longer-term illnesses.
  • We can help manage the physical symptoms of grief with a healthy regime that includes exercise, relaxation/meditation and a regular diet.


While everyone’s experience of grief is unique, it’s important to understand the physical impact of grief on your physical health. In recognising this, we can take steps to care for our body, establishing a regular regime to manage our grief and support ourselves in the healing process.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does it take the body to heal after experiencing grief?

Because it differs for each person, there is no fixed time for grieving. Depending on several variables, such as the loss experienced and the person’s support system, the recovery process could take months or even years.

Can mourning result in long-term health issues?

Chronic stress, which can exacerbate long-term health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system, can result from unresolved or protracted mourning.

Are there any particular treatments for the physical symptoms of grief?

Individuals can deal with the physical consequences of grief through therapies like psychotherapy, support groups, and mindfulness-based techniques. Regular exercise and self-care routines can also improve general well-being.

What can I do to help a loved one who is grieving?

Be a listening ear, acknowledge their emotions, and motivate them to get expert assistance if required. If they are receptive, encourage them to engage in practical activities such as exercise and relaxation – or even offer to do these things with them. Be patient; healing takes time, and every person’s mourning process is different.

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