Manifestations of grief: physical, emotional and cognitive effects

Grief can show itself in various ways, encompassing physical, emotional, and cognitive effects.
By illume Editorial Team
Last updated: May 1, 2023
5 Minute Read
How does grief affect the body?

For some, the manifestations of grief may be more acute in the short term – but others may creep up on you and impact your quality of life in the long term.

In this blog, we aim to shed light on the manifestations of grief. We explore the physical effects, emotional impact, and cognitive challenges individuals may encounter during their grieving process. Understanding these dimensions of grief can help individuals and their families navigate the journey of healing with greater awareness and compassion.

Physical Effects of Grief:

Grief can manifest in various physical symptoms, as the mind and body are intrinsically connected. The loss of a loved one can trigger a stress response in the body, leading to the release of stress hormones such as cortisol. This surge of stress hormones can have profound effects on physical well-being.

The physical effects of grief can vary from person to person, but they are often linked to the body’s stress response. When faced with the death of a loved one or experiencing a traumatic loss, the body perceives it as a significant threat or emotional upheaval. This triggers the release of stress hormones, including cortisol, which prepares the body to respond to the perceived danger.

Some common physical symptoms of grief include:

  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Sleep disturbances and insomnia
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Digestive issues and stomach discomfort
  • Muscle tension and body aches
  • Weakened immune system

Emotional Impact of Grief:

Grief is a deeply emotional experience, and it is natural for individuals to experience a wide range of emotions during their grieving process. The emotional impact of grief can be overwhelming, and it is crucial to acknowledge and express these emotions in healthy ways.

When someone experiences the death of a loved one or a significant loss, they often go through a rollercoaster of emotions. The pain of losing someone dear can be overwhelming, leading to a deep sense of longing and emptiness. These feelings can come in waves, sometimes unexpectedly, and individuals may find themselves caught off guard by the intensity of their emotions.

Some common emotional manifestations of grief include:

  • Intense sadness, sorrow, and yearning
  • Anger, frustration, and irritability
  • Guilt, regret, and self-blame
  • Anxiety, fear, and restlessness
  • Loneliness and social withdrawal
  • Numbness and emotional detachment
  • Waves of grief and unpredictable mood swings

Cognitive Effects of Grief:

The cognitive effects of grief can disrupt one’s ability to think clearly, concentrate, and remember details. Grief can have a profound impact on cognitive functioning, making it challenging to navigate daily tasks and responsibilities. 

Some cognitive manifestations of grief include:

  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Memory lapses and forgetfulness
  • Intrusive thoughts and preoccupation with the loss
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Lack of motivation and reduced productivity
  • Difficulty in planning and organizing
  • Decreased attention span and focus

It is important to recognize that these cognitive effects of grief are a natural response to loss.

The mind is processing complex emotions and trying to adapt to a new reality. It is crucial to be patient and gentle with oneself during this time, acknowledging the challenges faced in cognitive functioning and seeking support when needed.

Coping with the Manifestations of Grief:

While experiencing grief, it affects individuals in unique ways, there are strategies that can help alleviate the physical, emotional, and cognitive effects. It is important to seek support from family members, friends, or grief support groups to create a network of understanding and empathy. 

Additionally, self-care practices such as engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining a balanced diet, practicing relaxation techniques, and seeking professional counseling can contribute to overall well-being.

Recognizing When Grief Becomes Complicated:

Grief is a natural and necessary process, but for some individuals, it may develop into complicated grief. This is a condition where the manifestations of grief become prolonged and debilitating. 

Complicated grief can lead to severe health problems such as heart disease, as the body’s stress response is continuously activated over an extended period. If you or someone you know is experiencing complicated grief, it is important to seek professional help to navigate this complex journey.

Broken heart syndrome:

Broken heart syndrome, also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo syndrome, is a condition that mimics the symptoms of a heart attack. It is a temporary heart condition that is often triggered by intense emotional or physical stress, such as the loss of a loved one, a traumatic event, or a significant life change.

When someone experiences broken heart syndrome, the heart’s main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, temporarily weakens and balloons out. This change in the shape of the ventricle resembles a takotsubo, a Japanese octopus trap, which is why the condition is sometimes referred to as takotsubo syndrome.

The exact cause of broken heart syndrome is still not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to the surge of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, that are released during times of intense emotional stress. These hormones can temporarily disrupt the normal functioning of the heart, leading to the characteristic symptoms of broken heart syndrome.

It is important if you experience symptoms of broken heart syndrome to seek immediate medical attention, as the symptoms can be similar to those of a heart attack. Prompt medical evaluation and diagnosis can help ensure appropriate treatment and monitoring.

Grief Support with Grief Works by Illume

Getting support when grieving is essential. Our app can support your self care practices and help you to navigate your journey. 

The Grief Works app helps you overcome grief and connect with a community that cares for you. It also offers live monthly calls and the ability to chat with a therapist when needed.

Moreover, it has a built-in journal book for your daily diary and the Grief Works Curriculum to guide you in your healing journey.