Physical and Emotional Responses to Grief

To support ourselves, and our grieving loved ones, it is helpful to understand the physical, mental and emotional toll of grief. Naturally, the combination of responses to grief are unique to each individual, but below are several common responses to grief that can be seen in adults as well as children.

Physical Responses to Grief

  • Back, neck, or general muscle pain
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation
  • Inability to eat, weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Chills, sweats
  • Chest pain, difficulty breathing
  • Nervousness
  • Nightmares
  • Clinging
  • Crying

Mental and Emotional Responses to Grief
Grief takes a great toll mentally and emotionally. Below are several common reactions to loss beyond the physical, as well as some suggestions to help the persons in your life who may be struggling with grief.

  • Confusion/Disorientation – Immediately after a loss, it may take a grieving person an hour to complete something that should take 15 minutes. Be patient, provide guidance if possible, and make sure to plan tasks accordingly.
  • Forgetfulness – Grief can consume us mentally. You may notice your grieving loved one become forgetful about daily activities. You can help by discussing upcoming tasks with the person, and encouraging list making. For a child, rebuilding a daily routine will greatly help with this, as well as bring a much-needed level of security back to his or her life.
  • Anxiety – Be supportive, and listen patiently. Try not to get frustrated.
  • Agitation/frustration – Your loved one may become frustrated with others, especially when they feel others are complaining about seemingly frivolous things. Be understanding of where they are coming from, and help others around them understand (peers, teachers, etc.); especially during the holidays and anniversaries. Also help your friend/child understand that the frustration is misdirected by “taking it out” on others.
  • Concentration problems – Even when doing activities they love, a grieving person may have a hard time concentrating, or being motivated and in-the-moment. Taking on challenging tasks in small increments at a time can help.
  • Shock/emotional numbness – Often times, the first few months following a loss can be a blur for the grieving. They may simply be going through the motions of life – get up, get dressed, eat, breathe, sleep. The shock often lasts 3-6 months following the loss. Take your grieving friend/child where they are. If they want to talk, listen. If they don’t want to talk, don’t force it. But let them know you are there to listen when they are ready.
  • Guilt/regret – Know that your grieving loved one may be experiencing guilt or regret associated with their loss. If they are willing to talk about it, listen and support them.

Note: If you are living with grief, and/or raising a grieving child, we highly recommend seeking some level of professional support to help with the complicated challenges of grief. If one-on-one professional counseling does not interest you, there are several peer-support networks nation-wide. Several such organizations are listed on the Hello Grief Resources page.

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13 Comments:

  1. Ruth said on March 6, 2015 at 10:07 pm ... #

    i lost my grandma on 11-6-2014 and I find myself picking up the phone to call her , my husband of 12 years cheated on me and got a woman pregnant recently I told him I was willing to forgive him and if the kid was his I wouldn’t oppose to him being part of his life and he said he wanted a divorce we have two children one whom is autistic and they’re both very close to him I feel devastated I literally feel a whole on my chest it hurts to breathe I was so proud of him I can’t believe he would throw us away like that

  2. Soledad Mailman said on March 12, 2015 at 3:58 am ... #

    I lost my mom January 29th this year. What sucks for me is that I also lost my aunt Monday of that week. I guess I should’ve known that my mom wasn’t going to be around forever, she had a severe asthma attack, the paramedics didn’t reach her in time. I wish that I could tell her I love her but I can’t call her & tell her cuz she’s gone. I’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts & attempts ( Thank God I’m not having any right now). I just…I feel lost with her.

  3. Bonnie Carlson said on March 13, 2015 at 9:10 am ... #

    My Mom passed away December 21,2009. I struggle with it everyday. People say it gets easier. That just piss me off.. It doesn’t get any easier it changes. I still have all the symptoms. Going to my family Dr today. We will see if he has any help for me today. I am lucky Im double cover on medical insurance. I did go to a Dr. Bot I call him my crazy Dr. I felt like I was losing my mind. He told me I may never get over this and that I was truly Bless to have a Mom like I had. A lot of people don’t. (That stuck with me). People say stupid shit to people that are grieving. I wanted and still want to punch people in the face who say get over it and get on with your life. My Mom was a big part of my life. It’s been 5 years 3ths. I pray a lot, give my pain and sadness to God and now once a week my husband turns the music up and I wiggle for God. (Sounds funny). I just move my hands and arms. There is no normal to grieving. Take as long as you need. God bless you all….

  4. Joann said on March 15, 2015 at 11:53 pm ... #

    I lost my husband and bestfriend on Sept 22,2007. It has been almost 8 yrs and I know I will always love and miss him. But I thought it would be easier but it still very hard and I think of him 24/7. I wish we could learn how to feel better and be a happier person. The lonelness/emptiness and all our feelings never leave. My children know Iam lonely and I try to make my friends and family think Iam doing great. But deep down Iam not and sometimes I wish I was with my love. But for all the people who have lost someone it is hard but we need to go on for our family.

  5. jeana said on March 16, 2015 at 6:41 pm ... #

    Dave was murdered two years ago. I can not feel normal. And my daughter??? Is with an abusive man. What can I do??????

  6. jeana said on March 16, 2015 at 6:43 pm ... #

    Dave is my son. I m broken.

  7. Jennifer Stanton said on March 17, 2015 at 8:26 pm ... #

    I lost my wonderful loving husband on March 1, 2015. He was only 38 he lived a hard life and died from kidney failure in my arms and it’s the worst thing I’ve ever had to endure in my entire life. The pain I’ve felt since he passed is undescribable and I wish this on nobody, people tell me all the time time will heal me but to be totally honest I pray everyday that god takes me soon cause if he don’t I will, I can’t learn to live without the air that used to fill my lungs. I’m so lost and lonely, I feel so discombobulated since he passed. My life isn’t my life without him. I’ve read so many things on grieving and nothing describes nothing what I’m going through so where do I turn to understand what I’m going through?? Missing the love of my life!!

  8. mel said on March 19, 2015 at 11:22 am ... #

    I’m 30 years old and feel like a 5 year old child without her dad. 9 days ago my dad’s passing shocked me. Along with all the feelings of grief that are listed above, I’m utterly alone. I feel so lost. While I don’t question God’s existence or my faith, everything I thought I knew or believed about Jesus is changing or has new meaning. I can’t think or do anything normal and I hate this feeling. I feel like I’m on a drug that is slowing me down. And with all of this comes hopelessness because I can’t see the end of this dark tunnel.

  9. Robert said on March 21, 2015 at 12:32 pm ... #

    I lost my second parent, my dad just over 1 year ago. I got a lot of meaning from caring for him his final few years and we got closer. I often found him to be difficult and oppressive throughout my life, buthe was my dad and I loved him.
    I continue to feel levels of disorientation and disconnection and struggle. I do have moments, maybe short periods of feeling more connected but I forget the meaningfulness of my life. Many things help: Yoga, a light box in winter, exercise, healthy eating. I read many posts above of such intolerable loneliness or disorientation. I believe we can all make progress to greater light and meaning with much patience and perserverance. YOUA RE NOT ALONE.

  10. dezjha said on March 28, 2015 at 6:50 am ... #

    I lost my big brothers 4 months ago …. we were only 11 months apart . We have younger siblings but it was just us for so long he was truly my best friend we never went a week with out seeing or talkin to each other ….. words can’t describe how much I miss him . It’s 6:45 am and I’m up every night I wake up around 3 am and I’m up for 3-4 hours . I decided to google for help and this site described me to a perfect T .. I feel like i never going to go back tomorrow normal ….. I’m copying better now Nd I don’t cry as much . I’m getting better my daughter fills this emptyness …

    Sincerely ,

    Me.

  11. Libby Manis said on April 2, 2015 at 6:33 pm ... #

    Lost my dad 3-24-2015. He died in my home. I can’t seem to get any good sleep. I dream a lot. Usually bad dreams. I still hear him calling my name and I respond in my sleep. Mostly though my stomach just hurts. Feels like there are a million things inside squirming around make me slightly nauseous. It comes and goes and lasts about an hour each time. Nothing seems to help it but time. Nothing is very interesting to me except the one thing I can’t seem to get enough of…..sleep.

  12. Michele said on April 21, 2015 at 11:07 pm ... #

    I lost my only son DJ on March 14th 2015 to Cancer he was 36yrs old. We had such a bond between us, we were very close and could talk to eachother about anything, he was not only my son but my bestfriend. The pain i feel is unbearable,and i feel so lost without him. Since he’s been gone i feel as though a big part of me is missing. I wonder everyday how will i go on because i can’t just pick up the phone cand call him like i use to. The pain of losing a child is the worst, the only thing that brings me comfort is knowing that he is no longer in pain,hes walking again and is with God in Heaven. I now take one day at a time and with all the wonderful memories:'(

  13. Anonymous said on June 4, 2015 at 9:20 am ... #

    Grief is like having a meteor flash and land right in front of you…it veres you off your planned path i to completely unchartered territory….which can be good and bad. Su-Rose …mother of Carl ( 1982 – 2015)

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