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Bereavement

Physical and mental Symptoms

Psychological problems are also common during intense grief and, as mind and body are interlinked, these can also cause physical problems. Depression can disrupt sleep and appetite, and cause the body to slow down.

Anxiety is also common during grieving, and can cause a racing pulse, hot sweats, poor sleep and loss of appetite.

The bereaved may turn to alcohol, recreational drugs or prescription drugs at this stressful time, compounding their problems.

It's not unusual for people who have lost a partner to clearly see or hear the person about the house, and sometimes even converse with them at length. These visual and auditory hallucinations are part of the normal grief reaction and a very real physical occurrence to those who experience them.

Sometimes these grief reactions are mistaken for signs of dementia or severe psychiatric illness. The end result can be that the surviving partner is given unnecessary medication or even put in a home when what they actually need is help with grieving.

Effects on the nervous system

Lethargy and tiredness are common physical symptoms of bereavement. The loss of a loved one sets off a powerful stress response in the body, with release of high levels of natural steroids and a heightened state of awareness in the nervous system, especially the autonomic nervous system (the 'flight or fight' system) which controls the body's readiness for action.

The heart responds to this greater nervous drive with an increase in pulse and blood pressure. Even if the person seems slow and down, inside they're in turmoil.

Decreased immunity

The stress response also affects the immune system. Bereavement causes a fall in activity of the T-lymphocytes, cells that are very important in fighting infection. So colds and other minor infections are common.

Pre-existing painful problems such as arthritis may get worse and other chronic health conditions often flare up too. It's common for conditions that need careful control such as diabetes and high blood pressure to go awry.

This partly explains why people who experience personal loss are at higher risk of dying during the first year. Men are at greater risk than women, perhaps because they have fewer support systems among family and friends.

The effect on children

Children are just as likely to show physical effects during bereavement, particularly complaining of tummy pains, headaches, bed-wetting and insomnia.

They may also show behavioural problems, becoming wild and unruly or withdrawn and sulky because of difficulties expressing their grief while at the same time coping with all the normal struggles of growing up.

What grieving children and adults need most of all is quiet support and understanding, a chance to share feelings and worries as well as time to work through their emotions.

Appropriate treatment for physical symptoms is important, so do seek medical advice. But while this may mean medication, many symptoms, such as sleep and appetite problems, get better with simple therapies or even on their own as the person works through the stages of bereavement.

Source: BBC Health Website

Did you know ?

Bereavement is an immensely stressful event that can take a huge toll on the body, potentially causing all sorts of physical problems, including physical exhaustion, uncontrollable crying, sleep disruption, palpitations, shortness of breath, headaches, recurrent infections, high blood pressure, loss of appetite, stomach upsets, hair loss, disruption of the menstrual cycle, irritability, worsening of any chronic condition such as eczema or asthma, and visual and auditory hallucinations.