Losing someone close to you can put you through a phase of mental stress. While mental stress is commonly acknowledged in connection with grief, it is crucial to understand that grief can also present physical symptoms, including illnesses, fatigue, pain, and sleep disturbances.

What are the signs of grief?

Physical symptoms of grief may differ in each individual and vary with age. For children, the symptoms include headaches, stomachaches, sleep issues, nightmares, and changes in appetite.

While grief is a normal emotional response to a loss, persistent symptoms lasting beyond six months may indicate prolonged grief. This condition is linked to more severe health consequences, including an elevated risk of heart disease, cancer, anxiety, sleep issues, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Here's how grief affects your body:

Immunity: The immune system can respond to physical changes in the environment, so when it goes through grief, it can affect a person's immunity, making the body more vulnerable to infections. When a person loses someone the immune system becomes highly vigilant to protect them from potential social threats.

"If you've ever come down with a cold after a stressful time, you may have experienced this response," Dr. George Slavich, director of the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA said in a UCLA article.

"As humans, we are strongly motivated to seek out social bonds that are warm, dependable, friendly, and supportive. Losing someone close to us terminates that bond and the social and physical protection they provided, which historically could have put the body at an increased risk of physical danger," Dr. Slavich explained.

Inflammation: In some people, grief can cause inflammation which can lead to sickness, fatigue, loss of pleasure, and manifest as social and behavioral withdrawal.

Pain: To regulate inflammatory responses and coordinate the immune system during the stress period, the body releases proteins called cytokines. These small proteins are associated with heightened pain sensitivity, potentially contributing to the physical pain experienced during grief in some people.

Cortisol: Individuals undergoing loss may exhibit elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Prolonged elevation of cortisol poses a risk for heart disease or high blood pressure over an extended period.

Digestion: The stress from grief can affect the eating pattern and digestion. People may develop eating disorders, stomach cramps, diarrhea, constipation, ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Heart: During the initial day of grieving over the loss of a loved one, the likelihood of experiencing a heart attack is higher than usual. In some people, the sudden news of loss can cause a broken heart syndrome also known as stress cardiomyopathy. It is a condition in which the heart muscle becomes suddenly stunned or weakened. The symptoms are similar to a heart attack and can last for minutes or hours after an emotionally or physically stressful event.