For many people, grief is more than just feeling sad. There are a wide range of physical and emotional grief symptoms beyond those we might be familiar with. It’s important to remember that everyone grieves in their own way, and while you might share some of these common symptoms of grief, you won’t necessarily experience all of them.
Emotional Grief Symptoms
When we think about the symptoms of grief, it’s the emotional response that probably first comes to mind. When we experience a serious loss, we often feel a very deep sadness. Many people also experience some of these additional emotional grief symptoms:
- Guilt and remorse
- Shock and numbness
- Anger (at ourselves, at others, or at the deceased)
- Feeling lonely or abandoned
- Fear and anxiety
- Feeling like you’re going crazy or can’t control your emotions
It’s not uncommon to feel emotions that seem contradictory – feeling lonely, for example, but isolating yourself from others. You might be angry at the person who died, then feel relieved that they are no longer suffering, then feel guilty about your anger and your relief. If you feel like you can’t control your emotions, talking to someone can help. Seek out a close friend who can listen without judgement; a priest, minister, or other religious leader; a professional counselor; a support group; or another person who you feel comfortable speaking with. Often, when we grieve, we fear that people will judge us or question our reactions. Look for support from a person or group that will listen and be present without making you feel like your reaction isn’t appropriate.
Physical Symptoms of Grief
In addition to the emotional grief symptoms, many people have a physical reaction to loss. You may feel some or all of the following physical symptoms of grief:
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Headache and muscle pains
- Stomach ache and nausea
- Difficulty breathing and chest pain
- Confusion and the inability to concentrate
- Increase in blood pressure
- Weakened immune system
A number of studies have been conducted on how grief affects the heart, in particular. Research indicates that people are at higher risk for a heart attack in the days following a loss, for example. In addition, the stress of grief can cause takotsubo cardiomyopathy or “broken heart syndrome” in which the left ventricle of the heart weakens. This condition mimics a heart attack, but it is treatable and most patients recover over time.
Delayed Grief Symptoms
Delayed grief is a reaction to loss that is postponed and occurs later than is typical. In many cases, delayed grief symptoms are similar to the more common emotional and physical symptoms of grief, they just take place months or even years after the loss. Sometimes, people feel like they need to be strong for others after a death, so they don’t allow themselves to mourn. They may suddenly feel the grief months later, once the situation has calmed and seemingly been dealt with.
Complicated Grief Symptoms
Also known as prolonged grief disorder, complicated grief is characterized by heightened, ongoing feelings of grief, typically for six months or longer. Other complicated grief symptoms include the following:
- Feelings of numbness or apathy
- The inability to think about anything other than the deceased
- Being unable to think about any positive experiences with the deceased
- Deep bitterness, anger, and irritability
- Intense sorrow and longing for the loved one who has passed away
- Being unable to find any meaning in life
Complicated grief often requires professional treatment. If you or someone you know does not seem to be able to move on several months after a loss and no longer is able to carry out normal activities, it’s time to ask for help. If you have thoughts of suicide, talk to someone immediately – turn to a trusted friend, a counselor, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). Call 911 if you think that you might act on suicidal thoughts or urges.