The Physical Effects of Grief: Six Common Symptoms You Should Know

physical symptoms of grief

Grief is an experience that cannot be fully understood until you are forced to deal with it.

While most people expect that bereavement comes with a rollercoaster of emotions, the physical symptoms that often occur can be surprising. While they may be frustrating and even frightening at times, symptoms of grief are also normal.

Here are six common physical grief symptoms along with helpful tips for managing them:



You may feel run-down, listless, or exhausted all the time. Ironically, when you try to sleep you may not be able to, only worsening your fatigue. Or you may get plenty of sleep but find that it’s not restful due to the constant emotional strain.

Tip: Make sure your sleeping quarters are focused on sleeping. This includes blocking out as much light as possible at night, using earplugs and/or an eye mask, keeping the temperature between 66-70 degrees, and leaving your cell phone in another room.


Appetite changes and digestive issues

The digestive tract is sensitive to times of intense stress. It can be all too common to seek comfort in food during stressful periods or to experience a queasy stomach when anxious. Grief inspires these symptoms and others, such as a loss of appetite, binge eating, nausea, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Tip: Recognizing that these symptoms are caused by grief can help alleviate them. When you feel an urge to eat when sad or notice you haven’t eaten all day because of that same sorrow, it can be helpful to reach out to a loved one or trusted friend for support. Digestive issues typically subside in time.



The most common source of headaches is stress and grief is one huge stressor. The constant tension that comes with loss tends to be a source of chronic headaches.

Tip: Grief-induced headaches are often caused by muscle tension, so it is important to find ways to relax. Take a walk in the park, get a massage, or listen to soothing music. Find out what activities relax you and take time to engage in them.


Weakened immunity

When your body is going through the grieving process, it is essentially in overdrive, pumping out damaging stress hormones day and night. Immune cell function suffers and inflammatory responses rise. During this time, you are also more susceptible to illnesses, diseases, and other health issues.

Tip: Wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer. Keep your distance from sick people or consider wearing a mask in public spaces for the short term. Do your best to maintain healthy exercise, nutrition, and sleep patterns.


Body aches and pains

It’s not uncommon for people to describe generalized muscle aches when grieving. The weight of constant turmoil, tension, lack of sleep, and overwhelming sorrow can culminate in physical aches and pains.

Tip: Work on body relaxation techniques, such as warm baths, meditation, massages, and stretching. Avoid self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, and instead consider healthful alternative therapies like acupuncture, biofeedback, and talk therapy.


Tightness in the chest

A generalized sense of tightness or shortness of breath can come with anxiety, a common grief reaction. It’s important to note that these symptoms can also be associated with cardiac issues, so if they occur you should see a medical professional to rule out anything serious.

Tip: Research ways to cope with anxiety amid grief, such as general relaxation approaches like meditation and deep breathing exercises.  


Losing a loved one is an emotionally painful experience that can have a very real effect on the mind and body. It is not something you can expect to recover from in a few days. Dealing with loss is like a marathon, so pace yourself and appreciate that your body is under stress. At this difficult time, practicing self-care is paramount. Consider seeking counseling or help from a support group if you’re having trouble getting back into the swing of things after several months. Evan W. Smith now provides grief support services called, "A Healing Place" through our partnership with a licensed counselor.


If you have questions, need additional support, or want to talk with someone about the grief you’re experiencing, please reach out to our caring team anytime.


About Evan W. Smith Funeral Services: Since 2009, residents of Wilmington, Dover, and the surrounding Delaware community have relied on the caring staff at Evan W. Smith Funeral Services to help them through their darkest hours. Family-owned and operated, the company offers an array of elite funeral care services, including traditional funerals, cremations, memorials, pre-planning, and more. With decades of experience in caring for families from all cultural backgrounds and diverse walks of life, Evan W. Smith Funeral Services is committed to creating memorable, uplifting experiences that always exceed expectations. For more information, please visit

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