Everyone goes through seasons of loss and change, with varying levels of intensity. The transitions and heartbreaks of life can build up and affect not only your mental health, but your physical health as well. This is especially true if there is incomplete, or unresolved, grief.
Incomplete grief can come out in the form of reactivity, triggers, anxiety, anger, tears, or depression. Your health may also start to suffer. Keep reading to better understand your grief and how it may be affecting your health.
What Is Incomplete Grief?
Grief refers to emotional distress, due to loss or change in a familiar pattern of behavior. It is usually made up of conflicting feelings, such as a mixture of good and bad memories and things unsaid, undone, or unfinished.
Grief that is incomplete is often about unrealized hopes, dreams, or expectations. If the relationship was happy and healthy, we likely have plans we never accomplished, and time we couldn’t spend together. In difficult relationships, we are robbed of the opportunity to repair the connection, among other things. In both cases, unresolved grief includes undelivered communications of an emotional nature.
This experience of incompleteness is extremely common. One could argue that grief never ends, but it can shift, lighten up, and transform – when the right therapeutic actions are taken. I offer a program that does just that, which I share about more at the end of this blog.
How Grief Affects Your Health
Here are the 3 most common ways that incomplete grief can affect your physical health. As always, be sure to seek medical attention. Get treated according to your healthcare provider’s advice. Once that is taken care of, you may want to investigate if or how grief has contributed to your symptoms.
1. Eating and digestion
Intense feelings like grief are often linked to your gut and digestive processes. The gut is known as the “second brain” because it is so connected to emotions and cognition. A common example of this is having a stomachache from feeling nervous or excited.
Unresolved grief may make you feel like not eating at all. Or, you could overeat as a way to numb or soothe yourself. You may crave salty, sweet, or high-fat foods. Overindulging, while OK now and then, can of course lead to weight gain and health problems. Heart health is often affected by consuming fat laden or processed foods. On the flip side, your body suffers when you don’t get enough calories or needed nutrients.
2. Sleep changes
One of the most common manifestations of stress and loss is sleep struggles. You may have insomnia where you can’t fall or stay asleep. There may be intrusive thoughts or feelings that keep you awake or create anxiety.
Or you may experience the opposite, where you oversleep and can’t get out of bed. This symptom tends to be associated with depressive feelings. Either extreme affects both your physical and mental health. Most people don’t feel well when they over- or under-sleep. They are both a signal that further support is warranted.
3. Pain and discomfort
Incomplete grief, as well as other challenges, can make us more sensitive to physical pain. Headaches and body aches/pains are some of the most reported symptoms I hear. There might also be stomach aches, muscle spasms, or vague chronic pain. Chest tightness or discomfort is prevalent too, and commonly accompanies anxiety.
While facing grief head on brings the best results in my opinion, there are other things you can do to reduce symptoms. Try deep breathing, exercise, journaling, implementing a structured routine, or sharing with a trusted person. Maybe you don’t feel quite ready to deal with your incomplete grief, and that’s OK. At the same time, you may never feel like it. Doing so requires courage and willingness to do the emotional work. Your effort will, however, reap great rewards and change your life.
Address Incomplete Grief And Improve Your Health
Dealing with your grief will usually start to alleviate physical symptoms (in conjunction with appropriate medical care). The way we move from incomplete grief to “complete” grief is by taking specific, therapeutic actions.
Time does not, in fact, heal the heart. It may lessen the pain, but it’s not until we take the right steps do we truly start to feel better. Getting to the core and releasing the baggage is what causes a breakthrough, both emotionally and physically.
To find out more about my 7-step grief recovery program, available on Zoom or in person, via individual sessions or a group format, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It works for any loss or life change, including death, divorce, romantic and friend breakups, pet loss, helping children grieve, moving, health conditions, empty nest, and relationships with people who are still alive but it’s complicated or painful. People say you have to let go and move on, but they don’t tell you how. THIS will show you how.
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