5 Common Side Effects of Grief and How To Cope With Them

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Alecia Milano
Posted by Alecia Milano on June 13, 2023

While grief is a natural and necessary experience, it can be accompanied by a wide range of side effects, from physical symptoms like fatigue and changes in appetite, to emotional changes like depression and anxiety.  

Below we explore some of the common side effects of grief and provide tips and strategies for coping with them. Whether you are experiencing grief yourself or are supporting someone who is, this post will offer valuable insights and resources to help navigate this challenging time. 

Milano Monuments is not a medical provider and the information provided in this blog is for educational purposes only. This article is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. 

Emotional Pain

Losing someone you love is incredibly difficult. It's not just the loss itself that's hard to bear, but also the overwhelming emotions that come with it. Whether it's sadness, loneliness, anxiety, anger or guilt, grief can take many different forms and it can be hard to know how to manage these complex feelings. journaling

Studies show that grief-related emotional pain can have a significant impact on our mental and physical health. In the first few months after a loss, emotions can be particularly intense. Some people may even experience emotional numbness or detachment, as well as a sense of disbelief or confusion about the loss. 

How to Cope: It's important to take care of yourself during this time. Research suggests that people who: 

  • Seek support from others, 
  • Engage in self-care activities, 
  • And practice strategies for managing difficult emotions 

... are better able to cope with grief. This might include talking to a therapist or support group, engaging in physical activity, practicing mindfulness or meditation, or engaging in creative activities like journaling or art therapy. 

>>> Related Resource: Subscribe to our monthly email newsletter for ongoing grief support. 

Physical Changes

Grief can have a profound impact on the body, causing physical symptoms that can be difficult to manage. The experience of losing someone can lead to a wide range of changes in the body that can be distressing for those who are grieving, as they may not expect or understand the physical changes they are experiencing.

 elderly lady in pain

One study found that individuals who had recently experienced a loss were more likely to experience physical symptoms like fatigue, sleep disturbance and gastrointestinal problems. Another study found that bereaved individuals often experienced a range of physical symptoms, including headaches, muscle tension, and changes in appetite and weight.  


How to Cope: Take care of your body by engaging in self-care activities that promote physical health and well-being. This might include: 

  • Getting regular exercise. 
  • Eating a balanced diet. 
  • Listening to a podcast. 
  • Getting enough sleep. 
  • Reading a book. 
  • Practicing stress-reduction techniques like mindfulness or meditation.  
  • Watching a movie.

It may also be helpful to talk to a healthcare provider, therapist or support group about strategies for managing physical symptoms related to grief.  

Cognitive Changes

Cognitive changes make it hard to think clearly, which can be distressing for individuals who are already coping with the emotional pain of their loss. 

When a person experiences grief, the brain can enter a state of hyperarousal, making it difficult to concentrate, focus and remember things. This can be particularly challenging for individuals who need to perform everyday tasks during work or school.  

Disruptions in sleep patterns are also common for those grieving, which can make it more difficult for the brain to function optimally during waking hours. This can lead to cognitive changes likestaying organized forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating. 

How to Cope: When you're feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty concentrating, take a break from what you're doing. Go for a walk, take a nap or do something else that relaxes you. It also helps to keep track of important tasks and deadlines by using a planner or to-do list. This can help you stay on top of what needs done and reduce stress. 

Spiritual Distress

The loss of a loved one can raise profound questions about the meaning of life and existence, and can lead to spiritual distress that can be challenging to navigate. 

Spiritual distress can manifest as feelings of guilt, anger or a sense of disconnection from a higher stressed womanpower or purpose. A study published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine found that spiritual distress was a common occurrence among individuals who were grieving the loss of a loved one. 

Moreover, grief-related changes in brain function can impact emotional processing, decision-making, and our perception of self and others. These changes can make it challenging to find meaning and purpose in life, leading to spiritual distress. 

How to Cope: It's often helpful to engage in activities that promote spiritual and emotional well-being. This may involve: 

  • Talking to a spiritual leader or counselor. 
  • Engaging in meditation or prayer. 
  • Practicing gratitude or forgiveness. 
  • Seeking out activities that promote a sense of connection to others or to nature. 
  • Exploring different sources of meaning and purpose, such as volunteer work or creative pursuits. 

>>> Related Resource: 20 Prayers for Loved Ones Coping With Grief 

Behavioral Changes

When a person experiences grief, the brain can undergo changes in levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, which can impact mood, behavior, and motivation. 

Grief-related behavioral changes can manifest in different ways for different individuals. Some mayhugging self withdraw socially, while others may engage in risky behaviors like driving recklessly, or turning to drugs or alcohol. These changes in behavior are often related to the intensity of grief-related emotional pain and can be more common in individuals who have experienced traumatic or unexpected losses. 

How to Cope: Grief is a process and it never fully goes away. If you recognize behavioral changes related to your grief, try one or more of the following: 

  • Identify triggers. Pay attention to situations, people or objects that trigger changes in behavior. Once identified, try to avoid or minimize exposure to those triggers. 
  • Practice self-compassion. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Recognize that you are going through a difficult time and that it's okay to make mistakes or slip up. 
  • Set small goals. Break down larger tasks or goals into smaller, more manageable steps. This can help build confidence and a sense of accomplishment. 

More Tips For Coping With Grief 

If you're looking for support and guidance while coping with grief, subscribe to our email newsletter, The Turning Stone. Each month you’ll receive memorialization and grief support resources in your inbox to help you navigate your loss. 

memorialization and grief resources

Topics: Grief

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