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The Stress of Loss and Suffering: Health Consequences and Remedies

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We’ve heard about spouses passing away soon after their loved one, even though they seemed relatively healthy prior to their spouse’s death, but what about grief is so deadly? The answer is stress. Theold man looking sad hormones released during times of immense stress, such as cortisol, weaken the immune system. For younger healthy people the effects of increased cortisol is often balanced by another hormone, DHEA, allowing the immune system to still function and fight off most infections and disease. However, in older people the production of DHEA decreases, leaving the elderly far more susceptible to health problems. Using traditional stress management strategies to combat prolonged severe stress is important, but that’s not the whole picture. Compound the physical dangers of stress with the psychological effects of grief, and this is a potentially dangerous combination.

During times of immense grief people commonly suffer with a set of psychological ailments beyond the harmful physical effects of stress. Most often this includes a combination of depression and anxiety that also feeds intense physical stress, increasing the severity and duration of its effects. But, there are other problems associated with depression and anxiety as well, and these problems can lead to additional health concerns:

    • Insomnia: Prolonged loss of sleep that is common for someone grieving, and it can have health consequences. Insomnia can weaken the immune system and reduce the body’s ability to manage stress and function. Reduced alertness can also lead to increased accidents and injuries.
    • Loss of appetite: Can reduce the amount of nutrients and overall nourishment needed for the body to function. A lack of nourishment can also weaken the immune system and lead to multiple health problems such as healthy organ functioning. In the most extreme cases, there may not be enough fluid intake, leading to dehydration and another host of dangerous physical problems as a result.
    • Irritability and reclusiveness: Can cause people to alienate or avoid their support system of friends and family, and the lack of pro-social involvement and engagement with positive relationships is known to increase feelings of depression and anxiety.
  • Inattentive to hygiene: People who are depressed may not participate in daily living activities such as house chores, shopping, bill paying and personal hygiene routines. Decreased personal hygiene can directly lead to infections and disease, particularly among elderly people with health concerns such as diabetes and immune conditions. This display of having a lack of concern for self can also be a red flag that medications may not be taken regularly or at all, which could be life-threatening depending on health conditions.

There are proactive steps that can be taken to help prevent health risks associated with grief, such as:

    • Involvement of friends and family: A caring support system is perhaps the most important defense in helping someone manage grief, and it is best if this includes a team of caring people so as not to “burn out” or overly burden one individual. Having positive relationships around to help with chores, encourage involvement in outside activities and participation in hobbies, or at least to ensure food is being consumed, personal hygiene is attended to, medication is being taken and a compassionate ear is available to listen.
    • Ask for help: If you are grieving and feel unable to function, please ask for help from a friend, family member, church, your doctor or even social services in your community. As humans, we sometimes erroneously think that strength means doing things on our own, when sometimes the greatest strength comes in the form of asking for help and allowing others to help us.
    • Be of service: It may sound counter-intuitive to try to help others when it feels like you need more help yourself, and in some cases if there are serious health risks, this may be true. However, reaching out and helping others, being of service to people and the community can significantly help boost your mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
    • Exercise: While someone suffering with grief may not feel like exercising, it can be a positive boost to relieve stress and the endorphins released through rigorous exercise can help reduce depressive symptoms.
    • Meditation: Mindful meditation and yoga can help focus and balance energy and thoughts, including limiting the mind’s tendency to ruminate on sadness and other negative thoughts and feelings. This may seem extremely difficult to do at first, but with practice, many people dealing with grief have found meditation to be a source of relief and healing.


  • Dietary supplements: If you may not be eating as much as you should, particularly an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, it is likely that you are lacking in required nutrients and micro-nutrients to stay healthy and help manage stress. Consider taking supplements such as vitamins, minerals and other natural remedies. At least consider taking a multivitamin with food daily until your appetite returns to normal.

For more information on natural remedies for stress, please click here: Natural Stress Remedies


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