Grief – Physical, Mental, and Cognitive

I forgot an assignment last month. Now, that might not seem like a big deal, but I am in in a Doctorate program; I have participated in a LOT of academics. I have 3 degrees and several certifications; I have done an s-ton of assignments, and never forgotten one until last month. Why? Grief. Did you know forgetfulness is a symptom of grief? My dad died in October and it threw me off my game, even though I “knew better.” [1][2]

Here is a picture of my dad a few months before he died.

Grief (mourning, loss, and trauma) hijacks your brain. It takes your mental, emotional, and cognitive resources. Grief steals the focus and attention you would normally have available for other things. Your attention, time, and energy and even your health are gobbled up for the grief monster and not available for your everyday tasks. Grief affects you physically as well as emotionally:

Physically

  1. Sleep – Grief can disrupt sleep.[3]
  2. Headaches[4]
  3. Appetite and digestive issues. [5]
  4. Cardiac issues.[6]
  5. Decreased immunity.[7]

Cognitive and Mental Health

  1. Driving impairment. [8]
  2. Increased anxiety.[9]
  3. Depression symptoms.
  4. Reduced cognitive (thinking) function. [10]
  5. Multi-tasking and executive function.

Stress, of which grief is a unique and particular kind, has specific and known impact on a person. It’s important to be aware of your life in the context of your own recent history. A helpful tool for this is the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory. This tool can be used as a self-administered assessment to understand your risk for illness in the short term, and to understand the cumulative effect of any additional stressors.

I am writing a series of blog posts covering grief in particular and loss and trauma more generally.

The local recovery community has experienced a traumatic loss, and I want the community to have access to helpful and accurate information about what they may experience, and on how to walk through the grief, stress, and loss as individuals and a community.  This blog posts (Number 1 in the series) introduces possible physical, cognitive and mental health effects. The next post in the series will review the well known “stages of grief” with updated and current information. Post 3 will address ways to help and support, but not hurry, minimize, invalidate or dismiss the grief process. Post 4 will address the grief process and substance use or overuse specifically. The final post in the series will cover what to look out for in yourself and others should the grief, loss, or trauma experience move beyond expected range and need additional support or a higher level of care.

[1] https://whatsyourgrief.com/physical-grief-symptoms/

[2] https://www.everydayhealth.com/news/how-grief-can-make-you-sick/

[3] https://www.netdoctor.co.uk/healthy-living/mental-health/a26707/coping-with-grief-physical-symptoms/

[4] https://www.webmd.com/special-reports/grief-stages/20190711/how-grief-affects-your-body-and-mind

[5] https://www.verywellmind.com/physical-symptoms-of-grief-4065135

[6] https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/when-loss-hurts-6-physical-effects-of-grief-0520187

[7] https://www.everydayhealth.com/news/how-grief-can-make-you-sick/

[8] https://www.verywellmind.com/physical-symptoms-of-grief-4065135

[9] https://modernloss.com/10-ways-to-overcome-grief-related-anxiety/

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4163517/

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