The Physical Demands of Grief

Grief is exhausting. It takes a huge amount of physical energy, in addition to the mental and emotional. As Ginger Sullivan, LPC and psychotherapist, so aptly blogged, “Grieving is a 24/7 job that places high demands on our whole self.”

My grief has left me bone tired, blurry, achy, and unable to concentrate. Then, I’ll experience a short recuperation, or even a burst of energy, after which a strong current of tiredness overtakes me again. I’m trying to accept the back and forth, and allow myself to go with it, instead of fighting it with a willfully imposed productivity that usually backfires anyway. 

Letting grief temporarily build-up – whether from the day-to-day demands of life, or unconsciously trying to push through it – has physical repercussions for me too. I’m like a pressure-cooker and I have to regularly let off the steam of sadness by giving myself over to the experience. I do this primarily through crying (alone, or with an understanding loved one or friend), talking about Chris, writing about her, and to her, and listening to, and making, music. Being able to distract myself from my grief allows me to function, but too much of a build-up exhausts me even more.

In his book “Better Than Blessed,” psychologist and minister Donald L. Anderson said, “Healthy are those who mourn. Only very recently have we begun to realize that to deny grief is to deny a natural human function and that such denial sometimes produces dire consequences. Grief, like any genuine emotion, is accompanied by certain physical changes and the release of a form of psychic energy.”

My stress response is also compromised. I don’t have my normal “bounce back” from situations that really aren’t that big of a deal. I find that I need to consciously remind myself that these minor melt-downs are a signal that I need to retreat for a bit to release and/or renew my physical energies along with my emotional ones. I’ve never felt to this degree how physically demanding vulnerability can be, and that there must be recuperation from that emotional expenditure. Is it any wonder that embracing our experience of grief is unpopular?

Some things that are recuperative and energizing to me (though I struggle with consistency) are extra sleep, quiet time (especially in the morning and at night), gentle exercise like walking and yoga, eating nutritious foods and drinking extra water, practicing guitar and writing music, and talking honestly with those who are recently bereaved or experienced in attending to their own grief. And of course, talking about Kissie and her influence in my life, and hearing others’ stories of her influence in theirs, is deeply restorative. 

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