According to Stephanie Hairston for WebMd, studies show the powerful effects grief can have on the body:
- Grief increases inflammation, which can worsen health problems you already have and cause new ones.
- It batters the immune system, leaving you depleted and vulnerable to infection.
- heartbreak of grief can increase blood pressure and the risk of blood clots.
- Intense grief can alter the heart muscle so much that it causes “broken heart syndrome,” a form of heart disease with the same symptoms as a heart attack.
Stress is the factor that links the emotional and physical aspects of grief. The systems in the body that process physical and emotional stress overlap, and emotional stress will activate the nervous system as easily as physical threats do. When stress becomes chronic, increased adrenaline and blood pressure can contribute to chronic medical conditions.
Defenses Against Grief
When you are grieving you’re not choosing necessarily the most productive ways to process your grief and get through it. Sometimes people react to their grief by trying to suppress it, to stop the pain, but research shows that this is counter-productive in the end.
Emotional pain activates the same regions of the brain as physical pain, which is why painkilling drugs ranging from opioids to Tylenol have been shown to actually ease emotional pain, at least in the short term. These ways of defending against grief and the trauma of grief have many a substance disorder as a result.
Another reaction to grief can be rumination- repetitive, negative, self-focused thought, another counter-productive strategy which is actually a way to avoid problems. People who ruminate shift attention away from painful truths by focusing on negative material that is less threatening than the truths they want to avoid. This pattern of thinking is strongly associated with depression.
The body and the mind have natural abilities to integrate new realities and heal which are blocked by rumination and other forms of avoidance like drugs and alcohol. These wrongly aimed defenses against grief demand energy and deplete the body’s chemistry of healing and regeneration. More side effects follow.
Research by Stroebe, and others shows that avoidance behavior makes depression, complicated grief, and the physical health problems that go with them more likely. Efforts to avoid the reality of loss can cause fatigue, weaken your immune system, increase inflammation, and prolong other ailments.
Embracing Grief To Heal
To boost recovery from grief and its trauma, doing Empatharian can have a unique effect that boosts physical and mental health. Exercising, spending time in nature, getting enough sleep, and talking to loved ones about our grief, are ways we can embrace and care for ourselves, nurturing our own self-healing body chemistry. To heal from grief, we embrace the grief and nurture ourselves positively.
Doing the Empatharian practices reinforces and builds the core source energies and spiritual energy that renews being in the present moment. Doing the practice bathes our physical self in the self-healing pain-killing natural chemicals produced in the human body, promoting mental well-being, perspective, and clarity. Dopamine, Seratonin, Oxytocin, and Endorphins are some of the internal elixirs that help self-healing physically and mentally.
Mentally, the Empatharian practice reminds the practitioner about connection to the past, the ancestors, and the future, our legacy. With raw grief and mourning, it becomes natural to create and express in Empatharian the beauty of your lost loved one. The talking circle allows practitioners to be and create a story to share, memorializing their loved one in an embodied tribute that can be dramatic, moving, and inspiring.
You may choose to share the sadness of your loss, or simply let others see the art that expresses it, without any words. Empathy is the healing energy that you give to yourself and others give to you, as you give it to others, wherever they may be at. You don’t have to ask for help, but the facilitator of your group may refer you to resources when they see indications of your struggle with grief.
Grief is a natural part of life, death is a natural part of life. Loss is a natural part of life, and so is gain and growth. Grief and mourning can deepen spiritual presence, and it doesn’t need to tear apart the physical self.