Understanding the Physical Symptoms of Grief

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Author Name: Beth Rush
Date: Tuesday August 18, 2020

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If you’ve lost someone close to you, your whole life might feel upside down right now. Grief has the power to manifest in many different ways both emotionally and physically. Everyone processes things differently, and there is no wrong way to grieve. 

While the physical symptoms of grief are often directly related to the emotional and behavioral effects, human bodies react in mysterious ways sometimes. If you notice that you’re experiencing physical changes as you’re grieving, they might be directly related to your grief in ways you might not realize.

Having an awareness of both your emotional state and physical body is important for the grieving process, as well as your overall health. While knowing and understanding might not fix things, it’s still important to feel safe and seen in your own body. 

Physical Pain and Discomfort

The brain and the body are often connected in very intimate ways. Your brain can send pain responses to your body when you’re experiencing emotional trauma. This can manifest as headaches, migraines, chest pain, muscle soreness or really any other experience of physical pain.

It’s important to remember that as you grieve, your body might respond to your pain, and that’s perfectly normal.


While fatigue is related to physical pain, they’re not exactly the same. However, they are related. Fatigue can encompass physical exhaustion and discomfort, but fatigue can also be mental and emotional. 

While bearing the emotional and mental weight of losing a loved one while still performing the tasks you need to survive can absolutely cause fatigue simply by draining your energy, fatigue can be its own manifestation within the grieving process.

On both the practical and the more emotional end, fatigue is often a part of the grieving process.

Digestive Issues

If the emotional impact of losing someone has changed your eating habits, it’s understandable that your digestive system would respond to those changes. While sometimes it is that simple, other times it goes much deeper — or it could even be a combination of both.

The digestive system responds to intense stress in the body. Emotions such as anxiety, depression, anger and sadness all have the power to affect the digestive tract. Just like nervousness can give your stomach a queasy feeling, emotional responses can cause stress on your digestion. 

While factors such as diet might be up for examination and could serve to resolve some of your digestive problems, experiencing these issues while grieving is normal, even though it may be uncomfortable.

Improper Sleep

Grief has the power to impact sleep on various ends of the spectrum. Some people experience an inability to fall asleep or sleep soundly through the night, while others experience an influx of exhaustion and find themselves sleeping for hours each day. While this is often related to the mental health challenges of grieving, it can also feel very physical.

Sleep irregularity is a common symptom of grieving, with many people noticing variation in their sleep schedule after losing a loved one. 

Weight Fluctuation

Weight gain or loss in the wake of grief is often practical in its relation to habits and changes in eating and behavior, but it can also be emotional and physical, existing separate from behavioral changes. While grief can change your eating and exercise habits, which can affect your weight in either direction, there could also be other elements at play.

Your body can respond by gaining or losing weight when faced with stress or emotional trauma. Every person is different, and weight can fluctuate depending upon emotional factors all the time. It’s important to remember that this is a totally normal body response.

In tough times, the human body can respond in any number of ways. It’s important to remember that your emotions, thoughts and physical responses are valid and that you aren’t alone. Understanding the physical toll grief takes on the body may help you feel a bit more in control. This is a part of the process, and you’ll make it through.

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