Experiencing loss is, unfortunately, a part of life. At some time, you will undoubtedly lose someone, or something, that’s been an important part of your life. Coping with loss – from whatever source – can be a very painful experience that negatively affects your mental and physical well-being. In short, you can actually become ill from the grief and anger associated with loss. So, I’d like to talk to you here about some health issues that can be associated with coping with loss and how to avoid them.
Coping With Loss: Protect Your Heart and Your Health
Experiencing loss – especially the unexpected death of a significant person in your life – spouse, child, parent, friend, or grandparent – whomever, can emotionally as well as physically break your heart. In a recent study published in the American Heart Associations journal, Circulation, researchers reported that your risk of heart attack rises significantly to about a 20% chance in the first week following the death. Other studies have shown that hundreds of people suffer heart attacks in the first 6 months following the death – and about 20 people suffer one in the first few days of the death. They even have a name for it – “broken heart syndrome” as it’s commonly called, or, clinically, Takotsubo syndrome.
Whatever you call it, it’s a heart attack that can occur when someone is abruptly faced with shocking, stressful news. Researchers are unsure why people, even with no previous documented heart issues, suddenly suffer a heart attack in loss situations, but surmise that it has to do with the sudden rise in the stress hormone cortisol that raises your blood pressure and increases blood clotting factors. Extreme anger can also bring on the syndrome that doesn’t have to be associated with loss. In essence, your physical body can react violently to the sudden outpouring of stress hormones.
It’s not just the shock of someone’s death that can negatively affect your health. It’s also a divorce or other relationship breakup, losing your job, your house foreclosing, losing a friendship – anything that causes you significant stress. If there’s significant anger along with it, the risk is higher. Studies have shown that loss – in all its forms – especially those that also make you very angry – is associated with worsening health over a period of time after the loss occurs. Does that mean you’re doomed to suffer a heart attack or become ill if you suffer loss and/or become very angry? You don’t have to. There are some things you can do to stay healthy, deal with your grief and your anger, and help yourself suffer the loss gracefully. Here are some helpful tips:
1. Know the symptoms, seek medical care. Many people ignore the symptoms of stress-related heart problems because their mind is so taken up with the loss that they’re not paying attention to their physical symptoms. Chest pain, stomach pain, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, sudden headache, can all be signs that your stress hormones have skyrocketed and you need to be evaluated.
2. Don’t hold in your emotions. Some people feel that they have to put on a brave front when a loss occurs. Trying to smile and hold yourself together for other people’s sake adds more stress to your plate, creating a pressure-cooker situation. Crying actually helps your body release stress and tension, and helps you to sleep. Even though you may feel too drained to do it, exercise can also help you release increased emotional stress and lower stress hormones. Go for a walk with someone, a bike ride, or go to the gym and workout for a while. Let feelings out in a journal.
3. Sleep. When loss occurs, one of the first physical reactions you may have is inability to sleep. The loss plays over and over in your head and keeps you anxious and awake. Yet, sleep helps you release tension and decrease stress hormones. Talk to your doctor who may suggest a temporary light sleep aid. You may also want to try some melatonin to help you sleep.
4. Protect your immune system. It’s common for people to not want to eat much when they suffer a loss. Some people want to eat too much – and mostly sugary, zero nutrition, junk foods. Some people also turn to alcohol or even drugs to numb themselves. As such, your nutritional levels can decrease significantly and so can your immune system. During this time, stay away from alcohol or drugs as they can only worsen matters. Try to eat something nutritionally sound when you do eat and back up your immune system with a good multivitamin supplement. Particularly important is one that contains Vitamin D3, B12, calcium, and magnesium as they help boost the immune system and release nervous stress.
5. Seek counseling. Grief counselors, or support groups, can help you deal with any type of loss you’ve suffered. You may have a lot of different, very personal, feelings about the loss – sadness, guilt, anger, remorse – that you may not feel comfortable expressing to friends or family members right now. Yet, you need to release these feelings in order to help normalize your stress hormones. They can be found through a local hospital or your doctor may even suggest one.
Whether it’s through death, divorce, loss of a job, loss of a home, kids moving away from home, even retiring from a long, happy career – you’ll experience loss on many levels throughout your life. Although it’s true that time lessens much of the pain of all losses, it’s important that you learn how to “grieve healthy” in order to handle life’s losses, recover, protect your heart and your health and successfully go on with your life.
Dale Brown, B.S., M.A., C.E.C.
Natural Health News
Heart Attack Risks Soar Grieving Loved Ones,http://abcnews.go.com/Health/grieving-raises-heart-attack-risk-study/story?id=15324068
Coping with Grief and Loss, http://www.helpguide.org/mental/grief_loss.htm