“But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.”
The words are impressive and true as well. When we are in grief, in addition to emotional reactions, the physical reactions we show are important because our bodies provide us with valuable clues to enable us to understand how we experience our grief period and what we need.
Fatigue, headache and dizziness, stomach-ache, nausea, sweating, muscle and joint pain, chest tightness, indigestion, arrhythmia... What is happening to our bodies? What is happening inside us, and so our bodies show these reactions?
I would like to continue explaining broken heart syndrome. I don’t know whether you have heard that we might have to go the hospital due to our broken hearts, but what I am talking about is a real medical term. Death of a beloved one, other griefs leaving us with deep scars, traumas we have experienced…You see broken heart syndrome is one of the reactions the body shows in these situations. It emerges with a sudden chest pain similar to a heart attack, but it occurs as a result of the weakening of the left ventricle without a blockage in arteries. Not only heart diseases but also physical diseases, especially in traumatic griefs as shown by the researches might result in cancer. Yes, there are cancer cells in the bodies of most of us; however, in our regular lives, our immune system keeps them under control and manageable state.
Do not underestimate grief. Something is happening in our bodies when we are in grief.
Stressful, traumatic, fearful and regretful situations we have experienced and/or our states in grief including these elements stimulate our adrenal gland producing a hormon cocktail like adrenalin and cortisol( stress hormone). For example, this hormone cocktail might result in broken heart syndrome by weaking the pumping ability of the heart or cause us to suffer from diseases kept away from us up to that time suppressing the immune system.
What happens in our bodies is not restricted to only these. This hormone cocktail pumped by our bodies while we experience grief, puts us into fight or flight perception without any sign of physical danger threatening our lives. The body tries to protect us reacting these hormones and sympathetic nervous system steps in. However, the difference is that there is no place to escape to or nobody to fight. This state of being in-between is the main reason for the tension people in grief feel deep down inside. You may have heard about families or friends fighting while in grief. The reason is that we perceive each other as threat when there is no one to fight around.
In addition, when we have nowhere to escape, we don’t need the prefrontal cortex in charge of planning. Blood flow in that part of the brain slows down. That’s why, the skills of concentration, decision making, being reasonable and sensible in people in grief diminish as blood doesn’t go to the parts of the brain, we need to do these.
Well, where does this blood go to? To the muscles to prepare us for war. If the muscles do not release this energy running or escaping, it is released from the system through nausea, diarrhoea or vomiting. This is the relationship between our grief state and our digestion system.
I f we go back to the previous paragraph, i.e. prefrontal cortex, I would like to emphasize again that being rational, concentration and verbal skills are affected due to diminishing blood flow. This is why it is such a misguidance to push grieving people to talk or “have a heart-to-heart talk” or say: “You will feel better if you talk”.
And there is also the sense of numbness. The reaction of shutting off myself enabling me to survive in situations I can neither fight nor flight. The desire of grieving people to stare at the ceiling doing nothing or to sleep or the comments of these people like “I don’t remember how I went to the funeral, how the funeral was” are all related to this as our nervous system helps us go through this compelling process freezing and shutting itself off.
All these situations I have mentioned are the reactions our bodies might show during the process of grieving. Firstly, it is important to accept our situation, slow down and brew in them seeing that these reactions are normal. It is also necessary to observe our situation without criticizing and judging. Afterwards, it is therapeutic to convert this awareness to an insight; being able to express our grief in ways suitable for us when we feel ready. For example, finding practises to help us move in situations when we freeze or discovering practices to help us relieve our nervous system in other situations. This is to live with grief and hold space for grief to integrate into our lives.
I was going to write something about the places where grief and trauma intersect, but I finish here for now as the writing is long. I will talk about this in my writing two weeks later.
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