Grief can involve different emotions and even physical responses, including tiredness or fatigue. Here’s how to cope.
Navigating a loss can feel heavy for many reasons. And in addition to the emotional challenges, grief can take a toll on your body.
If you’re coping with grief, you might find not only that it’s harder to get out of bed in the morning but also that it takes you longer to complete certain everyday tasks.
The physical effects of loss may feel just as draining as the psychological ones. If grief is making you feel tired, you’re not alone — and there are ways to manage your physical symptoms and help yourself feel better.
Grief is a response to loss, which may involve profound sadness.
Often when we think of grief, our minds automatically go to the physical death of a loved one. And while the loss of a loved one is definitely something that causes grief, grieving may occur after any type of loss.
Grief is a response to a strong emotional bond with someone or something.
The loss could be related to a job you were laid off from, a relationship that ended, or a house that you had to say goodbye to — the feeling isn’t always limited to the tangible loss of a person.
Our minds and bodies are closely connected, which can mean that the psychological impact of grief can affect the physical body.
Here are a few ways that grief can make you feel tired and what you can do to cope.
After a loss, you may experience anxiety or major changes to your routine, which could impact your sleep.
How to cope
If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, here are a few strategies to consider:
- Practice good sleep hygiene.
- Limit screen time before bed.
- Cut out naps during the day.
- Limit caffeine intake.
- Ask a doctor about natural supplements such as melatonin.
- Consider a prescription sleep aid.
Hypervigilance and hyper-independence
Hypervigilance is a trauma response that can make you feel on edge or prepared to spring into action. Over time, this can lead to exhaustion.
Your body’s fight, flight. or freeze response is meant for short situations. It’s not meant to be activated all day, every day — this could overtax your nervous system.
Similarly, hyper-independence can be part of a trauma response that may make you feel like you have to carry everything on your own. When you’re hyper-independent, you might refuse help and support from others.
How to cope
Everyone needs someone to lean on from time to time, but this is especially true if you’re grieving. Connecting with loved ones can help you feel safe and supported.
If you feel like your nervous system is in overdrive, deep breathing exercises may help you relax.
Symptoms of grief can mimic those of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which means that sometimes it may be hard to tell the difference. Yet both depression and PTSD can be connected to grief, especially if the loss was traumatic.
Prolonged grief disorder (PGD) may also seem similar to depression. And, as with depression, fatigue can be a symptom of PGD.
While many people may eventually come to some degree of acceptance of the loss of their loved one, PGD occurs when a person’s grief becomes persistent and more intense.
According to the 2022 text revision to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), the diagnostic criteria for PGD include symptoms of bereavement for a loved one that persist for more than 12 months.
Other symptoms may include:
- intense longing for the deceased person
- preoccupation with thoughts of the deceased person
- identity disruption
- inability to accept the death
- intense emotional pain
- difficulty with relationships and everyday activities
- impaired social and occupational functioning
- emotional numbness
- intense loneliness
- anger and restlessness
- physical pain or discomfort
- decreased sleep quantity and quality
How to cope
If you’re experiencing any symptoms resembling depression, PTSD, or PGD, you may wish to speak with a mental health professional. They can determine whether your symptoms meet the criteria for a diagnosis.
Tiredness or fatigue isn’t the only way that grief can affect you physically. Dealing with loss could also cause:
- changes to eating patterns
- digestive problems
- aches and pains
- weakened immunity
Symptoms of grief can show up differently depending on the individual, which means there’s no one right way to navigate loss. Here are a few ways to take care of both your mind and your body during this difficult time:
- Be kind to yourself. Remember, grief can feel exhausting at times. Try to take it easy and practice self-care whenever you can.
- Maintain a circle of trusted folks. It’s OK if you’re not always up for regular chitchat, but ensuring you have support can be helpful when you need someone to lean on to remind you that you’re not alone.
- Keep nourishing food and plenty of water nearby. Staying on top of your health can be difficult when you’re grieving, but not eating or drinking enough could make your physical symptoms worse.
- Move your body in ways that feel good to you. Whether it’s a short walk to the mailbox or some quick stretches in the living room before breakfast, try to make time for daily movement.
- Find a creative outlet. You may want to try journaling, painting, playing an instrument, or anything that sparks your interest.
- Make room for your feelings. It’s important to allow yourself to feel your feelings and process them, rather than ignore or try to stuff them down, regardless of how much time has passed.
- Remember that this will pass. While it’s hardly easy, reminding yourself that you’ll get through this eventually can be helpful.
- Try to find meaning. It’s possible you may not ever fully get over a loss, but finding meaning in your experience can help you move forward. For example, if your loved one who died of cancer loved to run, you might organize a charity run in their honor.
- Know when to ask for help. If you’re worried about your safety and considering self-harm, you can reach out to a mental health professional or a hotline for support.
Are you currently in crisis?
If you feel like you’re having a mental health emergency, you can:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for English and 888-628-9454 for Spanish
- Chat with professionals at Lifeline Chat
- Text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741
- Check out Befrienders Worldwide or Suicide Stop if you’re not in the United States and need to find your country’s crisis hotline
If you decide to call an emergency number like 911, ask the operator to send someone trained in mental health, like Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) officers.
The heaviness of grief can take a toll on your body by disrupting your sleep and even mimicking the physical effects of trauma and other mental health conditions.
But grief is unavoidable, and we all experience loss at some point in our lives. Knowing the ways grief can show up in your body can help you cope and even inform others on how to support you.
Just try to remember that everyone experiences grief differently and there’s nothing wrong with how you feel. Just as each of us is unique, we all have different needs when it comes to getting through tough moments.
You can work through your feelings at your own pace — just try to take care of your body in the meantime.