How Grief Works

Grief, grieving: a pattern of physiological responses to the loss of a loved one or a pet. Also: similar responses to divorce, separation, aging, moving, job termination.

Loss equals change and change is a necessary part of our human development. Grieving is a normal, healthy response to non-elective change. There is not a way to prevent grief, and no right or wrong way to grieve.

Learning what helps you when you are coping with loss takes a bit of trial and error and works best in a non-judgmental environment. You need to trust your thoughts and feelings. Most importantly, do not feel compelled to change to conform to someone else’s expectations or definitions of grief. Expressing your thoughts and feelings, either verbally or by writing them down, will help you gain clarity and identify the grief work that you need to do.

Because grief has a physical component, difficult changes will often show in our behavior, and in eating, and sleeping patterns. Grief can create feelings of guilt, denial, anger and depression. Don’t worry—these are normal responses to loss, because the grief process affects our entire being.

Surprisingly, grief also affects (and changes) our body chemistry, especially the endocrine system—the glands of the body. Our glands produce hormones that keep our chemistry balanced, but grieving diminishes the production of these hormones.

For example: do not consume fruit juices or a high carbohydrate intake for 6 to 8 weeks after loss occurs, because the pancreas may not be able respond to intense sugar intake. The pancreas produces insulin, but this gland may not be operating optimally during grief. (If you consume too much sugar without the right amount of insulin, you may notice fainting, dizziness or “floaty” feelings.) Note: Monitoring sugar intake during the grieving process is very important for Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetics.

It’s also important to eat small portions of food or snacks throughout the day. Your body needs repair from the stress or trauma of the loss. And if you are on medication, the medication may need to be adjusted because your chemistry is different than when your prescription was issued. 

As you move through the grieving process, be sure to contact your doctor if you are having medical symptoms—or 911 if you need immediate medical help.