A Missing Piece in Grief Support - Your Body & Nervous System

coping with grief grief grief & body grief resources

What happens when your body meets grief?

It’s one of those situations that IYKYK.

Ever since the death of your person you’ve been experiencing bone-deep fatigue, exhaustion, headaches, muscles aches, heaviness in limbs, and shortness of breath. Maybe that’s blended with lack of appetite, indigestion, nausea, and weight change. And perhaps with a topping of increased heart rate, chest pain and hair loss.

I can confirm for you right now, it’s not a coincidence. And you’re not the only one.

In fact, emotional pain and physical pain activate the same regions in the brain - experiencing the death of someone you love is literally equivalent, in your brain, to a physical injury.

Grief causes a massive stress on the body, it hammers the immune system, increases inflammation, and meanwhile your brain is frantically re-wiring connections. Your body is on alert, living in fight or flight, and it can cope with that for a short time.

That’s what it is designed to do - help you survive a challenging period in your life.

But it can’t handle it forever.

Historically, cultures and communities had rituals that would support the bereaved in being with their grief. Openly grieving and mourning was encouraged. 

These days, as a society that’s not something we’d receive 5 stars for.

Without healthy ways to support your body through and beyond this process, you can become stuck in this grief-mode, stuck with that switch “on”, with symptoms lingering - essentially being held back from reclaiming the life you’d love to live.

An important point to note here is that the capacity of your nervous system for change PRE-GRIEF also matters, and is part of why we all experience grief so differently. Our unique histories of trauma (physical, emotional, mental, systemic and one-off or on-going), lifestyle, social connections, self-worth and self-acceptance mean we are all in various states of resilience for when the unthinkable happens. A handy thing to remember next time you find yourself being sucked into the comparison game.

Why is this important?

 You can already start to see why the body and nervous system is important, and how crucial it truly is, to consider in the grief healing equation.

In case you need a little more convincing, here are a few more fun facts:

  • It’s now widely known that there is not just a connection between our minds and bodies, but important communication happens between our minds and our bodies. It's a two way highway of information. What perhaps isn’t so well known is that 80% of that information is going from the body to the brain. We are limited by the facts of our biology that even doing our very bestest at talking or thinking our way through grief is only 20% of the equation.
  • Many body-based measures, tools or practices, once learned, are with you forever. While there are times when you might desire to have someone guide you, the reality is that they are accessible in almost every way – you can call on these body-based exercises anytime, anywhere, at your own pace, with anyone or on your own. In this way you truly become an agent of your own healing.
  • Often when we are upset, activated or feeling big emotions it can be reeeally hard to put all of that into words. If you’ve ever responded to someone who asks tenderly, “what’s wrong?” by bursting into tears you might know what I mean. It applies to “happy” times too - we “jump for joy” and fist-pump and shout, because again, sometimes we simply don’t have language for what we’re feeling inside.
  • Our bodies store energy and emotions from our life thus far, the majority of which we’re not even aware of consciously. The beauty of body-based techniques is that if these are ready to move through us, to be let go, we don’t need our thinking-brain to even get involved. We just let the wisdom of our body work its magic, and allow it to do what it’s designed to do.

Take some time to find which types of body-oriented practices work for you on your grief journey.

It could be something intuitive and informal like walking, swimming, biking, dancing, lifting weights or stretching. Or it might be joining a guided practice like breathwork, yoga, pilates, chanting, fitness class, or dance class. Alternatively you might seek out professional support in a somatic therapist or trauma-informed yoga therapist.

Want more?

To explore more techniques & tools for grieving consciously in today's world, get in touch. Book your free, zero-obligation, 30-minute Clarity Call to learn how I can support you.

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