Stress is all around us — and no one is immune. When you think about what causes your own stress, what likely comes to mind are things like being stuck in traffic or running late for work, perhaps because these are everyday obstacles. But truly, it’s the major life changes like marriage, becoming parents or job loss that typically bring on harmful amounts of stress. In fact, the death of a loved one is considered the number one stress driver.
Whether it’s a spouse, family member or close friend, losing a loved one presents you with one of the greatest challenges you may ever face. The stress of learning to live without them includes changing family dynamics, taking over responsibilities your loved one once dealt with, spending time alone and simply struggling with your new normal.
How you cope with that stress affects your body physically, mentally and spiritually. Learning to overcome that stress in positive ways will help you move forward and live your best possible life.
Stress Can Harm Your Body
When you’re faced with a stressful situation, your body uses its natural fight or flight response, producing a stress hormone called cortisol. While this hormone can be good for us in small doses to give us a burst of energy and resolve, consistent release of cortisol can be harmful to our bodies over time and cause serious health issues. Some specific ways stress may affect your body are:
- Decreased Bone Density
- Headache, Back Pain and Stomach Ache
- High Cholesterol
- Increased Blood Pressure
- Loss of Appetite
- Lowered Immune System
- Risk of Heart Disease
- Slowed Motor Reactions
- Trouble Sleeping, Insomnia or Frequent Waking
- Weight Gain
Stress Can Harm Your Mind and Spirit
As you might guess, stress can affect your mind in a number of ways. And its effects, from mood swings to complete isolation, can range from mild to very severe. Other effects may include:
- Difficulty Making Decisions
- Fear of the Future
- Loss of Interest in Normal Activities
- Slowed Motor Reactions
- Social Avoidance
- Trouble Concentrating or Focusing
Learn to Cope With Your Loss
Grieving is a painful but necessary path to healing. Learning to cope with the death of a loved one is a vital step in improving your quality of life. Coping techniques include:
Acknowledge Your Feelings
Recognize stressors associated with the loss of your loved one such as anger, sadness and frustration. Accept these feelings as a normal part of your grieving process and be assured they will come to an end.
Avoid Drugs and Alcohol
Drugs and alcohol may numb your pain, but they only offer temporary relief. They can also create more problems for you, actually increasing your stress level.
Build a Strong Support System
Talk about the stress you’re feeling since your loved one’s passing with family, friends, co-workers or a religious leader. A solid support system will help you more fully process your loss, and help you move toward a productive and fulfilling future.
Practice Self Care
Make taking care of yourself your top priority. Maintain a healthy diet, get physically active, connect socially, get adequate sleep and maintain a normal routine.
Remember Your Loved One
Frame your favorite pictures, donate to a charity on behalf of your loved one, start a scholarship in their name, celebrate their birthday or honor them in way that’s unique to you.
There’s No Shame in Asking for Help
Stress — especially the kind that results from the loss of a loved one — can be overwhelming. If stress-relieving techniques aren’t working or you feel unable to cope, reach out to a mental health professional right away.