First, we look at grief in general. Then we consider grief and your immune system.
An Overview of Grief
“Grief is a strong, sometimes overwhelming emotion for people, regardless of whether their sadness stems from the loss of a loved one or from a terminal diagnosis they or someone they love have received. They might find themselves feeling numb and removed from daily life, unable to carry on with regular duties while saddled with their sense of loss.”
“Grief is the natural reaction to loss. Grief is both a universal and a personal experience. Individual experiences of grief vary and are influenced by the nature of the loss. Some examples of loss include the death of a loved one, the ending of an important relationship, job loss, loss through theft, or the loss of independence through disability.”
“Experts advise those grieving to realize they can’t control the process and to prepare for varying stages of grief. Understanding why they’re suffering can help, as can talking to others and trying to resolve issues that cause significant emotional pain, such as feeling guilty for a loved one’s death.”
“Mourning can last for months or years. Generally, pain is tempered as time passes and as the bereaved adapts to life without a loved one, to the news of a terminal diagnosis or to the realization that someone they love may die.”
“If you’re uncertain about whether your grieving process is normal, consult your health care professional. Outside help is sometimes beneficial to people trying to recover and adjust to a death or diagnosis of a terminal illness.”
Grief and Your Immune System
From our own health perspective, grief can have a dramatic effect on our immune systems. Understanding this is vital.
“Losing a loved one is one of the most stressful life experiences a person will endure. And its toll can be physical as well as emotional. Science has shown, for example, that widows and widowers have a 41 percent higher risk of early death, compared to their still-married peers.”
“The relationship between grief and the immune system may explain bereavement’s association with increased risk for disease and early mortality, at least in part. Since researchers began studying it in 1977, evidence has shown that people may experience negative changes in their immune function following the loss of a loved one.”
In a new research review article in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, Lindsey Knowles, a psychology doctoral student at University of Arizona, and associate professors of psychology Mary-Frances O’Connor and John Ruiz examined 41 years of existing research on bereavement and the immune system. They focused specifically on 13 studies deemed to be of high scientific quality.”
Click the image to read Knowles and O’Connor discussion of their findings, as well possible directions for future research.