It’s unavoidable: At some point in our lives, every one of us will face the loss of a family member, friend, or beloved pet. If you have ever endured this difficult chapter in life, you know that it can take a toll on your body as well as your mind. Understanding what specifically happens to the body during the grieving process can help you better manage your wellbeing during these periods.

Grief can cause a number of symptoms in your body. These include digestive disorders, inability to focus or concentrate, anxiety and irritability, fatigue, physical pain, weight changes, sleep disturbances, and even actual illness, such as a cold or flu. The reasons grief has such dramatic impacts is that it increases inflammation, which can exacerbate problems you may already have while creating new ones, and depletes your immune system, leading to infections and illness.

In extreme situations, grief can even cause what’s known as “broken-heart syndrome” (stress-induced cardiomyopathy), a combination of actual, measurable symptoms affecting the heart. Broken-heart syndrome is usually temporary and tends to affect women far more often than men.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, doctors categorize grief in two ways: acute and persistent grief. Acute grief occurs in the six- to 12-month period following the death of a loved one, while persistent grief continues beyond the 12-month period. Persistent grief —or, in some cases, acute grief that is suppressed —can often lead to depression and other serious stress-induced health complications, such as heart attack or stroke. For these reasons, you should talk to your doctor if you suffer from prolonged physical ailments or believe you may be experiencing persistent grief.

To help maintain your health and wellbeing during a period of common acute grief, the key is to make self-care your first priority. That means getting enough sleep, exercising regularly (even simply a short walk near nature), eating healthfully, and paying careful attention to your need for rest and downtime. Don’t suppress your feelings of sadness: Talk to trusted and supportive friends or a grief counselor or try journaling to help work through your emotions. Consider exploring new wellbeing-focused activities, such as massage, yoga, and tai chi, to possibly discover new coping strategies that work for you.

Grief is one of the most common parts of our shared human experience.  Yet howwe experience grief is unique to each individual. When you find yourself in the midst of this difficult chapter, remember that focusing on the basic elements of health may help you gently guide yourself back to contentment.

The SimplaFYI Community offers many resources to help you navigate the grieving period. Consider exploring it today.