Physical effects of grief

Grief affects the body in ways you might not expect. These changes can be really frightening.

How does grief affect the body?

Appetite and digestion

You may not feel like eating in the early days after someone dies. It may feel difficult to swallow and food can taste strange. Or you might find you’re eating a lot more than usual. Or only eating foods that you find comforting. This is very normal. Try not to be too hard on yourself if your diet looks different right now. And try not to panic if you notice these changes. 

  • What helps?

Try to find a relationship with food that works for you. If you don’t feel like eating, try serving yourself small, manageable portions. If you don’t feel like cooking, try a ready-meal or something that takes little preparation. But most importantly, remember to go easy on yourself. It’s okay if you’re not eating as you normally would, but slowly getting back to a routine of eating at the same times can help. If you’re still worried after several weeks, it might be time to speak to your GP.


It’s normal to have trouble sleeping after someone dies. You might be frightened to go to sleep because of bad nightmares. Or you might find it difficult to get to sleep because your mind is racing. Sometimes, you may dream that the person who died is still alive and find waking up to be very painful. 

  • What helps?

Try to slowly get back into a night-time routine.

  • Things like taking a bath or showering before bed are great ways to help you relax into the evening
  • Exercise can also be really helpful to tire your body out
  • Walking and yoga are gentle ways to get moving if you don’t feel up for rigorous exercise
  • Try not getting into bed until you feel really ready to sleep
  • Try listening to relaxing music or sleep podcasts


Grief can make you feel very anxious. Sometimes this can result in feeling breathless, having heart palpitations or even a panic attack. This can be very scary. If you start to have these regularly, it’s a good idea to contact your doctor. 

  • What helps?

Exercise is a useful way for your body to reduce tension, and use up the adrenalin that it’s producing that’s making you feel anxious. But don’t try and start an extreme new gym class when a gentle walk is all you can manage. 

Talking to someone about what’s making you anxious can also really help. Find out the ways we can support you through grief and you can read more about the link between grief and anxiety here.

Physical pain 

It’s common to feel physical pain after someone dies. Grief can affect your whole body. It can also reduce your ability to fight off minor infections. 

  • What helps?

Normally, feelings of physical pain will ease with time. But try to get as much rest as possible and listen to what your body needs. If you find you’re still in pain after several weeks, speak with your GP. 

Talk to us

We’re here to support you while you’re grieving. Find out the ways we can help.