The Biology of Grief

Published on October 12, 2023

After Marissa lost her husband, she often felt stuck in a dream. Her colleagues would speak to her, but she could only hear a part of what was said. Marissa could not sleep at night; she felt anxious about loss. She lost her husband in a tragic accident and was still in shock. She felt confused; her brain was working slower than usual. Marissa struggled to get out of bed in the morning. She often held back tears throughout the day.

Marissa felt a deep emptiness that she could not shake. Sometimes, she would think that she could see or smell her husband. These events would make her feel like she was losing her mind. Marissa felt overwhelmed with survivor’s guilt. She was not sure if she would ever be happy again. Her body felt weak and sick. Marissa had body aches and flu-like symptoms. Her doctor told her it was grief.

Our bodies tend to break down when stress lasts for extended periods. Grief is a particularly painful stressor that can feel like a broken heart. Here are some reasons that grief feels so physical.

  1. Elevated Blood Pressure: Experiencing grief can raise our blood pressure as much as moderate exercise. Grieving people are at risk for temporary high blood pressure and other heart-related problems.
  2. Inflammation: Higher levels of grief and depression after a loss can lead to inflammation. The inflammation can lead to body aches and other more serious physical conditions.
  3. Stress Hormones: Grief can lead to elevated stress hormones such as cortisol. These stress hormones can wear down our immune system and keep us up at night.
  4. Digestion: Grief can activate our fight or flight system. When cortisol levels rise, our body focuses on survival. When this happens, eating and digestion suffer.
  5. Sleep: Losing a loved one can result in a loss of security. Grief can result in struggling to fall asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, or oversleeping.

Here are some pointers to help you maintain your health during grief.

  1. Practice Self-Compassion: Recognize when you are being harsh with yourself. Understand that grief can slow you down. Use patience with yourself during this challenging time. Speak to yourself like someone you love.
  2. Focus on Love: Loss can feel heavy. In times of darkness, turn your focus to those you love. Ask to spend more time. Feel free to ask for social support. Express love and appreciation to those around you. Love yourself the way that you would love your lost loved one.
  3. Drink Water: Make sure that you are drinking enough water. Water can help us regulate our stress hormones. It also works as a detox. Water can also help us feel more clear-headed and present.
  4. Exercise: Exercise also helps us regulate our stress. Physical activity can also allow us to sleep at night.
  5. Decompress: Find time for yourself daily to decompress. Relaxation might look different for everyone. Finding time to unwind can help your nervous system escape fight or flight.

I am here to help you navigate the complexities of loss. Contact me here or join my bereavement support group here. You can also make an appointment through the MindNLife Clinic at +852 2521 4668 or email

Category(s):Bereavement, Caregiver Issues / Stress, Grief, Loss, Bereavement, Stress Management

Written by:

Dr Monica Borschel

Welcome! My passion is to help you find inner peace and emotional comfort within yourself and your relationships.

As social creatures, our relationships significantly shape our happiness, well-being, and sense of self-worth. Unfortunately, many of us have experienced relationship-related traumas, which can leave us with emotional scars that require recovery.

Attachment traumas, such as divorce, break-ups, infidelity, neglect, and abuse, can be challenging. As an expert in attachment, loss, and trauma, I have spent many years studying how attachment styles can shift with loss and trauma.

I have seen how healthy relationships can lead to secure attachment and how insecure attachment can create turmoil in our lives. I aim to guide you toward cultivating healthy relationships with yourself, your children, your co-parent, and your romantic partner.

I can help you develop new attachment strategies that will allow you to form deeper connections and bonds with those around you. And, if you have children, I can also assist you in establishing secure attachments with both parents, which can be especially helpful in cases of separation or divorce.

I am originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, where I completed my Bachelor of Science in Psychology at The University of Utah. From there, I moved to New York City, earning my Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. I then pursued my Doctorate in Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong. I lived and worked in Hong Kong as a practicing Clinical Psychologist from 2010-2020. I reside in California and am pursuing my Doctorate in Psychology (PsyD) at California Southern University. My training and qualifications include certifications in Brainspotting and High Conflict Coaching.

These tools, combined with my extensive knowledge and experience in the field, enable me to offer you the guidance and support you need to recover from past traumas and build healthy relationships.

My approach to therapy is empathetic, supportive, and tailored to your unique needs. Every person can grow, and thrive. I am committed to helping you achieve your goals. So, whether you are struggling with relationship issues, divorce, abuse, attachment traumas, or other challenges, I am here to help you find the peace and comfort you deserve.

Email me at or call the MindnLife Clinic at 852 2521 4668