The Importance of Grieving

(Originally posted on bcotoronto.com on Jan 10th, 2013)

The Importance of GrievingThe holidays may be bright and full of cheer but many times this is also the time of year that we lose people in our lives. During the colder months of the year the death rate rises for any number of reasons. This is why, this week, I would like to discuss the importance of grieving. I’m not going to talk about the stages of grief or anything like that. What I would like to talk about today is why going through grief is important.

Many of you are probably wondering at this point why I’m talking about this mental health issue on a natural health blog. Well, as I have said many times before, our brains and our bodies are not separate entities. There is a clear and distinct connection that we should not ignore. Our diet and physical activity impact our mood, thoughts, dreams, and even mental ability. The reverse is true as well, our thoughts and moods have a physiological impact such as altered heart rate, breathing, hunger, altered speed of food passing through our digestive tract.

So with this knowledge why is it that we ignore our mental health so much? All too often, we give our psychological health lip service but don’t actually listen to our own advice. Well, this winter my family has lost a few of its members and so we are currently working through our grief in different ways.

It really doesn’t matter how you experience your grief, so long as you actually experience it1. Grief is the minds way of processing the emotions and reactions associated with loss. Grief is a separate entity from depression and anxiety1 but can trigger or be associated with either condition. One study of over 5000 adults suggested that grief is present in the general adult population much more than previously suspected2.

As I have said, in Western society we have a tendency to ignore our own mental health. This type of avoidance can lead to long term problems with adjustments in life3. Unresolved mental health issues can lead to physical health problems down the road as well. Some evidence exists linking increased risks of stroke and cardiovascular disease with chronic depression as well as increased risk of Type II Diabetes4. Chronic anxiety has also been linked to increased blood pressure which if left untreated can have serious downstream effects. So is it really that far of a stretch to believe that unresolved grief can have a physical effect on the body?

To bring it all back to the usual focus of this blog I’ll ask you this question, Which is more difficult and time consuming to take care of, your grief and mental health now or cardiovascular disease and diabetes later? I know what I believe. It is very important to take care of yourself in every aspect of your life. As a natural healthcare physician I try to lead my patients to limit the risk factors they expose themselves to and so this should include internal ones as well as external.

So whether it’s crying, screaming, writing, playing games, talking with friends, or any other imaginable way let your grief be a part of your life and accept it. Ignoring it is not a very good plan for your mental or physical health.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

References Cited
1. Van der Houwen K, Stroebe M, Schut H, Stroebe W, and van den Bout J. Mediating processes in bereavement: the role of rumination, threatening grief interpretations, and deliberate grief avoidance. Social Science and Medicine; 71(9):1669-1676

2. Newson RS, Boelen PA, Hek K, Hofman A, and Tiemeier H. The prevalence and characteristics of complicated grief in older adults. Journal of Affective Disorders 132:231-238

3. Bonanno GA, Papa A, Lalande K, Zhang N, and Noll JG. Grief processing and deliberate grief avoidance: a prospective comparison of bereaved spouses and parents in the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 73(1):86-98

4. http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/untreated-depression-effects (Accessed 01/08/13)

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