Physical Effects of Grief: Insomnia, Eating Problems, and More

When I suddenly lost my fiancé in a car accident, my body had a traumatic response to the situation. When we grieve the loss of someone we love so much and who had such a profound impact on our life, we do not get to choose how our body reacts. We can’t place an order to God and say, “God, I would like to be able to eat today without getting sick,” or “I would like to be able to sleep tonight at a normal time and without nightmares, disturbing dreams and constant waking up.”

If only grief work was that easy.

One of the most difficult things for me during the first year was the physical effects that grief has had on my body. Living with grief is hard enough; then, to have all these physical symptoms makes it even harder to bear, and at times, the effects of grief are unbearable.

My body went through a trauma emotionally when I lost Greg and it went through the ringer physically as well. My body type is athletic and I am average height, so my pre-widow body was slender and toned.

When Greg’s accident happened, I had the normal loss of appetite, nausea, upset stomach, etc. Except these things lasted well beyond the first month, 6 months, and 1 year mark. In fact, these are still symptoms that I struggle with today, and I am over a year and a half into this journey.

I was physically nauseated every day for the first 6 months. I am not one to tolerate nausea under normal circumstances, how the heck did I go for 6 months?! I also had a very difficult time keeping food inside my body. It did not matter what I ate or didn’t eat, I still got severely sick to my stomach from almost everything that I ate.

In fact, I have developed an intolerance to chicken. Who would have thought? Chicken?  But that meat sure makes me want to run the other direction. Being average height and athletically built, I already had a small body weight, and with these symptoms I lost almost 15 lbs, in a very short time period. I felt like I was starving all the time and it was not by choice. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror, when I did I wanted to scream or throw up because I became more nauseated by how I looked.

Along with grief, my new best friend is insomnia. It does not matter how tired I am, I could run myself ragged on three hours of sleep and still not be able to fall asleep until 5am or later the next morning. I am just about to fall asleep and I find myself wide awake again, for no apparent reason.

I have tried various forms of sleep aids, herbal remedies, various relaxation techniques,  none of which really bring any form of significant relief.

In addition to the insomnia, I still have nightmares or violent and/ or disturbing dreams; at least once a night. I wake up more times that I can count; some nights I wonder if I should’ve just stayed awake. During my first year of widowhood, more times that I can count, I went a day or two without any sleep and just dragged through the whole day. I never feel “rested;” usually, I feel just as bad when I wake up as I did when I finally fell asleep.

Isn’t enough to lose our beloved?

Brandi Reyna 2011

Brandi Reyna

More Articles Written by Brandi

Ms. Reyna is a creative soul with a passion for helping others. Her faith is very important to her and is reflected in her writings. She writes about her faith and the role it plays in her grieving process and how she grieves. Ms. Reyna's purpose for writing is to give voice to and shed light on unique losses. Ms.Reyna's articles focus primarily on the loss of her fiancé; the subsequent grief associated with sudden loss, her identification as an "unwedded widow" (a widow who was not legally married to her beloved), loss of a parent (grandparent) and creating a new life while living with loss. Ms. Reyna shares her journey to encourage others in their own faith and in their own healing journey. She hopes that by sharing her story and leading by example through her own life that her journey will show others that we can experience significant and impactful losses and still experience a full and joy-filled life after loss. Ms. Reyna has completed internships at several churches within women’s ministry, as one of her gifts is in ministering to women so that she might walk beside, support, encourage, counsel, shepherd and offer hope to women in need. Since the loss of her fiance Greg in a tragic car accident in March 2010, Ms. Reyna also has a passion and heart for helping others who are grieving the loss of someone they love. Ms. Reyna holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology and Psychology; with a certificate in Women's studies.


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  • Nellie Dee says:

    I have been having trouble sleeping, but my mother hasn’t passed yet. Have you heard of others experiencing this?
    I am with her by myself now and have been with her for a couple months. I have been posting about it on my blog, but it’s starting to bug me that I can’t sleep or rather stay asleep.

  • Sheogorath says:

    I so know what you mean. My partner committed suicide last Wednesday, and for the rest of that day, I couldn’t eat one thing. I also experience nausea after every (small) meal, and sleep seems to be beyond my powers. I only get to sleep in the early hours of the morning, and sleep late as a consequence if I don’t set an alarm. Not to mention the fact I couldn’t distinguish light blue from white until Saturday.

  • Brain so tired says:

    My wife passed yesterday after 5 years of cancer. I’m 41. Even though it’s only been a day it feels like a lifetime ago since I could hold her hand. Or even caress her face. Sleep seems so worthless, and eating is this empty exercise…I can’t imagine a month from now….. My heart has been ripped out. So if you weren’t married yet, that memory, emotion, it is no less. I promise you!

  • Pam bitmead says:

    My husband died two and a half months ago. Since the funeral I feel nauseous as soon as I wake up. This goes on for most of the day but usually in the evening I can eat, albeit something very light. All day I feel in a state of hopelessness. I feel so ill and have lost so much weight. I don’t like going out but must as I have a dog to exercise and am now making excuses not to see friends. What can I do to improve my state of mind?

  • Lauren Overman says:

    My partner ..took his own life on New Years Eve 2014. He hung himself. I could bit resuscitate. The first year ..only through my Saviour could I “cope and survive”. I want to become and over comer, but I still feel sick and in top of my mentally ill brother my mother obsesses for 27 years..It seems like suffering will never be over because of how he decided to exit this world. It wasn’t fair.

  • Angel says:

    Very serious matter indeed.
    He that feels is knows it.
    If you don’t suffer it you will never inderstand it.
    Trust The Almighty Elohim To Get You Through It.
    I’m Trusting In The Almighty For My Help. Amen.
    Angel (Messenger Of The Almighty Father. Amen.

  • Angel says:

    Read The Holy Bible. K.J.V. Version.
    Try Psalms 23 & 27. HALLELUYAH! AMEN.
    Angel (Messenger Of The Almighty YAH. AMEN).

  • Angel says:

    I’m dealing with very recent murders & suicides.
    It is very difficult to eat, sleep or function right.

  • Angel says:

    My sister and brother and another brother and a cousin was found dead in their flats.
    It has been very hard to eat anything or to sleep.

    The funeral is later on this week and I find it difficult to attend as I am still in shock.
    Someone also attempted to murder me more than once, I even had to flee for my life which left me severely wounded, traumatised, distraught, angry and very agitated.

    It is very difficult to deal with such issues and all the emotional distresses.

    However I find comfort in The Almighty God!
    He says He will never leave us nor forsake us.
    He promised He will comfort all those who mourn.
    He will not leave us comfortless. Amen & Amen.
    Yea thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for Thou art with me Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Amen&Amen.

    I sincerely hope that this will help to comfort someone out there who is grieving/mourning.

    God Bless – Peace & Love.


  • Emma says:

    My boyfriend took his own life a year ago and to this day, I still can’t sleep properly. I constantly am in an anxious state and I feel exhausted everyday. I just want to rest but I can’t. I constantly need to eat and have put on weight since his death. I hate the feeling of being slightly hungry, it’s like I’m trying to fill a hole.

    But then I have days when I’m violently sick and have the runs and can’t eat for a couple of days. My body seems to regurgitate anything after a while and I feel my grief physically more that I seem to do emotionally.