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Thursday, October 21, 2010

T3 - Facets of Grief: Physical Perceptions

We looked at the emotional response of grief last week, and this week we'll tackle physical perceptions or sensations.

While tears might be the most common manifestation of grief, this post will delve more into the result of crying, which would be dry, itchy eyes. The dryness and itchiness would be the physical sensations. What are some other common physical perceptions of grief? You'll want to be sure to include one or two of these, as they have clinical research backing their validity (Barbato & Irwin, 1992).

1) Tightness in throat/chest

When a person is in severe mourning, their face often scrunches up, their mouths turn downward, and they close off their airway at the throat. Give it a try. Make a face as though you are grieving. Feel the movement in the throat, almost a half-swallow. Soreness and tightness in that exact area is to be expected. Also, when trying to staunch tears and remain strong and stoic, that area is again over-utilized.

As for the chest, irregular breathing can cause that tightness, almost as if a heavy weight was pressing against the chest cavity. People experiencing this physical sensation often have trouble breathing (see #3). The joy as a writer is in finding new and fresh ways to say "her chest/throat tightened."

2) Oversensitivity to noise

A person grieving becomes sensitive to the smallest things. It could be argued that this sensitivity is the mind's way of dealing with overstimulation, or it's the person's feeble efforts to distract themselves from the grief. But suddenly, little noises like a tick of a clock can become like pounding drums. Things that never would have woken the person before now send them bolt upright in the middle of the night. Their perceptions are off, some are dulled and some are heightened. Sound is definitely heightened.

3) Breathlessness

Being unable to draw breath is a regular occurrence. Panic-like symptoms follow the perceived inability to breath, which is also a normal component of grief. The heaviness of the chest is also a factor, and many bereaved people will say they feel as if there is an actual weight, but it's psychosomatic (meaning, a physical condition caused or aggravated by a mental factor). Inability to fully fill their lungs is also somewhat psychosomatic, because in most cases the lung capacity didn't diminish, just the perception of breathing did.

4) Muscular weakness/lack of energy

Think about all that goes into a good cry. Body wracking sobs. Fetal position. Soaked pillows. I looked it up online and got the guesstimate that crying burns about 1.3 calories a minute (which the source said was about the equivalent of laughing, interestingly enough). But it's not just the crying that promotes muscular weakness. Usually, it's the lack of regular food intake, which makes the body run off caloric fumes, which, in turn, promotes a lack of energy.

All of these things considered, people who are recently bereaved are much more vulnerable to illness. research supports this, as well.

Next week we'll look at cognitive facet of grief. See you then.

Q4U: What is a fresh way to say "her throat was tight" or "her chest was tight?"

Wordle: signature


Anonymous said...

Thanks for that. It's fair enough for me to think that crying might tire you out but you've specified it a bit more. It's always difficult to get away from 'tightness' in the body and to be honest I can't think of an alternative off the top of my head!

Christine said...

Thank you for the wonderful post! Been through this with losses of two in-laws and one parent. Each response seems different to me.

K.M. Weiland said...

Great post! I'm always appreciative of information about the physical manifestations of emotion. Some of this fits in perfectly with the scene I'm currently writing.

Karen Lange said...

Thanks for this info! Will be needing this in the future.

Raquel Byrnes said...

I'm writing a character that just lost her brother in a that he took part in. This really helps a lot! Thanks!

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.