April 15, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
April 15, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Personal Reflections on Stress, Grief and Loss: Effects on the Mind, Body and Soul

A number of years ago, I decided to change certain things about the way I was living. Personally, I was inspired by a very good friend who demonstrated through her own life transformation that it was not only possible but actually doable to break poor living habits, and that such changes can be implemented at any age. Professionally, I was motivated by the growing number of studies I had read which showed a correlation between obesity and cancer recurrence and prevention. This correlation is reflected in a number of conditions which may lead to an increased cancer risk, such as a heightened level of insulin and insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which may help some cancers develop, and chronic, low-level inflammation, both of which are common in people who are obese. In addition, higher amounts of estrogen are produced and stored in fat tissue, which may drive the development of specific cancers, such as breast and endometrial cancer. Finally, fat cells may also negatively affect processes that regulate cancer cell growth.

I have spent most of my adult life caring for and treating people with cancer. The thought that I could help people decrease their chances of ever getting cancer at all by promoting healthy living was therefore exciting to me. But I first needed to change the way I ate and lived myself so that I could effectively guide the women and men who would be my patients. I committed to lose weight, eventually dropping 40 pounds, and started a more intense exercise program which ultimately included running and yoga. I then started a “return to health and wellness” program for women with a history of cancer who had completed their surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. This shift in both my personal and professional life allowed me the opportunity to change my schedule so as to be able to work locally and eventually to coach people from all walks of life, including people who have diabetes, heart disease and liver disease, as well as those who may be well right now but just want to live healthier lives. I am proud to have successfully helped many people make healthy food choices, lose weight, and exercise, as I had done myself.

A few weeks ago I had a profound loss in my personal life. My dear father died of heart disease. My father was not a young man and he had suffered greatly during the last few years of his life. But he did have a full life, and was blessed with children, many grandchildren and many great-grandchildren, all of whom loved and learned from him. My four siblings and I sat shivah together in my home. We are quite a group and are very supportive of and close to each other, and we were surrounded throughout the week by our spouses, children, relatives and good friends—and, of course, an abundance of food.

On the morning I got up from shivah, my husband helped me out of my chair and we did the customary walk around the block, symbolizing re-entry into the “real” world. It was a clear, sunny day, the air was cool—not bad for January. I walked around the block and felt sad, and extremely fatigued. My husband spent the day at home with me; together, we took apart the shivah room and transformed it back to our regular family room. Later that afternoon, I went for a long walk around the neighborhood. I was quite surprised by how much I ached and how exhausted I was. During the next few days, I tried to go for a long walk and a light jog. But although my brain told me “it will make you feel better,” my body was not listening. I was short of breath and listless, and felt weak both physically and mentally. Over the next few weeks, I found that I was wasting colossal amounts of time. At the end of every day, I would wonder what happened to my day. How could it be evening already? Many of my old dormant eating habits resurfaced. In my previous life, whenever I was stressed or sad, ice cream was my drug of choice. I found that “drug” once again calling my name. In case you have never tried salted caramel gelato, I recommend that you don’t; I am sure something in it is addictive!

At the end of the shloshim, my weight was up and I still felt sluggish mentally and physically. I started doing some research on loss and its effects on the body. We use the word “heartbroken” to describe one’s feeling about a loss, but the body can actually become physically sick from grief. It is common for people who have experienced a loss to complain about insomnia, digestive problems, headaches, sore muscles and fatigue. Studies have shown that stress and loss affect the cardiovascular and immune systems and, in vulnerable people, this leads to increased rates of heart disease and illness.

With support from my own “coach” and colleagues, I have been able to get myself back on track. Loss is a universal experience. At some time in our lives we all experience the loss of a loved one. The message to share with people who have recently gone through this experience is that they need to take good care of themselves in their time of grief. Taking good care may be as simple as remembering to eat—and to eat food that is low in sugar and high in nutrients, to drink a lot of water and to get outside, get some sunshine and move a little. Allow yourself the time to heal. If the grief becomes overwhelming and you feel like you are not functioning, seek out help from professional grief counselors and therapists. Effectively managing the physical elements of grief will help you manage the emotional ones as well.

If you have suffered a loss in your life, I am offering free sessions to help you heal your body while your heart is mending.

By Beth S. Taubes

Beth S. Taubes is an RN, OCN, CBCN and CHC. Visit her online at Btwellnesswisdom.com.

 

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles