- Cancer Information
- Advanced cancer
- Understanding grief
- The experience of grief
- Physical wellbeing
Grief is experienced in your body too. The shock of the loss, even if you were expecting it, can trigger the release of adrenaline and other chemicals in your body. This can make you feel anxious or make it hard to switch off anxiety. Other physical responses to grief include headaches, nausea, unexplained aches and pains, and a tight feeling in the chest and stomach. Grief can also affect your immune system and you may be more likely to catch infections.
Physical reactions caused by the emotional strain of grief can, in turn, affect your ability to manage your emotions and think clearly. It is a good idea to talk to your doctor about any physical issues that are worrying you or making it harder to cope.
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Many people who are bereaved find that their sleep patterns change. Some people find it hard to get up in the morning and end up oversleeping, which can leave them feeling even more exhausted. Others struggle to fall asleep and/or stay asleep, or have long periods of being awake during the night.
Don’t be surprised if you have no energy and feel constantly tired. Adjusting to any major change is exhausting, and too little or too much sleep can make you feel even more tired.
It is common to have either little appetite or an increased appetite after the death of a loved one. Some people also experience an upset stomach, which may last for some time or come and go. Changes to your appetite or weight can make you feel distressed.
- Get some exercise every day. A walk in the morning can shift your mood, clear your head, raise your energy levels for the day and make it easier to sleep at night. You might also like to try swimming, playing a team sport or even dancing. Housework such as vacuuming or mowing the lawn can help if you’re feeling tense.
- Try to maintain regular sleeping hours by going to bed and getting up at set times.
- Don’t panic if it is hard to sleep. Get out of bed and do something relaxing, such as reading a book, listening to music or a podcast, or having a bath, and then try going to bed again. Practise slow, deep breathing while in bed – this will slow down the mind and allow the body to relax.
- Check with your doctor before trying sleeping tablets or natural sleep remedies.
- Talk to your doctor about seeing a counsellor or psychologist for some simple strategies (such as relaxation exercises or tracking and adjusting your night-time routines) if your lack of sleep is ongoing.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol. This will help you sleep better and improve your general wellbeing.
- Encourage yourself to eat a healthy, balanced diet. If you have lost your appetite and are barely eating, try to snack frequently on nourishing, easily digested foods.
- You may find you are eating unhealthy foods or eating large amounts for comfort. A poor diet can affect your mood, so explore other ways to help yourself feel better, such as getting fresh air and exercise in a park, listening to music, or having a bath or massage.
- Try meditation or relaxation to help with the anxiety. There are many recordings, videos and smartphone apps to guide you through different exercises. Listen to Cancer Council’s online relaxation and meditation recordings or call 13 11 20 to request copies.
Kate Jurgens, Bereavement Coordinator, Southern Adelaide Palliative Services, SA; Gabrielle Asprey, Cancer Support Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; A/Prof Lauren Breen, Psychologist, Curtin University, WA; Rev David Dawes, Manager, Spiritual Care Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rob Ferguson, Consumer; Karen Hall, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Joanna Mangan, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland; Kate Reed, Nurse Practitioner National Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia; Maxine Rosenfield, Counsellor and Educator, NSW.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Emotions and cancer
People who are affected by cancer in some way can experience a range of emotions, that can be very challenging to deal with at times. Learn more.
End of life
This information may help you better cope with end of life, or support someone who may be dying with cancer