How Can Grief Cause Illness? 

 March 2, 2017

By  Steve Hoffman

So, we’ve talked about anger and joy as causes for illness HERE and HERE. These are two of the five emotions that, from a Chinese medical perspective, can cause disease and illness. How can an emotion, that every one of us experiences, cause disease? Well, just like anger can be out of control and even joy can run amok (think manic behavior), when a person’s default is grief or they become “stuck” in the grieving process. The body can then be subject to real, physical harm. What do I mean when I say that someone’s “default” is grief? In Chinese medicine, all the emotions, in balance, are important for a person to live a fulfilled, satisfied life. Every person is said to “resonate” with one of the five emotions more strongly than the others. When a person becomes imbalanced, they tend to react more strongly with one emotion. In the case of grief, if there is an imbalance, this person will react to simple losses (a favorite pen gets lost, a favorite shirt gets holes in it, a knick knack gets broken) strongly and with an inappropriate level of grief. This person can get stuck in the grieving process when there is a major loss and be unable to move through it.

Being in a state of grief, repeatedly or for an extended time, can easily trigger depression or even anxiety (worry about future losses). Depression is known, even in western medicine, to cause a whole host of physical problems from pain to weight gain to a weakened immune system and even heart attacks. Anxiety can also result in a variety of physical problems. A person who is al-ways in a state of grief cannot possibly be engaged in life. How can they be fulfilled and pursue happiness?

Grief, however, is necessary. Our society discourages passionate and dramatic displays of grief. Be strong, be stoic, don’t cry, don’t show how much you are hurting. I think that this type of be-havior does not allow room for the grieving process to really do its job. Often people push the grief down and do not properly deal with it causing it to persist, unresolved for years and in some cases for a person’s entire life. This can lead to feelings of disappointment, yearning and regret. This can in turn lead to several spectrums of behaviors with the extremes being: fragile or un-yielding; closed off or seeking connection; resigned or over achieving; craving quality or feeling polluted; deeply motivated or uncaring. These behaviors can then manifest in things like anxiety, depression, and isolation, resulting in real, physical symptoms and diseases.

Nature is in a constant state of creation, life, death, and renewal as we, as human beings, are. When we do not move through the process of grieving or mourning in preparation for moving on, we never reach a state of renewal and the detritus that builds up pollutes our mind, body, and spirit. The attachment and love that we developed, the sense of reliance and dependence on someone ends up impacting us negatively, instead of becoming a source of strength and a kind of fond, if sad, remembrance.

The grieving process is different for everyone and where one person can move through it relative-ly quickly, it can take more time for others. But if you feel like you are “stuck” and identify with some of the extremes in behavior above, you may be having trouble processing your grief and in time, it can cause you physical harm. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help bal-ance the body so that your emotions do their (necessary) job and do not become pathological. You can book a free consultation online at or call us today to discuss your situa-tion and we can let you know what we can do to help.

Princeton Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

Our patients know just how effective treatments are for these and a host of other problems. Steven Hoffman, a New Jersey Licensed Acupuncturist and Diplomate in Oriental Medicine, will provide you with a thorough intake and evaluation and a clear, comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plan that will insure that your goals are met or exceeded. Do you want to move past these or other problems? We will help you thrive not just survive!

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