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For over 2,000 years it has been known that grief can make people sick. Loss and the grief that follows it are still recognized as a precursor to distress, depression, and disease.

Dr. Arthur Schmale studied 42 consecutive patients admitted to the Rochester Memorial Hospital with conditions as diverse as cardiovascular disease and skin problems. In interviews it was revealed that all had a common thread: loss. Seventy-five percent of the patients developed their disease within a week after the loss of a loved one. As well as heart and skin problems, grief can lead to more serious conditions if not coped with properly. Bernie Siegel, renowned general and pediatric surgeon has stated “One of the most common precursors of cancer is a traumatic loss or a feeling of emptiness in one’s life. “

The stages of grief are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, and Hope for the future. On average it takes 18-24 months to go through all of these stages. Grief does not just occur with a death of a loved one. These reactions also occur with the loss of a living situation (house to apartment or care facility) or sometimes even with retirement. Even if retirement has been something a person has been anticipating with gladness, the transition can be somewhat difficult.

Grieving saps a tremendous amount of emotional and physical strength. As soon as feasible, the grieving individual should get active in something they really enjoy. They might develop a new interest or hobby. Bereavement has been shown to pose significant health risks, ranging all the way from immune system disorders to sudden deaths and increased death rates from all causes.

Immune system disorders associated with bereavement include a lower activity level of lymphocytes, diminished natural killer cell activity, and feeble T-cell strength, among others. The corticosteroid (hormones) levels increase vastly, which causes immune system sluggishness. The decreased antibody response increases susceptibility to all kinds of illnesses.

The following are tips for protecting your immune system while you grieve:
· Get plenty of rest. Take naps if you need them, and try to maintain your normal sleep pattern at night.
· Eat a balanced diet: three solid meals a day with choices from all four food groups. When you feel hungry in between meals, eat low-fat snacks high in complex carbohydrates.
· Get plenty of fluids, but avoid those that contain alcohol or caffeine. Both alcohol and caffeine increase dehydration.
· Exercise regularly. Choose an activity you enjoy, and do it for at lease half an hour at least three times a week. Walking is still the best exercise.
· Above all, stay connected to other people! Social support is especially important during grief to keep your immune system healthy.
· Talk with your doctor for help maintaining your health during difficult times.