Biological & Psychological Effects After the Death of a Spouse

The death of a spouse is a devastating event, one that is met with both physical and psychological reactions. Even if the death of your spouse was expected, you go through a period of intense shock, grief, and loss. Often, your body manifests the physical symptoms of anxiety, depression or fear. According to Dr. Elizabeth Harper Neeld of Legacy Connect, it's important to take care of your physical and mental health after the death of a spouse 1. If you experience persistent physical symptoms, you should talk to your doctor.

Increased Adrenaline

An increase in adrenaline is one of the characteristics of the "fight or flight" response to a crisis, reports Dr. Elizabeth Harper Neeld in her article "Physical Stress of grieving", and the loss of your spouse can provoke this type of panic 1. This type of adrenaline spike can cause accelerated heartbeat; a tingling feeling in the fingers or lips; and involuntary shakiness of the limbs, hands or entire body. These symptoms can be very disturbing and uncomfortable to the sufferer and are difficult to resolve because there is no real physical "threat" to be confronted or avoided.


Another common biological manifestation of grief and loss is physical exhaustion, reports Funeral Plan. Exhaustion may be the result either of insomnia, which is a very frequent occurrence among grieving spouses, or depression. You may find that you're sleeping too much and still very tired throughout the day. It may be that this symptom will pass, or you may benefit from an antidepressant medication.

Digestive Problems

According to Dr. Elizabeth Harper Neeld in her article "Physical Stress of Grieving," issues with eating as well as other digestive problems can emerge after the death of a spouse 1. A lack of appetite is quite common among those adjusting to a loss, and you may also experience some problems digesting food you do manage to eat. Some of these digestive problems may include trouble swallowing due to a constricted esophagus, nervous stomach, ulcers, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea.

Emotional Numbness

One of the most common emotional effects of grief doesn't feel particularly "emotional" at all, reports Funeral Plan. Particularly in the beginning stages of grief, you may feel detached from your life, as though in a dreamlike state. This feeling results from the shock of your grief. The amount of time a person stays in this numb phase varies by individual. Your body and mind are reacting to protect you, since assimilating the full reality of your loss at once would be too painful.


Sadness is the most common emotion associated with death, but anger is another frequent feeling that is not often talked about. You may irrationally become angry at your spouse for "abandoning" you, or you may be angry with yourself for ways in which you disappointed your spouse in life. All of this is normal and natural, but if you find that you are having trouble getting past your feelings of anger, you may benefit from talking to a therapist.