Biological and Psychological

Death is the end of life.  It can be caused by aging or natural death, disease, accident, homicide or suicide.  It has varied effects on people who are left behind especially the spouse.

There is a dramatic increase in the likelihood that a spouse becomes ill or dying during a brief period following the death of a spouse as the bond with a spouse is strongest in a man’s life.

As a result, the one who is left suffers a lot biologically and psychologically.  Disruption of personal ties through bereavement is one of the most stressful events a person has to endure and this stressor will bring forth negative biological and psychological responses.

There are different stages of emotional and psychological reactions following the death of a person, particularly a spouse.  First is denial, followed by anger or rage, then fear/dread of his own mortality, then depression, apathy and acceptance.

When death is denied, life becomes difficult.  When a person is not in touch with the reality of the death of a spouse, he is not also in touch with life.  He loses the motivation to live and at times have that unconscious feeling of joining the spouse in death.  This is the stage of apathy wherein one gives up completely, lose interest in his own life and eventually allow death to take him in.

This psychological state of feeling helpless and feeling of overwhelming loss send negative signals to the nervous, adrenal, immune and cardiovascular systems resulting to psychosomatic ailments that one may suffer in his bereavement.  If this person would not be able to cope with the death of his spouse, he will eventually succumb to his own death as, at times unexplained, various ailments will set in which may be incurable.

The body’s stress response is controlled by a highly complex, integrated network that involves the central nervous system, the adrenal system, the immune system and the cardiovascular system as previously mentioned.  Stress sets off a cascade of events, activating chemicals in our bodies.

It releases the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which is involved with memory.  This may be why people remember stressful events more clearly than they do on non-stressful situations.  Stress also increases the production of a hormone in the body known as corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).  CRF is found throughout the brain and initiates our biological response to stressors.

During negative or traumatic experiences such as death of a loved-one, certain regions of the brain show increased levels of CRF.  CRF is transported in blood within the brain and in seconds triggers the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH), also referred to as corticotropin.

ACTH then triggers secretion of glucocorticoid hormones (i.e., “steroids”) by the adrenal glands, located at the top of the kidneys.  Glucocorticoid hormones play a key role in the stress response and its termination.  Activation of the stress response affects smooth muscle, fat, the gastrointestinal tract, the kidneys and many other organs and the body functions that they control.  The stress response affects the body’s regulation of temperature; appetite and satiety; arousal, vigilance and attention; mood; and more.

Both the perception of what is stressful and the physiological response to stress vary considerably among individuals.  These differences are based on genetic factors and influences that can be traced back to infancy.

It is only through one’s acceptance of death, one’s resolved feelings on death or his perception of death, that he will come to an understanding that death is an inevitable reality and that humans are not immortals.  Through acceptance, coupled with sincere and loving support of family members, the death of a spouse can be less traumatic.  Also, total surrender to the will of God or to the acts of the universe relieves a person from grief and separation anxieties that may lead to adverse biological and psychological effects.


OSF Health Care.  (2007).  Healthsteps.  Retrieved December 9, 2007, from Concept Communication Group LLC

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