One of the widows I work with, whose husband had metastatic prostate cancer, went through 4 surgeries, each with a long and painful recovery, and 12 emergency room visits. When she passed out on ER visit #10, she ended up in the bed next to him on the verge of a heart attack. Stress kills. Google it. You’ll soon find out how serious the stress you underwent can be. (Learn more from a Harvard psychiatrist in the Navigating Loss program.)

New research has proven that stress causes inflammation, premature aging and even death. In 2009, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded jointly to three American geneticists “for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase (telo-mear-ace)”. Their research showed that stress, in particular, shortens our body’s telomeres and this in turn, leads to premature cell death. Dr. Blackburn, the lead author in the Nobel Prize winning research, also did a study that is quite particular to us, as widows who have undergone repeated stress during our partner’s illness or injury and subsequent death.

She studied the mothers of chronically ill and disabled children and found that their telomeres were significantly shorter than the control group of mothers with lower levels of stress related to the care of children. These shortened telomeres increase inflammation and cell death which leads to premature aging and disease. Stress is serious stuff so it’s wise to take your stress level seriously.

When you are exposed to stress time and again, your amazing body begins to adjust by keeping your cortisol levels high. This, in turn, burns out your pancreatic system and weakens your immune response. This is traumatic conditioning. In time, after exposure to repeated stressful situations (like the illness and death of your partner!), your mind and body can begin to live in a state of heightened anxiety. And this ongoing state of heightened anxiety needs to be diffused consciously, and the sooner the better.

If you’re finding yourself reliving events from his illness and death, or if you find that you’re jumpy and anxious, try using Herbert Benson’s 4-7-8 breath to reset your homeostasis (heart and respiration rate). Inhale for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7 counts, and exhale gently through your mouth for 8 counts. Repeat 3 times.

Don’t become the second victim of his death. Take the time to take care of yourself. You’re precious!

The Navigating Loss Program will guide you through processing your deepest layers of grief and rebuilding your life. Get the book and the 6-part video series for just $49.