Bereavement can be a very sudden and intense emotional experience and our emotions can have physical effects on our body. Dying from a broken heart is triggered by what is known as stress cardiomyopathy which is caused by a sudden increase in adrenaline being produced in our bodies. This increase in adrenaline can put extra pressure on our hearts at a time when we may not be sleeping or eating well and putting other stresses on our body. In some cases this can paralyse part of our heart and result in a heart attack which can kill. Scientists at the Royal Brompton hospital estimate that 2% of heart attacks in the UK every year are likely due to stress cardiomyopathy. This same effect doesn’t only occur when someone is suffering bereavement but can also happen when someone experience a shock of intense happiness.
Yes they can. The effect of our brains on illnesses is not very well understood. But it is often found that positive thinking can extend a lifetime even when people have quite serious illnesses. Usually when people are older, there are some sort of underlying illnesses just because of age. So the shock and emotional pain which they experience on bereavement can heighten the symptoms and unfortunately sometimes result in death soon after a bereavement event. I think that if people live a long life, they naturally have to accept that they are towards the end of life and so perhaps don’t fight as much as a younger person might to overcome the emotional pain.