Following a loss – which isn’t only about the death of someone we love always it could be the loss of our job which we love, or our home – our brain starts working differently.It’s called Grief Brain.

What’s going on in our brain when we grieve?

The emotional part of our brain – the Amygdala – which is always on the alert for threats, is put on extra high alert when we grieve. This has physical effects, such as sweating, increases in our breathing rate and our heart rate.

No day goes by without there being some reminder of our loss. This keeps our Amygdala very busy. No wonder that grief is so exhausting! We might experience flashbacks. It’s common, for example, for memories of our beloved’s last days and hours to come thick and fast, blocking out happier, earlier memories.

Because our emotional brain is in overdrive the capacity of our rational brain – Cerebral Cortex – to function normally is reduced.This explains why we experience brain fog making it hard for us to do very ordinary things, as well as affecting our sleep patterns.

The most intense feelings and experiences tend to occur through the first year (more or less). These experiences and feelings reduce in intensity over time, although they can recur without warning and possibly around special days, Birthdays, Anniversary etc. But these bursts are short-lived and can be managed more easily, especially when we understand why they’re occurring.

The intensity of emotions can also make us feel spaced out, numb, or detached from everything around us. Some people describe this as feeling as if they’re looking at themselves from a distance (dissociation).

It’s possible to become stuck in grief. This happens when we continue to experience the intensity of grief as much after a year and more as we did during the first 12 months. At that point it might be good to seek professional support to help us tease out and work through our deep emotions, thoughts, and experiences and to integrate the loss more fully into our life.

Avoiding our grief, shutting off our emotions, and trying to carry on as usual won’t help us, especially in the longer term. What we shut down now, will, at a later date, resurface with force, demanding our attention and refusing to go away until we attend to it.

We help ourselves most when we lean into our grief. We help our brain to rewire and to create new neural pathways, enabling the Amygdala to calm down and our Cerebral Cortex to function fully once more.

What can we do to lean into grief?

  1. Acknowledging and feeling our emotions. Keeping a Journal in which we write freely about our experience, without any filtering or censoring can be creatively empowering. Journaling is a creative way of off-loading our feelings and is excellent in reducing our emotional overwhelm, so that we feel less helpless. If writing isn’t our thing, then we could talk into the voice recorder on our phone, or just talk out loud where no-one else can hear or interrupt us.
  2. Getting to know how grief affects us physically. Where do we feel it most in our body? Stretching and moving helps to release the physical tensions which build up in our bodies which are laden with stored grief.
  3. Grief affects each of us differently. Getting to know how it affects our thinking, behaviour, and outlook is like getting to know a stranger, little by little. Grief is nuanced: it’s not the same every day. Note how it changes, shifts through the week. Becoming familiar with grief’s patterns is another important way for us to feel less overwhelmed and helpless. Knowledge is power!
  4. Anticipating special days will help us negotiate them more easily instead of being knocked for six by them. Putting a simple plan into place for how we’re going to keep a special day may be comforting and encouraging as well as helping us tap into deeper memories and happier times.
  5. Talking to our beloved. No, it’s not creepy. It’s a way of creating an ongoing relationship with our beloved which is important. Some people find it extra good to talk out loud to their beloved, say, in front of a photo. We might also find it helpful to have a special place at home where photos are gathered, and a candle lit every day, or as often as we choose.
  6. Talking to trusted friends and family who are not directly involved in our loss. When we can talk freely and openly about how we feel and our experience it releases tension and helps to rebuild our sense of connection with people around us. In turn this reduces the ‘fight/flight/high alert’ status of our Amygdala and helps form new neural pathways in our brain.

Then take the courageous step of reaching out to me to begin your healing journey.