Has Grief affected your Brain?
I wish I had known more about the brain in 2005 when my husband Steve died by suicide. Maybe I wouldn’t have thought I was going crazy at the time. Perhaps you feel that way if you lost someone you love to suicide.
Thankfully, there is a tremendous amount of research on the cerebrum. Researchers now understand more about grief related to the brain.
If you lost a loved one to suicide the effects can be more than falling into a state of shock. Your brain has changed during grief. Is that comforting? To a degree, “yes”, because it confirms that you’re probably not crazy.
You may feel numb, depressed, foggy and out of touch with reality. Ironically, this is actually natural and healthy because you are moving through the stages of grief. The emotions allow you to process your grief and once you do that you can move on to the next stage, which is to begin to move forward.
Don’t be alarmed if you can’t think clearly. That is your brain’s reaction to tragedy. The loss in your life functions as a stressor and triggers the pituitary gland to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) which sends signals to the adrenal gland to release cortisone.
Cortisone is a stress hormone. During grief it’s released in the body in excess amounts.
Too much cortisone causes the immune system to falter. It’s a reason you may become sick. It also may be an explanation as to why an elderly remaining spouse dies shortly after their loved one. Their immune system has been comprised due to excess cortisone.
Did you ever feel fearful that something bad was going to happen to someone after your loved one died? Did you feel that your fears seemed to rule you?
That definitely was me. I often felt fearful when my mom didn’t answer her phone and thought something bad happened to her. I felt the same way with my daughter and at times fell into a state of panic.
You’re not crazy!
Again, these feelings do not make you crazy and it is the result of your brain function. It is your anterior cingulate cortex that becomes overactive in your brain. During times of grief the overactive areas of your brain called the fear centers are at work. Thus, the reason for unwarranted fears.
The higher cortical area of the brain called the anterior cingulated cortex (ACC) helps regulate emotions. It become underactive, therefore making it difficult to deal with even minor annoyances. No wonder you feel your emotions are out of control.
Mood swings and sleep disturbances are also common during grief. Do you find that you want to sleep all the time? That was me. I wanted to sleep my life away. I was tired all the time. Or maybe you can’t sleep at all. You can be overly sad or cry on a dime for no apparent reason. This is your brain reacting to grief. All of these changes disrupt core functions of your mind and body. Fortunately, the good news is that acute pain doesn’t last forever.
It’s important to take steps to process your grief and it’s important to take care of yourself and get the help you need. Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins are chemicals in the brain responsible for mood, often called the “happy chemicals”. Research has discovered ways to boost them.
These practical steps can help boost happy chemicals
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep
- Get exercise each day, even if only a 10-minute walk
- Find someone to talk to such as a trusted friend, coach or support group
- Eat healthy
- Recall fond memories of your loved one
- Eat a piece of dark chocolate daily
- Get and give a hug
If you haven’t read my book, “Be Gentle with Me, I’m Grieving” be sure to get your copy and when you are ready to learn to love life after loss get my second book, “Moving to Excellence, A Pathway to Transformation After Grief.”
Love and Light,
Coaching sessions available
Certified Grief, Life, Spiritual Coach
Certified Master NLP Practitioner, Reiki Practitioner