Grief: Changes in Your Life Reflect the Changes in Your Brain

What comes to mind when you hear the word grief? Perhaps you think of the death of a loved one or destruction caused by a natural disaster. These are major events that take a toll on your life but grief does not have to be caused by a major loss. Grieving can occur when you are adjusting to change, whether that be your kids leaving for college or retiring from your job of 30 years. These changes may not be as obvious of a loss but they impact your life in ways that you wouldn’t expect. So while your life changes, your brain is undergoing neurological changes too.

Though grief can look different for everyone, there are specific symptoms that many people  experience while grieving. Symptoms include anxiety, fatigue, loss of appetite, and disturbances in sleep. These symptoms are a result of activities in the parasympathetic nervous system, prefrontal cortex/frontal lobe and the limbic system.

The parasympathetic nervous system: This system manages several things including breathing, rest, and digestion. During grief, the parasympathetic nervous system works in a way where your breath becomes short/shallow, appetite may decrease or increase drastically and disturbances in sleep may occur.

The prefrontal cortex/frontal lobe: This area has many functions which include planning, self expression, self control, and finding meaning. During grief, expressing your feelings and desires while also articulating your thoughts can become extremely exhausting and/or difficult.

The limbic system: If you’ve read any of our previous blog posts, then you’ll know that this brain region plays a key role in emotional regulation. The hippocampus-the seahorse shaped part of the limbic system- is in charge of attention, memory formation, learning, and personal recall. During grief, the hippocampus creates a protective response for your loss. You may even perceive your loss and grief as a threat which activates the amygdala (another portion of the limbic system) which commands your body to resist grief. This may be the reason why some feel a strong physical response to triggers that remind them of their loss.

Though there are specific symptoms that occur during grief, it is important to note that grief is an emotional experience that is unique to everyone. People do not grieve the same. In fact there are several different types of grief including:

  1. Abbreviated grief

  2. Absent grief

  3. Anticipatory grief  

  4. Chronic grief

  5. Collective grief

  6. Complicated grief

  7. Cumulative grief

  8. Delayed grief

  9. Disenfranchised grief

  10. Distorted grief

  11. Exaggerated grief

  12. Inhibited grief

  13. Masked grief

  14. Normal grief

  15. Secondary grief

There are several types of grief that we as humans go through and so much happens at once which is why your brain’s resources can feel overwhelmed. If you are mourning over a major loss like the death of a loved one or major change in your life such as your kids moving out of your house, please take some time out for yourself. Be patient throughout your grieving process and seek support from your family, friends, or therapist. Remember, grief is a process not only for your mind but your body too. Rest well and be kind to yourself.

If you are finding it difficult to deal with your grief and you are having a hard time functioning in your everyday life, contact us at 416-398-9991. Neurofeedback, Somatic Experiencing, and Psychotherapy may be great supports for you during this time.


Dr. M. Arnold Muller

Dr. M. Arnold Muller

Dr. M. Arnold Muller is a licensed School and Clinical Psychologist currently based in Toronto, Ontario, with 31 years of practice experience in two countries. Prior to his time in Canada, he spent the first half of his career in South Africa. Dr. Muller has a Ph.D. with specialization in Psychotherapy from the University of Pretoria, and a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology. He also has a second Masters Degree in Practical Theology from the University of Stellenbosch.

Dr. Muller has worked in many settings including school boards, addiction centres, correctional institutions, the military, churches, and private practices. Spending time in these organizations has allowed him to gain an astounding amount of experience in psychological assessment, diagnosis, and treatment plan preparation and application.

Dr. Muller also has training and exposure to Neurofeedback Training, Somatic Experiencing, crisis intervention, conflict resolution and managing cultural differences. In his spare time, you can find him hiking, travelling, working on his photography, poetry, and spending time with his family and friends.

Neuropotential Clinics20 De Boers Dr, Suite 230
North York,ON, M3J 0H1

T: (416) 398-9991; F:(416) 398-9992