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:
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.