It is safe to say that grief does something to our brain and our physical body. But what and how?
There are emotional changes, changes in our cognition, and effects on our Neurotransmitters that regulate our mood, our stress levels, and the way we sleep, all the while potentially affecting us physically. To end this morbid list on a high note, it can also affect how we cope with loss, leading to adaptation and resilience. How nice.
Again, one thing to get out of the way is that grief comes in many different forms, whether that be a biological death, the loss of someone living, or even an injury causing the loss of a function you've always had. There are many more. The point I read in a great article with Neurologist Lisa M. Shulman on how tragedy affects the brain is that "the human brain handles emotional trauma and stress using the same set of processes.".
In simple "I kind of have no idea what I'm talking about terms" from what I pulled on how tragedy or how grief affects the brain, your brain's Neuroplasticity can handle moderate stress, which could be a good thing. Still, if the pressure is chronic and constant, that could cause a reduction in nerve growth and memory. The more we allow the stress to continue and essentially become programmed into us, the more damage it'll do.
The good news? The effects of this chronic stress can be healed and reversed. Dr. Shulman mentioned many ways that could be significant actions against post-traumatic growth.
She points to mindfulness, writing, therapy, creative outlets, and meditation, which I Love. And, just a note: don't take meditation too seriously or think, "I can't do it." It's just sitting there and being still for the most part. Your mind is going to race. But, slowly, you watch those thoughts go by instead of trying to chase each one.
Anyone who has experienced some grief or loss in their life can attest that suffering affects our brain. Sometimes, I think it's hard to understand what effects are from grief or anything else and what is 'normal.' I have no idea what normal is; to me, that's just a construct. I don't try to focus on what's "normal" for grief or whatever we're going through. We're all going through it differently. It's just nice to read up on articles like this that find common patterns on how grief can affect us, not to make us think we're losing our minds, at least!
I spoke to Sally and Im on the Good Mourning Podcast, and they shared many different points about their grief and discussed what happens to the brain after grief. See the links below to listen to this Spotify, Apple, or YouTube episode.
And, as always, thank you for being a part of this community. I don't have all the answers; these writings blend what I pull from people who know much more than me while mixing my thoughts.
I'm still figuring it all out 20+ years after losing my father.
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And, as always please do your own research and fact-check everything I write. Feel free to comment with your thoughts and make any corrections as I am learning and want to be as accurate as possible!