Grief Symptoms:  How Grief Affects the Brain

In the aftermath of your loss, have you begun to wonder about your grief symptoms?
Have you found they are different than you imagined?
On some level, you expected the sorrow and the anxious thoughts.
The longing and disbelief are extremely painful…but expected.
So what is this dull numbness and fog in your brain?
Why do you get the sense that you simply feel “off line” somehow?
What is happening?
Simply put, grief is an extremely emotional experience.
It also does a number on your brain.
When you begin mourning, most of your mental attention is directed toward it.
Your mind is consumed with disbelief and the struggle to accept your new reality. Your cognitive responses slow and become muddled, your “right mind” seems to suddenly go left.
There is scientific basis for what you’re experiencing. Research shows that mental tasks are deeply affected in many people in the early grief.
Grief may impact you and others in the following ways:

  • concentration is compromised
  • completing projects seems impossible
  • memory and recall are less sharp
  • ability to make even simple decisions is reduced •organization and planning are unusually challenging
  • a general sense of “absent-mindedness” sets in

Clearly, grieving takes an enormous toll. Your brain seems scrambled. Loss, mourning, and a myriad of mental grief symptoms take over for a while.
Why is this happening?
Your brain is trying to recover. You are experiencing a deep biological response to your loss, just as you are experiencing physical, psychological, and emotional responses. Hormones and chemicals are released, internal reactions are disrupted, important bodily systems shift into emergency mode. And it all starts in the brain.
Consider these areas of the brain and how scientists believe grief symptoms affect them:

  • The parasympathetic nervous system:  This section of your autonomic nervous system is in the brain stem and lower part of your spinal cord. In this system, which handles rest, breathing, and digestion, you may find that your breath becomes short or shallow, appetite disappears or increases dramatically, and sleep disturbance or insomnia become an issue.
  • The prefrontal cortex/frontal lobe:  The functions of this area include the ability to find meaning, planning, self-control, and self-expression. Scientific brain scans show that loss, grief, and traumas can significantly impact your emotion and physical processes. Articulation and appropriate expression of feelings or desires may become difficult or exhausting.
  • The limbic system:  This emotion-related brain region, particularly the hippocampus portion, is in charge of personal recall, emotion and memory integration, attention, and your ability to take interest in others. During grief, it creates a sensory oriented, protective response to your loss. Perceiving loss and grief as a threat, the amygdala portions of this system instructs your body to resist grief. You may experience strong instinctual or physical responses to triggers that remind you of your losses.

Your psychological grief responses pull so much from the regions of your brain. The areas that manage attention and memory are activated. The sections that focus on emotion and relationships are stimulated. The zones that are dedicated to planning and language are triggered. Hormones reserved for emergencies course through you.
Sometimes, so much happens at once that the brain’s resources are overwhelmed and you begin to draw a blank, daydream, long painfully for your loved one, and the everyday business of housework or paperwork fade into the background. Grief is front and centre in your head as well as your heart.
It’s important to give yourself a break as you mourn. Be patient through the loss and your grief symptoms. Seek support and comfort from people who will listen non judgmentally.

Grief is a process for your mind and body. Be kind to yourself.
Your brain is doing its best to help you adjust.
If you’re finding it more difficult than you thought it would be to manage your grief and are finding it difficult to function in your everyday life, contact a bereavement service, Doctor or Counsellor.

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If you have any questions or would like to talk to one of our bereavement consultants about your own experiences of grief and loss, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are here to listen! 

Death does not end the story. Death does not end a relationship


"You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair"

~ Old Chinese Proverb ~


“Life is changed not ended
Death does not end our story…

Death does not end our relationships"
  For urgent help or information call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

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Mothers Day Mass 2019

Saturday, 11th May 2019

Rookwood Cemetery:  12pm - Mary Mother of Mercy Chapel

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