Grief: Everyone Experiences It

griefAt some point or another, everyone experiences tragedy and loss.[1] Grief is a painful, disorienting experience that has the ability to take away our identity and understanding of our own self.1 Many say that grief lasts forever, but that is not true.1 Only confusion and fear can last forever, but they don’t have to.1 There are three phases to a healthy recovery after a loss.1

First, our loss forces us to exit our old life and leave it behind.1 Our normal daily routines are disrupted.1 We end up in the space between two lives: unable to begin a new one but leaving our old one behind.1 We feel confused and lonely.1

Second, we begin living within that gap between two lives.1 We’re still attached to the past, which is forever gone, yet we have yet to figure out what the future looks like.1 We struggle with our new reality, unable to see ourselves clearly and make the decisions we used to.1 Our brain’s ability to plan and reason are temporarily gone.1

Third, we begin to experiment with our new life.1 This is the scariest part of life after loss, as so much is unknown.1 Still, little by little we begin to step out of the gap and into a new reality.1 While we start to do this early on, we haven’t fully landed in the new life until now.1

While these are the three phases that address life after loss, it is important to take a deeper look into what happens as the mind recovers.1 A trauma of a loss leaves its mark on the brain, leaving us with uncertainty.1 We question what life will be like from now on.1 We are afraid to start over and to lose the new life all over again.1

Understanding the relationship between fear and the brain is important.1 The amygdalae are almond-shaped masses of gray matter that are located inside each cerebral hemisphere which help us process sensory input in order to determine whether what we are experiencing is safe or dangerous.1 The amygdalae do this by comparing what is happening now to past experiences.1 If a threat is sensed, the amygdalae trigger the secretion of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, which stimulates the fight-or-flight response.1

After a loss, the world seems uncertain and everything seems like a threat as all you knew is now different.1 We perceive the world as dangerous as the amygdalae instantly compare our new experiences with the trauma and what it meant in our lives.1 The perception of danger is easier for the brain, causing you to perceive danger where there isn’t anything to fear.1 This is what keeps some people stuck in grief.1

While in the gap between two lives, you become comfortable.1 It’s a safe place, comforting us after our loss.1 However, the brain begins to associate stepping outside of this place as dangerous, and we begin to avoid the pain of moving on staying in the gap.1 The longer you stay, the harder it is to start over.1

In order to move into a new life, you need to gradually learn to let go of your fears by practicing doing things that are different from your comfortable, self-protecting routines.1 You have to learn how to overcome your natural fear of change.1

You can become fearless and driven to create the best life possible because of the losses you have had, not despite them.1 Living life fully again is the only way forward.1

[1] Rasmussen, C. (2013). What Happens When We Grieve. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 6, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/11/05/what-happens-when-we-grieve/

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