We have all experienced a loss in our lives which does not feel good and can be traumatic for some. The reactions from the loss can cause a person’s mind and body to have several responses from the devastating deficit it has caused in one’s life. Once we experience ‘loss’ the mind enters into the zone of what we call “fight or flight” response helping to defend our stance and allows us the ability to survive the thoughts and painful feelings the mind and body are reacting to. “Freeze” is also a reaction as well in which the mind goes into a vulnerable state and everything seems to pause for what seems like forever (Paget, 2020).
When experiencing grief it may seem like you are on a roller coaster ride while having a range of reactions. According to (Paget, 2020) these responses can be cognitive, physical, emotional, and behavioral. In this article we will discuss cognitive, emotional, and physical responses to grief and how these responses may affect a person’s psychological and physical wellbeing.
Cognitive reactions to grief can be different ways in which a person is trying to process the grief. These reactions can come in the form of blaming, impaired thinking, confusion, poor concentration or even nightmares, Prigerson et al (1997). A common question one may ask themselves or others when working to process information are “Why has this happened to me or why did this have to happen to me?” According to (Paget, 2020)The brain is overwhelmed by trying to make sense of something that is difficult to do when it is not operating at its full capacity because in a sense the brain has shutdown.
During these times when it may seem difficult to maneuver through a daily routine, it may be good to talk with a family member, friend, or even a professional counselor. By talking with others can reduce or alleviate the obsessive thoughts one may be experiencing due to the loss. According to (NBC New, 2018, 2:27) Additionally, talk therapy works great in grief counseling as it allows the person to get some things off their chest while the happy hormone called ‘Oxytocin’ is released within the body which can help improve your mood.
Having an emotional response to grief is normal to where emotions will reach their peak. There is no one that is prepared to lose a loved one or for that matter something that may be precious to them. When ‘loss’ occurs a person can experience such feeling of anger, denial, bitterness ,depression, fear, and even worry ,Prigerson et al. (1997). Something that we must remember is that the pain is real for the griever and it can last for a while. Everyone grieves differently and the loss is unique therefore we must not predict one’s reactions.
Cognitive and emotional functions have been disrupted and therefore it extremely important that one works to return to their normal routine when possible. Remain active and do not withdraw or isolate yourself. Continue to make social connects and most importantly take care of your physical health which can down spiral if emotions are neglected.
The physical response to grief can be powerful in how our bodies react. This is where the “fight, flight, and freeze” response takes effect when there is a threat and the body tends to want to go into a state of shock or fight back through display of difficult emotions when experiencing a loss. The body reacts to the threat by having the nervous system to work excessively for protection. Common responses can be poor appetite, weight loss, insomnia, nausea, and headaches, Prigerson et al. (1997). It is extremely important to practice self-care and to see a physician for extreme symptoms should they be lingering.
When a person experiences loss or something has been taken away from them it seems like there is no hope left in sight. Individuals can experience acute stress which can take a toll on the body. The symptoms experienced may vary due to each individual and what strategies you implement to cope on a daily basis. Listed below are some additional tips in which you can incorporate to help you manage the stress while grieving.
Additional Tips in Reducing Symptoms from Reactions to loss:
- Maintain healthy connections.
- Take time to grieve the loss.
- Feel and accept the pain.
- Keep “loved ones” present.
- Engage in exercise; walking, biking, stretching, yoga etc.
- Talk out difficult moments with the support of others.
- Become self-aware of emotions and feelings.
- Take care of yourself physically.
- Practice a normal routine.
- Seek professional help. (NBC, 2018, 2:27)
NBC News. (2018). How grief affects your brain and what to do about it [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=stress+responses+and+grief
Paget, N.(2020). Crisis care in traumatic grief. Retrieved from: https://www.crisisplumbline.com
Prigerson HG, Shear MK, Frank E, et al. Traumatic grief: a case of loss-induced trauma. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 1997 Jul;154(7):1003-1009. DOI: 10.1176/ajp.154.7.1003.