Social Relationships As Biological Regulators
Disruption of Biological Rhythms. As described earlier in this chapter and in several previous chapters, people typically have a number of symptomatic responses to bereavement. These include physiologic, behavioral, cognitive, and perceptual disturbances as well as a disorganization of ego functioning. Although the links between all these changes are not well understood, it has been hypothesized that social relationships may be an important regulator of these various responses.
Reviewing animal studies and some human studies, Hofer summarized the behavioral and physiologic components of the infant separation response and called attention to the similarities between it and the human adult response to bereavement .
There is evidence of biologically powerful sensorimotor regulators even within adult social relationships, such as the menstrual synchrony that develops in young women who live together, and bereavement may constitute a loss of these regulators as well as an emotional loss. The data from studies of sensory deprivation, jet lag, and work shift changes can be used to emphasize the importance of unseen regulators in human behavior and to illustrate the similarities in the physiologic responses to these varied disturbances of internal equilibrium.
Responses to Disrupted Regulation of Homeostasis .
The Brains Response To Grief
Grief comes in many forms. Whether brought on by the death of a loved one, a serious illness or injury, divorce, abuse, or another cause, the brain interprets grief as emotional trauma or PTSD. Dr. Shulman explains that the human brain handles emotional trauma and stress using the same set of processes.
Traumatic loss is perceived as a threat to survival and defaults to protective survival and defense mechanisms, says Dr. Shulman. This response engages the fight or flight mechanism, which increases blood pressure and heart rate and releases specific hormones. Grief and loss affect the brain and body in many different ways. They can cause changes in memory, behavior, sleep, and body function, affecting the immune system as well as the heart. It can also lead to cognitive effects, such as brain fog. The brains goal? Survival.
Grief is a normal protective process, says Dr. Shulman. This process is an evolutionary adaptation to promote survival in the face of emotional trauma. Changes in brain function go largely undetected when an individual continues functioning normally, but these experiences still affect how the brain works.
Symptoms Of Bereavement Grief And Loss
Bereavement, grief and loss can cause many different symptoms and they affect people in different ways. There’s no right or wrong way to feel.
As well as bereavement, there are other types of loss such as the end of a relationship or losing a job or home.
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- shock and numbness this is usually the first reaction to loss, and people often talk about “being in a daze”
- overwhelming sadness, with lots of crying
- tiredness or exhaustion
- anger towards the person you’ve lost or the reason for your loss
- guilt for example, guilt about feeling angry, about something you said or did not say, or not being able to stop your loved one dying
These feelings may not be there all the time and powerful feelings may appear unexpectedly.
It’s not always easy to recognise when bereavement, grief or loss are the reason you’re acting or feeling differently.
Experts generally accept that we go through 4 stages of bereavement or grief:
Most people go through all these stages, but you will not necessarily move smoothly from one to the next.
Your grief might feel chaotic and out of control, but these feelings will eventually become less intense over time.
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Grief As An Adaptation In A Psychoneuroimmunoendocrine System
There are abundant data on the effect of psychological events on the endocrine and immune systems and a growing body of information on the endocrine-immune interaction. Probably these interactions are not a one-way street. Thus, a “psychoneuroimmunoendocrine system” can be envisioned. Grief may be viewed as a series of events or reactions in an activated “psychoneuroimmunoendocrine” system that may come to a favorableâor at least neutralâoutcome for health or to less favorable and maladaptive consequences.
As shown in , the system in simplified form is composed of elements that fluctuate in terms of blood level or activity level. Implicit in the diagram is the existence of effector arms linking each system to another, and also feedback arms. The description in previous sections has already dealt extensively with many of the effectors. There are possibilities for connections with other mechanisms and systems.
The Psychoneuroimmunoendocrine System
The approach outlined above has the merit of suggesting how immunosuppression, for example, might come about as a maladaptive use of a system, functioning on behalf of the need for unusually prolonged or excessive autopalliation in the face of grief that is particularly difficult to resolve. Such a unified approach, which ties together psychological, endocrine, and immune events, is most attractive but will require validation by much clinical, cross-disciplinary, long-term observation.
The Relationship Between Resilience And Gratitude
Gratitude fosters adaptive coping mechanisms. By managing positive emotions like satisfaction, happiness, and pleasure, gratitude enhances our emotional resilience and builds our inner strength to combat stress .
Psychologists Shai Davidai and Thomas Gilovich, in one of their papers, called the Headwinds/Tailwinds Asymmetry: An Availability Bias in Assessments of Barriers and Blessings mentioned that we tend to focus more on the obstacles and difficulties of life because they demand some action. We have to fight and overcome them to get back the normal flow of life.
On the flip-side, we forget to attend to the better things in life because they are already there and we dont have to do anything to make them stay with us. Practicing gratitude, according to Gilovich, is the best way to remind ourselves of the things that give us the courage to move on in life.
Clearing The Mental Fog
Forging a new path is never easy especially after suffering the loss of your spouse. Your identity has changed, your friends are likely to change, and perhaps even where you live will change.
Give yourself plenty of time to process your grief before forcing the creation of an entirely new life for yourself.
Simple Gratitude Practices For Building Emotional Resilience
1. Meditation and breath control
Starting any gratitude practice with a brisk meditation and breath control session is a good idea. Deep breathing and constant focus allow the mind to settle down and gather itself. You feel more relaxed and more connected to yourself, and now is a good time to start your practice.
Here is a 2-minute meditation session that you can follow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLhOGEnEedk
2. Gratitude list
Much like the gratitude journal, the gratitude list will help you come face-to-face with your blessings. Take a pen and paper and make a list of all those people who offered their support when you needed it the most. While you are writing, try to revert to the days and feel the thankfulness in your heart again. Once the list is made, look at it for 2 minutes and go back to work.
3. Gratitude notes
Once your gratitude list is completed, start writing small thank you note to each of the people you mentioned in the list before. The notes can be as short as you want, but make sure you are pouring your feelings into them. Send the messages to the people concerned either as handwritten notes, or SMS, or emails. Just make sure your message reaches them and do not expect responses.
4. Reminiscence Meditation
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The 7 Stages Of Grief
Shock and Denial
The initial stage of grief, shock and denial, is typically the stage when emotions are most profound. The fact that you have experienced a loss may be evident, but you may still have underlying feelings of shock or disbelief. During this stage, many people experience physical symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, difficulty sleeping, decreased appetite or heart palpitations. Feeling emotionally numb is also common. Some people may describe this stage as feeling as if they are watching someone elses life on a movie screen or as if they are detached from the reality of what has happened.
Pain and Guilt
Once your shock starts to fade, you’ll notice the pain. This is when it first starts to hit you that your loss is real. The pain may be extremely difficult to handle, and it may feel physical as well as emotional. You may even start to feel guilty about something you could or should have done for the person . During this stage, it is normal to wonder if you could have done something that would have prevented the loss or feel remorse for not being able to make peace with a loss loved one. Although these feelings can feel overwhelming, they are natural emotions related to guilt and it is important to acknowledge these feelings as part of the healing process.
Anger and Bargaining
Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness
The Upward Turn
Reconstruction and Working Through
Therapy Can Help with Your Grief
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.
Its important to give yourself a break as you mourn. Be patient through the loss and your grief symptoms. Seek support and comfort from your loved ones, a support group, or your therapist.
Grief is a process for your mind and body. Be kind to yourself.
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How Can I Get Help
Though it can be hard reaching out to others to let them know what youre going through, it can help you feel supported, less isolated and it can be the beginning of a valuable support network. Whether youre speaking to a trusted friend, family member, teacher, Elder or a counsellor, its entirely up to you what you feel comfortable sharing. You might just want to say youre having a tough time.
If youre finding it hard to cope and/or your social, work or school life are being affected, then its a good idea to ask for professional support. You can:
- contact an online or phone-based service, like eheadspace, Kids Helpline or Lifeline. You can access these anonymously and free of charge
- check in with your local GP .
Dealing With Grief And Loss & The Effects On Mental Health
- Navigating life
- dealing with grief and loss & the effects on mental health
Grief is an individual experience, its what happens after you lose someone or something important to you. You dont have to know the person for their loss to impact you. Everyone experiences grief differently. Our culture, gender, age, past experiences of loss, and belief systems can also affect the way we grieve, so try not to compare yourself to anyone else or get too worried about the way you grieve everyone grieves differently.
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Effects Of Grief On The Body
Primarily this article focuses on how the effects of grief can manifest as stress, creating difficulties for your bodys systems just like any chronic stressor.
In some ways, the effects of grief are healthy. Grief is a necessary emotion, a pathway to acceptance. However, the effects of grief can also present a significant form of stress on the body.
When it comes to handling any type of stressor, the body relies on its NeuroEndoMetabolic Stress Response system. This system is organized into six circuits, teams of organs and systems in your body that work closely together and can help explain the source of different symptoms you may experience.
The Neuroaffect circuit, part of the NEM response, is composed of the bodys autonomic nervous system , brain, and gastrointestinal system. All these systems depend on various neurotransmitters to be able to balance your mood, emotions, and physical functions. A lot of these neurotransmitters are made in the GI system. And when there is stress, the production of neurotransmitters can become dysregulated. This can contribute to decreased mood levels and depression. If may also affect your ability to think properly.
In some cases, the effects of grief may also manifest as abnormal brain circuitry. Some studies have shown that grief can affect the brain reward system, which can lead to a form of addiction. One 2008 study found that grief can trigger abnormal activity in the reward center of the brain.
What Can You Do To Cope With Grief
Emotional and physical self-care are essential ways to ease complications of grief and boost recovery. Exercising, spending time in nature, getting enough sleep, and talking to loved ones can help with physical and mental health.
“Most often, normal grief does not require professional intervention,” says Zisook. “Grief is a natural, instinctive response to loss, adaptation occurs naturally, and healing is the natural outcome,” especially with “time and the support of loved ones and friends.”
Grief researchers emphasize that social support, self-acceptance, and good self-care usually help people get through normal grief. But the researchers say people need professional help to heal from complicated grief and depression.
Davis says therapy and physical activities like going for walks helped her cope. Social support helped most when friends tried to reach out instead of waiting or asking her to reach out to them.
“Th thing about grief and depression and sorrow and being suicidal is that you can’t reach out. For many people going through a hard time, reaching out is impossible. If your friend is in grief, reach out to them. Do the legwork. Theyâre too exhausted!”
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Understanding Grief Alcohol And Your Brain
Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief: Litsa Williams
When the holidays roll around it is an especially painful time of year for those of us who are grieving. Simultaneously alcohol just so happens to be everywhere this time of year. An open bar at the work holiday party, egg nog at the neighbors holiday party, wine and more wine at holiday dinners . . . I think you can see where we are going with this. It is no wonder that our alcohol consumption can increase dramatically at the holidays, especially when were grieving.
Now, before you shut your browser thinking that I am going to get all judgey on you for drinking, let me say that I am an everything in moderation kind of gal. I love a glass of wine or a yummy IPA as much as much as the next person . But I also know that alcohol can become a fast friend one of those friends that you love despite the fact that she encourages you to make bad decisions and tells you an outfit looks great when really it makes you look fat.
Over time, we build a tolerance to alcohol and other substances, so we need more and more to get the same feel-good response in the brain. Our brain keeps telling us to go back for more, despite the fact that the impact we want is no longer there. What can be really scary in the long-term is that our baseline levels of dopamine and other neurotransmitters can actually be depleted when we keep using substances that manipulate this neurotransmitter release.
Recent Studies Into Gratitude And Anxiety
These findings got stronger validation after a recent study conducted on the relationship between gratitude and death anxiety . The experiment was conducted on 83 Chinese adults, aged above 60 years, who were divided into three groups. One of the three groups were asked to write gratitude notes and words of positivity, another was asked to write about their worries, and the third group was given a neutral task.
After task completion, the groups were exposed to stimuli arousing death anxiety, the inevitable fear that we all suffer from.
Results showed that participants of the first group who wrote gratitude notes showed fewer symptoms of death anxiety than the other two groups. Re-examination of the results showed that with a grateful attitude in life, we gain acceptance and become fearless of the future.
At a neurobiological level, gratitude regulates the sympathetic nervous system that activates our anxiety responses, and at the psychological level, it conditions the brain to filter the negative ruminations and focus on the positive thoughts.
Because of its implications in anxiety reduction, gratitude practices like journaling and group discussions are now a significant part of mental health interventions and life coaching regimes.
Gratitude practices are especially effective for treating phobias like death anxiety, PTSD, social phobia, and nihilism.
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