Mental Health

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Overwhelmed with grief? It is entirely normal to feel overwhelmed with grief, it is a natural and human response to loss. To understand why overwhelm and all the confusion and feeling of helplessness that comes with it we need to understand a little about how our brains function. Our brains create pathways every time we do something and the more, we do something the easier it is for the brain to travel along this pathway without you even thinking about it.

To better understand this, think back to when you were learning to drive. You’d never driven before so your brain didn’t know what it was doing, it had to concentrate, to focus, you couldn’t cope well with distractions because you were focusing so much on learning, until you did it more and more.

How Your Brain Processes Grief

Every time you had a driving lesson, every time you got behind the wheel your brain was creating a pathway known as the neural pathway. The more you drove the deeper the neural pathway became until you could drive and talk at the same time, you could drive without much concentration at all. Today you most probably get the car keys out now you don’t even have to think about driving, the brain associates those keys with driving, and it knows what to do, it becomes automatic. Now you probably drive from A to B and not even remember much of the trip at all.

Grieving is the same, your brain doesn’t understand it, it doesn’t know how to respond there isn’t a pathway for it to follow so it becomes confused and overwhelmed. It knows your reaction to sadness, however as grief is a new response it is just like learning to drive, the brain needs to create a new pathway.

How Grief Affects Us

Grief is well known to affect people emotionally, through immense sadness, we all know that grief is a time that causes many tears through overwhelming sadness. What is not so well known is that it can also affect us not only emotionally it can also affect us both physically and spiritually.

Common emotional, physical and spiritual effects of grief

Emotional Effects of Grief Include:

  • Inability to think clearly
  • Confusion
  • Overwhelming emotion that feel like you can’t breathe
  • Overwhelming fear that you will never feel happy let alone laugh and feel joy again in your life

Physical Effects of Grief Include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Illness due to the stress of overwhelm of grief
  • Lack of energy
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia

How Grief can Affect Spirituality:

  • Questioning God ( all beliefs)
  • Faith tested whatever your followed religion
  • Challenging thoughts about the afterlife
  • Questioning the meaning of life in general

It is important to understand that not everyone will experience all responses, some may experience quite a few and others may not experience many at all. There are so many variables to how and why people respond to grief that it is hard to list them all. What needs to be understood is that what you experience is normal. Grief is a normal response to loss.

How to Calm the Overwhelm of Grief

There are many ways to support yourself during overwhelm.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a fantastic technique to support you through grief Mindfulness simply means ‘Noticing your emotions without judgement’ and is great way of noticing how you’re feeling and acknowledging those emotions. Giving yourself permission in a given moment to go “you know I feel sad, I feel overwhelmed and that’s ok I have every right to feel this way”. By acknowledging your emotions, you take away any judgement and your mind can then go ok I recognise I feel sad I know that feeling I know I need to cry, and it feels a little better. This is a really simplified description of mindfulness however, mindfulness is a very effective method for grief.

Seek Support

A retreat that nurtures and supports you is also a useful way to heal away from well-meaning family and friends and gives you the chance to take back some control of your life, breath and find yourself some understanding of grief, learn methods and techniques that will assist you in the coming days.

Seeking support from trained grief professionals is also a great way to support you if you are feeling overwhelmed. Grief professionals understand and can provide support to you in ways such as listening, mindful methods, meditation and other techniques to support you.

I highly recommend seeking support early, when you are supported by someone who listens, who will work with you on what methods will work best for you and your personal overwhelm. Seeking support will give you back some control in your life at a time when it feels like you are in a vortex being pulled in so many directions. Remember the longer you stay in deep grief and the emotions around that your brain is making new pathways and often this is where people get stuck. It’s important to remember different methods and support will work for different people.

Put a Plan in Place

Putting a plan in place with simple goals with what you want to do today, and tomorrow is a start to gaining back a feeling that you aren’t spinning madly out of control. Making small plans, ones the brain can focus on, without too much effort reduces overwhelm by bringing back some control at a time when everything feels so totally out of your control.

There’s no time period for grief. Grief is different for everyone, grief never really goes away it becomes a part of you, it’s what you do and how you adjust and work with it that is most important.

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