“A painful loss threatens our lives. How does grief affect the brain?
Friday, January 13, 2023
Our brain views traumatic loss as a threat to our very survival, says Dr. Lisa Shulman, a neurologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“From an evolutionary perspective, our brains have evolved to keep us alive, so anything perceived as a threat triggers a massive brain response that has ramifications in many areas of the body,” he said. she added, according to Live Science.
“We used to think of physical trauma as a threat, but severe emotional trauma has similar effects,” she noted.
She added: “The amygdala [مركز الدماغ للعواطف]Deep in the primitive part of the brain, it is always on the lookout for threats. When triggered, it sets off a chain of events that kicks the whole body into high gear – the heart races, breathing rate increases, and muscle circulation increases to prepare for fight or flight.
Events that evoke memories
She explained that these symptoms do not occur on their own in bereavement, but rather that the days, weeks and months are filled with what triggers the memories that lead to this response, resulting in heightened sensitivity of the amygdala and its hypervigilance.
She also added, “The primitive brain is enhanced at the expense of the advanced brain, which is the seat of judgment and reasoning. The brain works overtime to respond to the threat of emotional trauma and invokes psychological defense mechanisms. such as denial and dissociation.”
There’s also a strong evolutionary component to how and why we endure grief, said Dr. Mary Frances O’Connor, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona.
Missing the deceased
She explained that “grieving as a reaction may have originally evolved as a reaction to separation or distance, to help a person maintain contact with loved ones when they are absent or gone for a period of their life.
“Every day a person explores their world – the kids go to school or the husband or wife goes to work – and they miss powerful neurochemicals in the brain, and the reward is the reunion.”
Additionally, Dr. O’Connor noted that the death of a family member is a very rare event, and it’s likely that the brain often reacts as if the loved one has been missing for a specific period of time and that he had not left life. completely.
“The brain wants us to find the deceased loved one, or we make such a noise that they come looking for us. There is not necessarily an awareness of this state, although bereaved people often describe the feeling that their loved one is just going to walk through the door one more day,” she added. “
“The emotional trauma of bereavement results in profound changes in brain function due to repeated stress from the fight-or-flight response and neuroplasticity, which is the remodeling of the brain in response to experience and changes in environment,” said Dr. Sculman. Over time, these mechanisms lead to the strengthening of the primitive fear center in the brain and the weakening of the advanced brain. [القشرة المخية]. “
She added that these changes are long-term but can be reversed with treatment and post-traumatic growth. Post-traumatic growth is a technique that helps individuals find a way to give new meaning to their experiences in order to live their lives differently than before the trauma.
The ability to recover
In turn, Dr. Uma Suryadevara, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Florida, said that while certain events, places or dates can trigger a wave of grief, people’s brains eventually recover, although times recovery varies from person to person.
“As a person recovers, the brain forms new neural connections and compensates for the trauma. Some people have ‘prolonged bereavement disorder’ where symptoms last a very long time, but usually not forever,” she said. declared.
Dr. O’Connor suggested that grief can be seen as a form of learning and that this learning plays a role in coping with grief and in the ability to perform daily tasks.
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