Many people think of the ‘heart’ and heartbreak when they think of grief and loss but bereavement also causes changes in the brain. When we experience loss, we are first hit with the initial pain of the situation, followed by months of processing and mourning. The pituitary gland is triggered and cortisol (a stress hormone) is produced as a result. Since grief and loss are such intense emotions, cortisol remains in the body at a high level which can lead to a compromised immune system, anxiety, insomnia and even depression.
Often, when a person loses a loved one (prematurely or expectedly), they fall ill themselves as a response to the trauma. The acute pain of the initial loss is temporary, but the grieving process typically takes about a year to cycle through and recover from. One may also find themselves grieving the loss of a pet, a job, a marriage or even the loss of a personal dream. The 5 Stages of Grief are not just reserved for human loss and it is also important to consider a 6th stage- Deciding how we incorporate that loss into the next stage of our life.
With an understanding of how we physiologically respond to grief and loss, we can better understand how to reduce the pain and strengthen the mind, spirit and emotional body. There are some great healing techniques at our fingertips including:
- Talk Therapy (or Psychotherapy) allows a person to address the initial cause of stress by simply talking through it either one on one with a professional or in a group setting. The presence of a group can often be helpful because it provides additional support, structure, and a feeling of safety and compassion by way of shared experiences.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) allows a person to examine internal blocks they may be facing related to their grief and provides a foundation for understanding the experience. Strategies for overcoming grief can be put in place to help the person regain a sense of control and focus.
- Exercise floods the body with endorphins which boosts a person’s mood. While the mood boost might be temporary, it reminds the person of what they could feel like more often in the future.
- Hypnotherapy can also be a wonderful tool for overcoming the heavy emotions of grief. Through hypnotherapy, a person can revisit memories of a loved one without the pain attached to the situation as they remain in a deep state of relaxation and peace. Direct and indirect hypnotic suggestion and relaxation techniques may also prove very useful to the bereaved.
Interestingly, Alfred A. Barrios, Ph.D conducted a research study in 1969 comparing Hypnotherapy to Behavioral Therapy and Psychoanalysis which was published in several publications such as American Health Magazine and Psychotherapy Magazine with these statistical results:
Hypnotherapy = 93% recovery rate after 6 sessions
Behavioral therapy = 72% recovery rate after 22 sessions
Psychoanalysis = 38% recovery rate after 600 sessions.
* Grief and loss was not specifically part of the study.
Hypnotherapy may be an important tool in your journey through the stages of grief. It may help you to move forward with less stress, anxiety and depression. Your hypnotherapist can help you strategize how to incorporate what, or who, you lost into the next phase of your life. Death, grief and loss are all a part of life but you don’t have to go through it alone and there are options to make the journey more comfortable.