Mary-Frances O'Connor is an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Arizona. Her research focuses on the physiological correlates of emotion during bereavement, including yearning and isolation. She works to improve interventions for prolonged grief disorder, newly included in the DSM-5.
Grieving is incredibly stressful, both mentally and physically. It can cause an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, and increases in IL-6, an inflammatory marker of the immune system. Grieving also often results in a lack of support from the person we would usually turn to for comfort and love, making it even harder. However, human beings are remarkably resilient, and reaching out and taking care of our physical selves during this time can help us to cope. Transcript: "Grieving is incredibly stressful. It's stressful for the body, and it's stressful for the mind. In fact, I sometimes say grieving is a little like trying to learn calculus while also training for a marathon. In research from my own lab and from others, we know that bereavement usually causes an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, and causes increases in IL-6, one of the inflammatory markers of the immune system. And it's stressful both because of all the emotions, and intrusive thoughts, and difficulty sleeping that we have when we lose a loved one. But it's also stressful because we suddenly have to restore a life without this person. So if you lost a spouse, you may also have lost a co-parent, or you may have lost a breadwinner. Or as an older couple, you may have lost the person who drives, and so all of the stresses of all of the new things that you have to learn to do now in their absence. And as though all of that wasn't hard enough, one of the things that usually reduces stress for many of us is spending time with our loved ones. So in this moment, where you are so incredibly overwhelmed, often the very person that you would have turned to to feel comfort, to have that dopamine, and oxytocin, and opioid increase by spending time with them and being cared for and loved by them, often, this is exactly the person who is gone, which makes the bereavement stress feel even harder, given that we don't have a way or the same way to overcome that. Human beings are remarkably resilient though, and it turns out that most of us are able to find support from another person. And so reaching out during this time of stress, taking care of your physical body are both incredibly important during grief."science of grief
Grief is the natural response to loss and grieving is the way that grief changes over time even though it never really goes away. It is a form of learning, as it helps us learn how to cope with the absence of a loved one and how to restore a meaningful life. Transcript: "I think it's helpful to make a distinction between grief and grieving grief is the natural response to loss. It's that feeling that overwhelms. You all those thoughts grief is a noun but grieving grieving is the way that grief changes over time even though it never really goes away. So grief is a human emotion and like all human emotions were going to experience them forever. Anytime you Come aware of the fact that you've lost someone very close to you. Even if it's been six months, six years, six decades. After you've lost them, being aware of how important they are to you, you're going to feel grief in that moment and that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with The Grieving that you've been doing grieving could be thought of as a form of learning. It's learning how to be a person who is overtaken by waves of grief. It's learning how to function in the world while carrying the absence of this person. You really love and who are you now, and what will you do to restore a meaningful life? So, I think it can be useful to know. That grieving is the way that grief changes over time, even if it never goes away,"grief vs. grieving
Grieving is a form of learning where the brain has to update and remap how the world works now that someone important has passed away. It takes time for the brain to accept this new reality, and this can be quite painful as we are naturally motivated to seek out our loved ones. Transcript: "I look at grief and grieving from the perspective of the brain, which may seem a little funny at first, but if you think about it, you could think of grieving as a form of learning. We have to update our understanding that this person who means so much to us, and is so much a part of everything that we do is no longer in this material world. The brain is really a prediction machine in many ways. It's there to help us learn and Understand what might happen next. And if you think about it we really are attached to the people that we love and part of, that is the belief that we will always be there for them and they will always be there for us. And so that attachment belief means we have a pretty strong prediction that we will see our loved ones again. That's how we can all go off to work in the morning. Knowing that, we'll be back together again at the end of the day. And so, if you think about it, that way, if say, you wake up in the morning and the person you've woken up to next to for hundreds and thousands of days isn't next to you in bed, it isn't actually a very good prediction that they've died, right? So, in a way for the brain for a while, it's like, they haven't died yet. Until the brain can come to understand that this person, You have to predict their absence instead of their presence and that takes a long time, you have to sort of remap how the world works for you. Now with them gone. And you have to update, all those neural connections, all of this takes a long time and it's quite painful because we're very motivated to seek out our loved ones to spend time with them and and believing that they're out there remains for quite some time."grieving as learning