Is there a hormonal response in the grief process?

Posted 6/27/19

This column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a …

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Is there a hormonal response in the grief process?

Posted

This column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a future article for others. Please list a first name that grants permission for printing.

Dear Dr. Ted:

When my father died last year, I noticed many emotional and physical changes as I worked with my loss. I try to understand healing from a loss and the grief process and I realize it is a slow process toward healing. I'm wondering if there is a hormonal change during loss and how that impacts somebody. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Thanks, Roberta

Dear Roberta:

It is great that you are honoring your father by being aware of your grief process and allowing healing to happen. After a loss you enter the world of grief, which is the healing process from a loss. Many people will classify grief as two types - acute and persistent. Acute grief occurs during the first year of a loss while persistent grief is defined as ongoing after 12 months. Now, grief is a life-long process and over time, the intensity of the loss and the detrimental impacts on your quality of life decrease, while more joy and positive changes happen in your life.

During acute grief you may become preoccupied with memories, images and thoughts of your loss, you may have waves of anguish with sadness and yearning dominating a lot of your life. This is a time for you to start to accept the finality of the physical loss on deeper levels with a gradual resolution of your present situation. Persistent grief is when the anguish of your loss continues to dominate your quality of life after the first year or two, and your loss continues to feel fresh and new.

Loss often causes high levels of stress known as "chronic stress" and if ignored, can lead to higher risk of heart attack, stroke as well as death. Stress is a natural reaction to loss; it makes a transition within your life and impacts the nervous system through a hormonal response in the brain. This response helps keep you alive and helps with adrenals and other areas of your system to keep moving during a foggy time. This is good and something to be aware of as hormonal changes can lead to impulsive decisions and reactions that may be different when you are not hyper-aroused due to an escalation and de-escalation of your normal hormonal baseline.

Some proactive moves that may help you reestablish a feeling of being grounded, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually are: physical activity, yoga, tai chi, meditation, emotional and/or spiritual counseling, social connections and medical support. By re-engaging in routines you enjoy and other activities that help reduce stress, you can help bring hormonal fluctuations back to a normalized state, allowing for more resilience in the midst of a loss. Taking care of your needs - being aware that loss has a physical and emotional impact - will help you navigate the difficult waters of healing from loss.

Thank you for the question. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.

Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct any questions to Dr. Ted Wiard, EdD, LPCC, CGC, founder of Golden Willow Retreat at GWR@newmex.com

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