The sudden death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter has stunned and shocked many Americans. In addition, family, friends, teammates, and fans are left to deal with their grief and loss, with many left wondering how to move forward. Although grief is recognized as a universal emotional experience, it is highly subjective and variable. Grief arising from loss creates permanent changes in our brains and can have widespread consequences for our health.
Much is still unknown about what parts of our brain are involved in grieving. In recent years, neuroscientists are beginning to rethink current theories of grief and loss and its potential clinical consequences. People are familiar and better able to understand physical trauma to the brain, which itself has become an important focus in recent years with contact sports-related concussions and traumatic brain injury. In particular, concussions were once considered harmless but we now understand that they are a form of brain injury that can have serious short and long-term consequences. In contrast to physical brain trauma, emotional trauma such as severe or prolonged grief is harder to conceptualize and diagnose, even though they share similar features. Neuroimaging studies have shown that the same brain regions are activated for both emotional and physical pain. One theory of how grief affects us is that, when we experience extreme moments of grief and loss, our brain acts as acutely to store these traumatic experiences as unprocessed memories in order to allow us to continue to function and survive in the short-term. Long-term recovery depends on the reprocessing of these traumatic memories, which can be aided by EMDR-based therapies and other forms of psychotherapy. In cases of complicated or prolonged grief, antidepressants and other psychoactive drugs can provide relief. TouchPoints' general wellness devices that can be purchased here may also help.
We are also just beginning to understand the profound effects of grief and stress on the human body. An extreme example is Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or broken heart syndrome, where extreme emotional stress results in heart problems and symptoms that mimic a heart attack (i.e. chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness). Not surprisingly, grief can also affect mental health. Grief shares some of the same symptoms as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, such as sadness and avoidance behavior. In fact, both these psychiatric disorders are frequently found in grieving patients. In addition, those that are grieving are at an increased risk for suicide, illness, and death. This underscores the potential seriousness of severe or prolonged grief and the importance of proper treatment.
In summary, although grief is a normal reaction to loss, in some cases if it is particularly severe or prolonged, it may potentially have serious and lasting consequences to your health. Fortunately, we are beginning to better understand and have more effective treatments. As people across the nation mourns the tragic loss of a talented athlete and his daughter, it is important to remember that there is help available for those who need it.
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