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Grief Brain & Managing Relationships

By Rachel Vanni

In this time, so many people are experiencing “grief-brain” at the same time. I know what you are saying, “What the heck is grief-brain?” Do you know how sometimes it is tough to concentrate, no matter how hard you try? You may feel completely wiped out all day, but come bedtime, you are wired and can’t fall asleep. You go through multiple moods throughout the day, and every emotion is heightened. One small thing that you previously would have brushed off is now the source of immense anger and annoyance. This is grief-brain. It can wreak havoc on relationships unless you can identify, understand, and accept that it is a transitional feeling that will pass with time.

Identifying Grief Brain

For me, it is straightforward to identify when I am in my “grief” mode, but that has come with years of experience. In 2016, I lost my husband to cancer. In 2017, my 3-year-old daughter passed away after a long battle with a rare disease. Through these experiences, I learned a lot about how I personally process grief and has given me the opportunity to speak with others who have experienced great loss.

To me, it feels like a heaviness that slowly creeps in. At first, it is almost unnoticeable. I may just feel more tired than usual, or chalk it up to a bad day. Then I notice I am reacting differently to situations, I am making mistakes on my work, and my patience is wearing thin. Identifying when someone else has grief-brain is more complicated, as everyone deals with immense stress differently. Some are more actively participating in hobbies, eating more, drinking more, or unusually energized. Others completely shut down, become quiet, or withdraw socially. It could be a combination of the two. The best thing to do is to keep open communication with your partner. Take a minute each day to check-in and ask, “How’s it going?”

Understand Their Experience

The last few months have had a varying impact on everyone’s lives. Some people have lost loved ones, others have lost their careers and income, others are going stir crazy with their children, and some may just be flat-out bored. The severity of what has happened hasn’t fully sunk in with many. No matter where you or your spouse are in this spectrum of experience, it is crucial to understand and not judge. Don’t compare your experience to someone else’s. You have the right to feel upset, angry, or sad about what is going on in the world, even if others are in an objectively more challenging position.

Accept It without Trying to Fix the Situation

There is no cure for grief-brain, other than time and support. It is easy to take your partner’s emotions personally, or try to “make the situation better” because you love them and don’t want to see them hurt. However, sometimes the best thing to do, especially with grief, is just to be present, listen, and be supportive without judgment. If you are unsure what to do, just ask, “What do you need right now?” and be prepared to hear that they just need to sit with their emotions for a bit. Stay away from suggestions or advice on how they can feel better. Respecting their emotional boundaries at this time will strengthen your relationship in the long run.

Stay safe. Stay peaceful.

As always, if you need help, SDFMC mediators will be there for you. Submit an online contact form or call (858) 736-2411 today.