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Excuse Me, I Have What?

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I can’t find my keys!

Where are those papers that I signed? I know they’re here somewhere.

Oh, no, I forgot my doctor’s appointment… again.

This is my 2nd fender bender in the last month.

I have bruises all over from bumping into things.

I’m so very tired.

I just can’t think straight anymore.

What is wrong with me? Am I going crazy or losing my mind?

No, it’s normal with grief. You are probably experiencing “grief fog.”

Grief fog

Have you ever heard that pregnant women sometimes experience “pregnancy brain?” Hormones change in their body and brain causing changes in the way they think or act for a while.

Well, a very similar thing happens when a loved one dies. No, it’s not just at first. It can last for months, sometimes years. Our neurochemistry changes and so do we. Concentration and focus are definitely different. In the early stages of grief, people lose or misplace things (papers, keys), have car accidents, are more prone to bumping into walls or even falling, pay less attention to self care and may even forget to brush their teeth.

Even if you were the most organized person, grief fog will change you into someone that you no longer know.

It’s like a bomb blew up in your life and everything is suddenly changed, chaotic and confusing. Your brain is no longer doing its normal daily work, it’s attempting to incorporate everything that just happened and make sense of it. It’s probably also fallen into fears of the future, safety and wellbeing.   Why did this happen? Why me? What’s going to happen now? Will I be okay? Am I safe?

What you’re experiencing is the brain’s reaction of mental confusion to extreme stress, trauma and grief.

The good news, it won’t last forever. The bad news, it’s happening now.

There are ways through this fogginess and confusion.

  1. Accept that it’s normal. You’ve just been through and are still going through a difficult and traumatic time. So much has changed. Make an appointment with your medical doctor to rule out any other reasons for the fog other than grief. Just knowing may help you feel some relief.
  2. Be self-compassionate and kind. You’re not yourself right now. It’s confusing when so much change happens so quickly.
  3. Be present and remind yourself to be mindful in each moment. It’s not easy but so important. “I’m not the me I knew.” Just focus on what’s in front of you. Trust that you will find yourself again.
  4. Be patient and tolerant. Your brain is foggy right now. It’s chemistry. Your whole world has changed. You may not remember or be able to concentrate right now. It’s okay. This too shall pass.
  5. Breathe — breathing helps to clear your brain and brings you calm. The way in which we breathe is crucial in helping us to be present. When people feel traumatized, they are usually breathing very shallowly and rapidly or hold their breath too long. Take time to slow and regulate your breathing. Breathe in through your nose to a slow count of three, hold the count of three, and then breathe out through your mouth to a slow count of three. Do this several times while being mindful of how you breathe.
  6. Go slow. You need the extra time right now to focus. Your energy is probably either low or hyper… that’s survival. Going slow will help you to breathe, be present and focus on just right now.
  7. Practice Guided Meditation — It has been researched and proven that consistent meditation changes neurochemistry in the brain and can bring a sense of peacefulness and calm. There is a wonderful app called “Insight Timer” that currently has over 4,793 guided meditations, including some very specific to grief, sleep and stress. Download and let teachers from all over the world guide you to some moments of peace and calm.
  8. Be with others who understand. Join a grief group. You will find that you’re not alone.

Together, you will help each other through the fog to the light at the end of this grief transition tunnel.

By Jo Christner, Psy.D.