Generally speaking, the emotional intensity of feelings of grief will recede over time. But for an estimated 10-20 percent of people, grieving continues for months or years and makes a return to normal life virtually impossible. As researchers write in Depression and Anxiety:
“Bereavement is a severe stressor that typically incites painful and debilitating symptoms of acute grief that commonly progresses to restoration of a satisfactory, if changed, life. Normally, grief does not need clinical intervention. However, sometimes acute grief can gain a foothold and become a chronic debilitating condition called complicated grief.
Moreover, the stress caused by bereavement, like other stressors, can increase the likelihood of onset or worsening of other physical or mental disorders.”
Research has shown that long-term, complicated grief activates neurons in the reward centers of your brain, possibly giving it addiction-like properties. In one study only individuals with complicated grief showed significant activation of the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain most commonly associated with reward.
What this means is that for people suffering from complicated grief, thinking about a deceased loved one activates neural reward activity, which gives the person temporary pleasurable feelings but ultimately can interfere with their ability to heal, adapt and move forward in their life. If you’ve been dealing with debilitating feelings of grief that last for a year or more, professional help may be warranted, and you should also try the technique I describe below.
An Essential Tool for Recovering From Grief
Whether you’re experiencing normal or complicated grief, I recommend using theEmotional Freedom Technique (EFT) as part of your healing process. EFT can be used as a do-it-yourself form of emotional acupuncture that balances the body’s subtle energy system and resolves unrelenting emotional pain. Instead of using acupuncture needles, you use your fingertips to stimulate specific acupuncture points.
When your energy system is balanced, emotional pain dissolves, allowing you to move past the grief and embrace the next phase of your life. The basics of EFT can be learned by anyone and can be self-applied, but if you’re experiencing complicated grief or want some extra guidance, I recommend using an experienced EFT practitioner.
And remember, while grief can feel insurmountable and become all-consuming, take comfort in the fact that virtually everyone is able to move past the dark feelings. Typically within six months, you’ll begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel.