Loving Life Again After Tragedy: 8 Ways to Retrain Your Brain
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If you’ve recently suffered a tragic loss, it takes time to regain your sense of safety and self. Scientists continue to learn more about how emotional trauma impacts the physical body — not just the mind. Part of the healing process entails returning your hormonal levels and neurotransmitters to equilibrium.
Fortunately, you can take gentle, proactive steps to help yourself recover and move past your grief. You won’t dwell in darkness forever, even if it seems that way now. Here’s how to start loving life again after tragedy by retraining your brain these eight ways.
How Tragedy Changes the Brain
Trauma causes several changes in your brain. Areas associated with certain functions and emotions activate while others grind to a halt. For example, your amygdala, the part of your body responsible for fight or flight, becomes stuck on high alert. When this occurs, you have a more challenging time handling stress and regulating your emotions.
Traumatic events also affect your hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for processing memory. As a result, you may endure flashbacks, reacting to similar stimuli as if you were reliving the experience in the present instead of it remaining in the past. People born with a smaller hippocampus may have a predisposition to developing PTSD.
Enduring tragedy understandably provokes negative thought patterns. Over time, these can become engrained, the way a well-worn forest trail eventually grows smooth and easy to follow. It becomes easier to see the negative in everything — and next to impossible to see the bright side.
Your thoughts spur changes in your hormones and neurotransmitters that further reinforce the doom and gloom neural pathways in your brain. You could develop anhedonia — a loss of pleasure in activities you previously enjoyed. You might feel as if nothing is worthwhile or meaningful.
Fortunately, you can recover your old self, although it takes time and gentle TLC. The following eight tips can help your brain recover,
8 Tips for Loving Life Again After Tragedy
How can you gently restore your brain to health and start loving life again after tragedy? Try one of these eight approaches.
1. Embark on a Journey
A change of scenery can alter your perceptions. It also removes you from the scene where your tragic event occurred. If you can afford time away, why not take a trip?
Even a simple weekend road trip can provide necessary perspective. However, you can soon slake your more exotic wanderlust as more nations reopen borders that closed during COVID.
2. Work for a Cause
Tragic losses can make you feel powerless. Perhaps the best way to regain your sense of agency is by taking proactive steps to support a cause about which you feel passionate. For example, losing a loved one because they couldn’t afford medical care in America could inspire you to work toward legislative changes to extend health care as a right to all citizens, the way most other nations do.
3. Expand Your Social Circle
Humans are social creatures. Although you might want to isolate yourself in your grief, getting back into contact with others can form a vital part of your healing. Take your BFF up on their offer to visit. Return to groups such as running clubs to which you might belong as soon as you feel ready.
4. Master a New Skill
Some tragedies like losing a job can make you doubt yourself and your abilities. Mastering a new skill can help restore your sense of agency, your belief that your actions make a difference. Choose something you’ve always wanted to learn, not something you feel you “should.” You can advance your career skills later if learning to tango makes you love life again.
5. Express Yourself Through Art
Some people write books when dealing with tragedy, even if they never mean for them to be published. Consider “The Diary of Anne Frank,” for example. Others paint or sculpt, or write symphonies. Art therapy is a fabulous way to heal your soul, even if you never share your creation with anyone.
6. Engage Your Endorphins Through Movement
Endorphins are natural opioid-like chemicals that your body produces when you move. These substances ease mild pain — but also help you see things more positively. If you can only see the negative in a given situation, reconsider it while taking a brisk walk in nature. You might find it easier to cognitively reframe your circumstances in a brighter light.
7. Make a Necessary Change
Adversity can sometimes inspire necessary change. It’s critical to give yourself mourning time after the loss of a loved one. However, losing a job or close relationship because of substance abuse issues could inspire you to take necessary action, for example. If your traumatic event doubled as a wake-up call, consider what you need to change and start taking baby steps.
8. Seek Professional Help
Finally, please remember there’s no shame in seeking help for your mental health. If you’ve lost your joy in previously pleasurable activities and self-help measures don’t work, consult a professional therapist. Trained counselors can provide one-on-one care, and psychiatrists can prescribe medications to help you regain equilibrium.
Loving Life Again After Tragedy
It’s hard to begin loving life again after a tragedy. Changes in your brain make it tough to regain your sense of self and take joy in daily life. The activities above can help you recapture your spirit and move forward toward a brighter future.