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Grief can have a profound impact on us – mentally, emotionally, physically, and psychologically. And as weird as it sounds, grief actually can make you forget things. Why is that? What’s going on, and how can you cope with the effects of brain fog brought on by grief?

Shows grieving man sitting on bed as he pinches his brow

What is Brain Fog?

If you’ve recently suffered the loss of a loved one, you may find that your brain isn’t quite as sharp as it usually is. You may experience memory loss, confusion, or an inability to concentrate. You might even feel a little worried about it. Have no fear – each of these experiences are normal reactions to grief.

Also called griever’s fog or trauma fog, brain fog is your brain’s response to a trauma you have experienced – the death of a loved one. While “trauma” feels like a heavy word, it’s appropriate. In big ways or small ways, your life has completely changed in an instant, and your brain hasn’t quite caught up to reality.

Brain fog looks different in different people, but here are a few examples of what you may experience:

  • Forget where you put things or what people told you
  • Miss appointments
  • Inability to remember if you’ve completed a task or eaten a meal
  • Feelings of restlessness, agitation, impatience, or confusion
  • Disorganized or unable to complete tasks
  • Fatigue and lack of initiative
  • Don’t enjoy the things you used to enjoy
  • Yearning for the person who has died

Shows a young woman wondering why she can't remember something

How Long Does Brain Fog Last?

The good news is that brain fog is most commonly temporary, but there’s no set or scientifically proven timeline. It varies from person to person. It may last just a few days, a few weeks, or possibly longer. For the vast majority of people, brain fog isn’t a long-term issue and will go away naturally.

However, for some, brain fog can become a symptom of complicated grief. When grief goes on for longer than normal and has a pronounced impact on a person’s quality of life, it may be related to complicated grief. For those dealing with this form of grief, the death becomes center stage in life and it’s impossible to resume normal life. The person seems stuck in a state of intense mourning.

If your brain fog seems to be getting worse or you are concerned about the onset of complicated grief, talk to your doctor about your concerns so you can start receiving the treatment you need to heal.

Why Does Brain Fog Happen?

The death of a loved one is a form of trauma, and your mind and body realize that. Your body releases stress hormones, and soon, those hormones begin to affect your sleep, immune system, and mood. In short, your body and mind are overwhelmed. Brain fog is your body’s natural response to so many heightened emotions and hormones. In a way, it’s a form of natural protection, dulling your senses while you work to process through what has happened. Once you’ve had time to process and grieve, your body slowly releases its hold, and brain fog recedes.

Many common reactions to loss – like shock, numbness, disorganization, confusion – are related to brain fog. But remember, brain fog is temporary, and as you begin to process your grief, you will see it decrease over time.

Shows woman sitting on couch worrying

How Do I Help Myself Through Brain Fog?

The best thing you can do is actively engage with your feelings of grief. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator who has walked alongside many people on the grief journey, says that the best way to do the work of grief is to open yourself to its presence and honor the pain you feel:

In many ways, and as strange as it may seem, what you need to do when you are grieving is to honor your pain. Honoring means recognizing the value of and respecting. It is not instinctive to see grief and the need to openly mourn as something to honor; yet the capacity to love requires the necessity to mourn. To honor your grief is not self-destructive or harmful, it is self-sustaining and life-giving!

To help you on your grief journey, check out these helpful resources:

Give Yourself Permission to Grieve

Grief & the Six Needs of Mourning

10 Helpful Tips When Grieving a Loss

10 Myths About Grieving You May Believe

Shows person using calendar and to-do list to remember things

It will take time to work through your loss and come to grips with what life looks like now. For the now, here are some practical ways you can help yourself through brain fog.

  • Keep a calendar
  • Set alerts/alarms
  • Make to-do lists
  • Focus on getting enough sleep
  • Reduce alcohol consumption
  • Do things when you think of them; don’t put them off
  • Give yourself regular breaks

Click here for even more tips and suggestions for dealing with brain fog.

Remember…You’re Not Crazy

No matter how long you deal with brain fog, remember that you aren’t crazy. You’re grieving. Your mind and body are still processing, and as disconcerting as it can be, it’s normal. Be patient with yourself. Do the work of grief. While life is going to look different moving forward, you can do this.

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