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The Grieving Brain: How to Navigate Emotions After Loss with Mary-Frances O’Connor

Mary-Frances O’Connor, PhD is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Arizona. She directs the Grief, Loss and Social Stress (GLASS) Lab, which investigates the effects of grief on the brain and the body. O’Connor earned a doctorate from the University of Arizona in 2004 and completed a fellowship at UCLA. Following a faculty appointment at UCLA, she returned to the University of Arizona in 2012. Her work has been published in the American Journal of PsychiatryBiological Psychiatry, and Psychological Science, and featured in Newsweek, the New York Times, and The Washington Post. Dr. O’Connor’s recent book, The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss (2022; HarperOne) has garnered praise from peers and literary critics alike and has led to speaking engagements around the world.

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Why do you grieve and how can you overcome the intense emotions grief can often produce?

Grief is one of the most profound human experiences you’ll go through. It’s also inevitable. You can’t escape grief, no matter how hard you try. That’s what makes it so challenging. But you can learn how to cope with the natural ups and downs of the grieving process.

Dr. Mary-Frances O’Connor is here today to help us understand what’s happening on a neurological level when you’re grieving. Dr. O’Connor is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Arizona and directs the Grief, Loss and Social Stress Lab studying the effects of grief on the body and brain. She’s also the author of the book, The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss.

Grief is always tied to pain, but part of the emotional response is your brain activating different areas as it tries to process your loss. Whether you’re experiencing profound grief yourself or know someone going through it, this episode will change how you think about love and loss while giving you tools to navigate this deeply emotional journey.

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"Grief never goes away. It’s a normal human reaction."

Dr. Mary-Frances O'Connor

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**This week’s show notes are taken from the video — enjoy!**

  • When it comes to researching grief, this is the most surprising insight Dr. O’Connor has discovered. [2:44]
  • In a 2008 study, Dr. O’Connor discovered this part of the brain that are affected when grieving. [3:53]
  • The brain uses the most powerful chemicals to motivate you to do this. That’s why grief is so profound. [5:40]
  • This is the process your brain has to go through to understand the loss of a loved one. [7:31]
  • This is the difference between grief and grieving—and why that’s important. [10:10]
  • Are there actually stages to grieving? This is what Dr. O’Connor has discovered in her research. [13:04]
  • If you’re struggling with grieving, looking at it from this perspective might help. [15:33]
  • This might help you with grief in small doses. But it can lead to larger problems if you engage in it too much. [17:01]
  • Making sure you focus on this can help you process your grief in a healthier way. [19:42]
  • When you’re grieving, you have to focus on this. [21:08]
  • This is critical during grieving. [24:58]
  • Remember this when supporting someone who is grieving. [26:02]
  • Dr. O’Connor has this advice for anyone going through the grieving process. [29:00]
  • This is why Dr. O’Connor wrote The Grieving Brain. [31:41]
  • Take a screenshot, tag us, and share your biggest takeaway from this episode.
  • If you want to learn more about Dr. O’Connor, visit her website, here.
  • Don’t forget to grab a copy of her book, The Grieving Brain, here.

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