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  • Writer's pictureGrief Specialists

The Healing Power of Honest Conversations Around Grief

Talking about your grief can help you manage your emotions more effectively

Talking about your grief

There are a lot of reasons why talking about our problems can be difficult. Many of us were brought up to keep our feelings inside, rather than let them out. Sometimes the very emotions you’re dealing with, such as guilt over something you did, or shame about how you think you’re perceived, can feel so overwhelming that you don’t want to share your true feelings.

Whatever the reason you have for keeping it all in, talking has powerful psychological benefits that might not be obvious.

Why does talking help?

When you’re dealing with negative feelings after a loss or a big change in your life, talking may seem the least productive thing you can do. However, in reality your brain and body get a lot out of talking.

When you are feeling very intense feelings — especially fear, aggression or anxiety — the amygdala, the part of the brain that, among other things, handles your fight or flight response, kicks in. It is the job of the amygdala and your limbic system to figure out if something is a threat, devise a response to that threat if necessary, and store the information in your memory so you can recognise the threat later. When you get stressed or overwhelmed, this part of your brain can take control and even override more logical thought processes.

Research from UCLA in America suggests that putting your feelings into words — a process called “affect labelling” — can reduce the response of the amygdala when you come across things that are upsetting. If you’ve ever been in a car accident, getting back into a car immediately afterwards may have felt overwhelming or even traumatic. But as you put your feelings into words and process what’s happened, you can get back in the car without having the same emotional response.

Conversations Around Grief

Writing about traumatic experiences or undergoing talk therapy had a positive impact on patients’ health and immune systems, according to another American study. It argues that holding back thoughts and emotions is stressful.

You have the negative feelings either way, but you have to work to repress them. This can drain the brain and body, making you more susceptible to getting sick or just feeling awful.

None of that is to say that talking about your problems will automatically fix everything and immediately make you happy and healthy. But, like exercising, it can contribute to overall improvement in your well-being.

It can also help you understand how and why you feel the way you do, so you can manage your emotions more effectively in the future.

How can we do it better?

Crucially, not every form of talking about problems aloud can help. In fact, multiple studies examining college students, young women and working adults suggest that consistently focusing on, and talking about negative experiences in your life can have the opposite effect, making you more stressed and drawing out how long a problem affects you. To talk about your problems more constructively, there are a few key things you can do.

Choose the right people to talk to. Having a trusted friend who will support you and just listen without comparing or trying to fix you can help. If you need specific advice on a problem, find someone who has faced similar problems and, ideally, has resolved them. And if you need a lot of talk time, try spreading your conversations out to multiple people. One person can get worn out, and having a broad social support system lets you distribute that load.

Choose the right time to talk. Just as important as choosing who to talk to is when you talk to them. Your friends may want to support you, but they have their own lives. Asking if they have the time and energy to talk before unpacking your emotional bags can help you both be better equipped for the conversation.

This also means being conscious of their time. Sometimes crises happen and you might need to interrupt someone, but most supportive conversations can wait.

Talk about the good as well as the bad. Expressing how you’re feeling is healthy. Expressing yourself only when you feel down or sad isn’t. Whether you are talking to friends, partners or on social media, try to share your positive experiences and feelings when they come up.

It’s Good to Talk

Talking about these experiences can reinforce them in your brain and make it easier to break out of negative thought patterns later. Plus, it helps build your relationships with the people you are close enough to talk to.

Of course, having conversations around grief can still be messy and sometimes involves tears, but that is a perfectly normal response to loss. Although it can feel embarrassing or uncomfortable at first, the more you open up, the easier it will become to share how you feel.

If you find you’re struggling to move beyond the same story or pain, it’s probably the right time to find professional grief support.


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