The recent tragedy in Arizona isn't just fodder for political debate, but an example of how, collectively, we react to loss. On a more personal level, a 2008 study illustrated just how widespread the effect of negative personal events can be, and how deeply the brain reacts to grief.
Three finance professors from major business schools tracked the performance of 75,000 Danish companies in the 2 years before and after the CEO had experienced a family death. Financial performance declined 20% after the loss of a child, 15% after the death of a spouse, and almost 10% after the demise of any other family member.
Studies show that in the brain images of people who are grieving, increased activity is seen along a broad network of neurons. These link areas associated not only with mood but also with memory, perception, conceptualization, and even the regulation of the heart, the digestive system, and other organs. This shows the pervasive impact loss or even disappointment can have. And the more we dwell on negative thoughts, the more developed these neural pathways become. The result can be chronic preoccupation, sadness, or even depression.
So how can we learn to deal with loss, disappointment, and everyday setbacks more constructively? Keep in mind these coping strategies for grief:
· Be on the alert for thought "intruders". As soon as you recognize an intrusive negative thought, visualize a stop sign. Even go so far as to say "Stop!" if it helps. Or try wearing a rubber band around your wrist and snap yourself out of it.
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· Schedule your sad memories. Just as you don't immediately indulge every pang of hunger, put off sad remembrances for a time when you don't need to be productive or engaged (say, during your lunch hour). Never examine such thoughts before bed, however. This is an invitation for negativity and blame to gather strength. Prior to sleep, electrical activity diminishes in brain regions associated with analytical reasoning, and we become less objective.
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· Don't tolerate self-accusing or superstitious thoughts. Examples of these would be If only I had been… or Bad things happen in threes. Such thinking has no logical basis or benefit.
· View setbacks as opportunities. Effectively dealing with difficulties that don't incapacitate you will make you stronger.
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