The Forces at work when we have to make a sudden change

"How do we feel when our assumed career path is obstructed by an event over which we have no control? A sudden change in circumstance can trigger a grief response. In this section we investigate how it affects us."

Sudden change typically sends you into fight or flight mode (as explained previously), immediately releasing a flood of hormones such as cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline.

When you’re temporarily running for your life, those hormones are quite helpful. In a work context, this is the time when you might feel the urge to pick up the phone or shout at your boss. This is your amygdala, your emotional brain at work, and your actions are unlikely to be considered. You may write or say things that your considered brain (your cerebral cortex) might advise against.

When the hormones are secreted over a longer time frame, they can affect your metabolism and may cause stress-related symptoms such as unhealthy weight loss (followed by similarly unhealthy weight gain); acne, high blood pressure, sleep problems, heightened anxiety, paranoia, and depression.

One particularly unfortunate outcome is that more stress means less sleep, less sleep means a poorly functioning immune system, and a shoddy immune system means you’re more likely to get sick. So prolonged stress after a sudden change can literally cause disease.

The Grief Response

Whenever we experience a sudden change in the form of a loss: losing control of our career path for example, the brain and body may go through a grief response. This can cause a lack of concentration, compromised memory and recall, reduced ability to make simple decisions, the inability to organise or plan and a general sense of “absent-mindedness” setting in. Physiologically, this can be explained.

There are effects of grief in many parts of the brain:

The parasympathetic nervous system: This is a section of our autonomic nervous system in the brain stem and lower part of the spinal cord. In this system, which handles rest, breathing, and digestion, we may find that our breath becomes short or shallow, appetite disappears or increases dramatically, and sleep disturbance or insomnia become an issue.

The prefrontal cortex/frontal lobe: The functions of this area include the ability to find meaning, planning, self-control, and self-expression. Brain scans show that loss, grief, and traumas can significantly impact emotional and physical processes. Articulation and appropriate expression of feelings or desires may become difficult or exhausting.

The limbic system: This emotion-related brain region, particularly the hippocampus portion, is in charge of personal recall, emotion and memory integration, attention, and our ability to take interest in others. During a loss, it creates a sensory oriented, protective response to loss. Perceiving loss and grief as a threat, the amygdala portion of this system instructs the body to resist grief. We may experience strong instinctual or physical responses to triggers that remind us of our losses.

Our psychological grief responses pull a great deal from the regions of our brain. The areas that manage attention and memory are activated; the sections that focus on emotion and relationships are stimulated; and the zones that are dedicated to planning and language are triggered.

Is there a behaviour sequence? In a word, no.

Some people might experience a cycle of thoughts and behaviour. Shock and denial can accompany the first receipt of bad news. This can then lead to anger and depression, perhaps scapegoating the organization, a boss, or other individuals. After the darker moments, acceptance and integration might result in a lighter mood and a sense of optimism, working with the changes rather than fighting against them.

It is important to note that these thoughts and behaviours do not follow a sequence for everyone. Individuals might jump from one stage to the next quickly or slowly, or miss stages altogether. There is no ‘right’ way to grieve, there is no ‘normal’ to this process or ‘correct’ emotions.

Created By
William McBarnet


Published by Aquila Jet Training in Association with L3Harris