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Mental Health
3 Min Read
Last Updated: 12.06.23

The Science & Process of Healing from Grief

Huberman delves into the biology of grief, exploring neural circuits involved in memory, love, and attachment. He differentiates grief from depression, provides science-​​based tools for coping, and emphasizes the significance of psychological and biological well-​​being in navigating loss. This episode addresses grief’s universal nature and offers strategies applicable to all.

Key Takeaways

Grief involves remapping and reorganization of emotional and logical frameworks

  • Moving through grief requires neuroplasticity and reordering of brain connections

Not everyone experiences the same stages of grief

  • People do not always move through stages linearly

Complicated grief: grief does not resolve itself after a prolonged period of time

  • Occurs in about 1 in 10 people

Non-​​complicated grief: grief resolves over time.

Understanding where one is in the grief process can be beneficial

  • Grief has a beginning, middle, and end

Grief and depression are distinctly different processes

  • Grief rarely responds well to antidepressants, while depression often does

Grief is a distinct psychological and physiological event in the brain and body

  • Can be thought of as a motivational state, a yearning, a desire for something

Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s five stages of grief:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Not everyone experiences all stages or moves through them in a linear manner

  • Modern science shows that there are many dimensions to the grief process

Brain imaging studies show that grief activates brain areas associated with motivation, craving, and pursuit

  • Grief involves both sadness and a state of wanting

Grief is a process of reordering understanding of someone in space and time

  • Denial is a common stage in grief
  • The brain continues to make predictions about the deceased person’s presence
  • Maintaining a close attachment while not being able to predict the person’s presence is disorienting

Normal reactions to grief

  • Looking for the deceased person in familiar places
  • Expecting them to call or show up at certain times 
    • The brain unconsciously makes predictions about when and where the person will show up

Grief can be similar to a phantom limb, where sensations or experiences are felt even when the person or object is gone.

Trace cells in the hippocampus become active in the immediate stage after the loss of a loved one

  • Responsible for the absence of something
  • Closely associated with neurons that tell us where things ought to be

Humans with more oxytocin receptors in the nucleus accumbens may experience more intense grief and yearning.

People with higher baseline levels of epinephrine may be more likely to experience complicated grief symptoms

  • Utilizing tools to adjust adrenaline levels down may have benefits in improving sleep, health metrics, and managing grief

Controlling breathing can help manage stress and navigate grief.

Respiratory sinus arrhythmia: relationship between inhale speeding up the heart rate and exhale slowing it down

  • Can be trained by consciously thinking about slowing heart rate while exhaling and increasing heart rate while inhaling

Accessing emotional states by writing or thinking about a lost loved one can be powerful in engaging the bodily states and mind states associated with attachment

  • Beneficial for moving through grief

Differences in grieving rates may be due to psychological factors and the level of vagal tone in individuals.


Tools for Adaptively Moving Through Grief



We recommend using this distillation as a supplemental resource to the source material.

  • The Science & Process of Healing from Grief

    Huberman Lab #74

    Huberman delves into the biology of grief, offers coping strategies, and emphasizes the importance of building resilience to navigate loss.

Full Notes

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