Widow Brain and 8 Steps to Healing After Loss

Losing a spouse is hard, and beyond the obvious grief, you may be noticing other unusual symptoms - this is sometimes known as widow brain. 
widow brain and how to heal after loss

When you lose a spouse, the world as you know it shatters. In the midst of this profound loss, many encounter a phenomenon known as ‘Widow Brain’ – a fog that envelops the mind in the wake of such a monumental change. It’s like navigating a familiar path plunged into darkness, where every step feels uncertain and every decision, overwhelming.

In this article, we delve into the heart of ‘Widow Brain,’ unraveling its complexities and exploring the journey of healing and adaptation. This is not just about understanding a term; it’s about recognizing a shared experience. Whether you’re grappling with this yourself or supporting someone who is, our aim is to shed light on this path of grief, offering compassion, understanding, and practical strategies for finding your way back to clarity and hope.

Here are the steps, if you want to jump right to them:

  1. Get Plenty of Rest
  2. Accept Your Feelings
  3. Talk to Friends and Family
  4. Consider Counseling
  5. Find a Support Group
  6. Take Care of Yourself
  7. Embrace Your Emotions
  8. Set Yourself a Schedule

Grief has many forms. It can be complicated, delayed, cumulative, or chronic. Losing a spouse, particularly if you have spent most of your life together, can be devastating. Widowhood is full of pain and heartache, and if you have recently lost your spouse, you may be noticing other unusual symptoms that are part of this unique form of grief. This is known as widow brain. 

What is Widow Brain? 

After the loss of a spouse, you might find yourself in a mental fog, a state often referred to as “Widow Brain.” This isn’t just an abstract concept; it’s a real and challenging experience many widows and widowers face. But what exactly is Widow Brain?

Widow Brain is a term that encapsulates the cognitive and emotional overload experienced after losing a life partner. It’s characterized by symptoms like forgetfulness, lack of concentration, and an overall sense of mental disarray. This fog is not just psychological but also has a physiological basis. Grief triggers stress hormones like cortisol, which can impact memory and cognitive function.

Key Characteristics of Widow Brain:

  1. Memory Lapses: You might forget simple things like where you left your keys or important dates like anniversaries or appointments.
  2. Difficulty Concentrating: Tasks that once seemed easy or routine can suddenly feel overwhelming or require more effort than usual.
  3. Fatigue and Overwhelm: The intense emotional toll of grieving can lead to both mental and physical exhaustion.
  4. Decision-Making Struggles: Making choices, big or small, can become daunting, often leading to indecision or avoidance.

Understanding that Widow Brain is a natural response to grief can be reassuring. It’s not a sign of weakness, nor does it mean your ability to cope is lacking. It’s a testament to the depth of your loss and the profound impact it has on every aspect of your being.

Emotional Aspects of Widow Brain:

It’s only natural to go through a difficult time following the death of a loved one once the initial shock has worn off and reality sets in. Your body and mind both have coping mechanisms to help you deal with your loss. Though this varies slightly from person to person, typically you can expect one or more of the following emotional symptoms:

  • Feeling extra sensitive
  • Outbursts of crying
  • Depression
  • Insomnia

Neurological aspects of Widow Brain:

Widow’s brain differs from other forms of grief in that it has specific neurological symptoms that may not only affect your daily life but can also be quite debilitating. Neurological symptoms of Widow Brain may include:

  • Brain fog
  • Problems with short-term memory
  • Difficulty remembering everyday things
  • Poor concentration
  • Cognitive decline

Physical aspects of Widow Brain:

The emotional and mental aspects of Widow Brain can be terribly draining. Because you’re using up so much energy to cope with your emotions and your neurological symptoms, you may have difficulty functioning at the same physical level as you are accustomed to. Physical symptoms of widow’s brain may include:

  • Severe fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty performing daily activities such as bathing
  • Loss of interest in normal daily pleasures

How Long Does Widow Brain Last?

how long does widow brain last?

One of the most commonly asked questions about Widow Brain is how long does it last? Because Widow Brain affects everyone differently and some people take longer to complete their grief cycle than others, this is not an easy question to answer. However, typically, most people being to see the light at the end of the tunnel within 2-3 months. 

Many people say they regained their full mental and physical capacity within 6 months, though for some people, the effects of Widow Brain can last longer. Even if you feel you have moved on from most of the symptoms, is worth bearing in mind that incidents may happen which can trigger Widow Brain, such as the holidays, anniversaries, or birthdays. 

An Anecdote: Emily’s Journey with Widow Brain

Emily, a 52-year-old school teacher, vividly remembers the morning she stood in her kitchen, staring blankly at her coffee maker, unable to recall how to turn it on. Just six months earlier, she had lost her husband, Mark, to a sudden heart attack. They had been married for 25 years, and his death left her in a state of profound grief.

For Emily, this moment with the coffee maker was a stark realization of how deeply her loss had affected her. It wasn’t just the forgetfulness; it was as if a part of her cognitive abilities had vanished overnight. She would walk into rooms and forget her reason for being there, miss appointments she had made just days before, and struggle to make even the simplest decisions.

As weeks turned into months, Emily often wondered if she would ever feel ‘normal’ again. She confided in her grief support group, where she learned that many others were experiencing similar challenges. This group became a source of comfort and understanding, a place where her Widow Brain symptoms didn’t feel so alien.

Gradually, with the passage of time and the support of her group, Emily began to notice small improvements. She started using tools like sticky notes and reminders on her phone to manage daily tasks. She allowed herself to rest without guilt, recognizing that her mental and emotional exhaustion was part of the healing process.

About a year after Mark’s passing, Emily found herself teaching a class and realized she hadn’t forgotten any of her materials or lesson plans. It was a small victory, but it signified a significant shift. She began to trust her memory again, and the fog of Widow Brain slowly lifted.

Emily’s journey through Widow Brain taught her patience and self-compassion. She learned that healing doesn’t have a fixed timeline and that grief, in its own way, reshapes life’s perspectives.

How to Cope With Widow Brain

You have suffered an incredible loss and you’re going through a lot of pain. Your mind and body are working overtime to deal with your grief and process this new situation. There are steps you can take to help you manage your symptoms of Widow Brain. These include:

1. Get plenty of rest

Take as much time out to rest as you can. Sometimes it can be hard to relax when you’re grieving because you feel that you have so much to do, and you may feel guilty about resting. However, you need to try and recoup your energy levels and you will only do that by taking some time out. Even if you are having difficulty sleeping, resting can still help to boost your energy levels even if it’s only for 10-15 minutes each day. Make some time for yourself to:

  • Listen to some relaxing music.
  • Lay on the sofa with a good book or movie.
  • Take a soak in a bubble bath.
  • Book yourself some spa time.
  • Listen to a meditation app or CD.

2. Accept your feelings

With so much going on in your life, fighting the symptoms of Widow Brain is only going to sap your energy more. It’s time to accept the way you feel and the symptoms you are experiencing, cope with them as best you can, and keep reminding yourself that they will soon pass. Forgetfulness and irritability are part of your new grieving process. There is no quick fix for this situation, but each day you get through means one less day of uncomfortable symptoms.

3. Talk to friends and family

talk to friends for support

This is not a good time to isolate yourself. It will help you to talk about what you’re going through, particularly with family members who are also grieving because they know what you’re going through. Sharing special memories and stories can help you remember your deceased loved one in a positive way, enabling you to celebrate their life. Spending time with close friends can also be healing, even if you sit in silence, it’s good to know that someone is there for you. 

4. Consider counseling

Although professional counseling is not for everyone, in some cases, it can be very helpful, particularly if you don’t live close to family members. Grief counseling is designed to help you work through the different stages of grieving, these being:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Many people find that this type of therapy helps them process their grief quicker. It may also help you work through your symptoms of Widow Brain.

5. Find a support group

There are many ways to grieve and come to accept your loss. Sometimes, when you are dealing with a great loss, it helps to talk to others who have also lost a spouse. Many people find a support group helpful until they are ready to manage their grief by themselves, particularly if they are coping with depression or feeling generally overwhelmed. Although family members and close friends can be very supportive, meeting with people who you feel you can talk to directly about your loss can help the healing process. 

6. Take care of yourself

care for yourself

When you’re so wrapped up in grieving, it can be hard to remember to take care of yourself. So it’s important to take extra time to take care of your wellbeing. Eat nourishing meals when you can. Be as physically active as you can. Many people find that physical exercise can help ease the stress of grieving and help with sleep. Don’t feel guilty about treating yourself to something nice like a facial or a manicure.

7. Embrace your emotions

If you’re feeling extra sensitive and you find yourself tearful from time to time, embrace all of your emotions and let them flow. Locking them up inside will only make it more difficult when the dam finally breaks. Roll with your feelings like the waves in the ocean, letting them wash over you and then ebb away. 

8. Set yourself a schedule

Setting a daily schedule will help you remember things you need to do and will give you small goals to accomplish each day. It will also help you to establish and  maintain a regular sleep schedule. However, be careful not to use sleep as a means of avoiding your grief. Keep your day structured by grooming and dressing as you would normally. Eat small meals regularly throughout the day. Try to eat something even if you have little appetite. This will help you keep up your energy. 

Resources for Grieving Spouses

support for widow brain

You may find the following resources helpful during your grieving process:

Soaring Spirits

Soaring Spirits is a non-denominational organization that aims to help people heal as they are grieving. Members of the community have access to online and in-person opportunities to help you begin your new life journey. Soaring Spirits offers several grief programs including an online pen pal group and forum. You can join for free. 

National Widowers Organization

The National Widowers Organization aims to help men deal with the loss of their life partner. They offer specialized support groups for men, to help them adjust to life without their loved ones. You can find local meetups with fellow widowers and all resources are free. 

The Sisterhood of Widows

The Sisterhood of Widows is a support group for women who have recently lost their life partners. The goal of the organization is to help women move through the grieving process and begin a new life without their loved ones.  The Sisterhood has a number of social media groups dedicated to widows and all their memberships and resources are free.

Widows Connection

Widows Connection is a support group that aims to help women deal with the unique challenge that women face as widows. The organization offers several in-person programs designed by widows, such as “Embracing Change and Transformation.” There is also a series of wellness webinars and workshops. You can attend a trail meeting before deicing if you wish to pay the $40 membership fee.

Open to Hope

As well as conferences, podcasts, and a TV channel Open to Hope offers a wealth of online books and articles all aimed at helping women grieve the loss of their loved ones. They aim to help widows find hope after loss and all their resources are free. 


widow brain conclusion

The journey through widowhood is already fraught with pain and heartache and when your mind isn’t functioning properly, this can make it even more painful and frustrating. When you can’t find your keys, you’ve forgotten to buy something on your grocery list, or you suddenly can’t remember what day it is, take a deep breath. This is not permanent, you’re just coping with widow brain. Remind yourself that it will pass, you are resilient enough to cope with the pain of your grief, and you will come out the other side even stronger. 


Frequently Asked Questions about Widow Brain

Is Widow Brain a Real Thing?

Absolutely. While it may not be a scientific disorder, the fogginess that can occur after losing a spouse is widely occurring. For many people it can last up to a year, but for some it can go on for much longer.

What Happens to Your Brain When Your Spouse Dies?

Grieving the loss of someone close can cause a flood of hormones and neuro-chemicals to rush through your brain. This disruption in hormones can result in poor sleep, a change in appetite, fatigue, and even anxiety.

How Long Can Widow Brain Last?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but many see it lasting anywhere from 2 months to over a year. For the most part, people say that there is no single day where everything gets better. It is a gradual improvement over time. As the saying goes, when it comes to the loss of a loved one, you will get through it, but you may never get over it.

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2 thoughts on “Widow Brain and 8 Steps to Healing After Loss

  1. Hi. Your article mentions that widows brain fog can last a long time for some people. Do you have any tips for how I might best encourage it to get less, more quickly? I live with chronic pain, and the centres that are overstimulated in grief are the same as those that are also overstimulated in grief – according to a neurologists book that I’m reading. I’m about to try EMDR therapy and have practised all the good tips written in your article. Just wondering if there’s any other way to regain my cognitive facilities. It’s been almost 4 years since my husband suddenly died, and although the fog gets less each year, it still significantly impacts my daily life.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your struggles. It seems you’ve been through a lot, and it’s commendable how you’re actively looking for ways to cope and improve. Unfortunately everyone deals with these things in their own way and there is no singular answer.

      One thing that I don’t believe is mentioned in the article is meditation. When done properly and with diligence, meditation can be very powerful. If you’re new to it, perhaps try the headspace app as an easy way to get started. We aren’t associated with them here at WayWiser, but do appreciate the work that they do. https://www.headspace.com/

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