Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Grief Stinks

Well, every one can master a grief but he that has it.

William Shakespeare,
Much Ado about Nothing, Act III. Scene II.


Tonight I thought I'd explain a bit about why I included aromatherapy in my recent post about ways to release endorphins. I do use aromatherapy and I do recommend it highly. Now you might be wondering, what is an ex-infantry Sergeant doing mucking about with essential oils? It was recently suggested to me by a widow friend that I'm quite in touch with my feminine side; I prefer euphemisms like "Balanced." :-P

Anyway, what's the deal with aromatherapy? I was recently reading (I forget quite where) that, going back to our hunter-gatherer heritage, we are hard-wired to be on the scrounge for food every four hours. An interesting result of this is that our olfactory nerve is directly connected to the limbic system in our brain. As you may or may not recall from high school biology, the limbic system is the one responsible for controlling emotions, emotional responses, hormonal secretions, mood, motivation, and pain and pleasure sensations.

And I'm sure you're familiar with "smell memory." I know if I get a whiff of a particular kind of diesel exhaust, I'm instantly transported back in time to the downtown sidewalks of Nicosia Cyprus at 6:30 a.m. I can even describe the exact vehicles as they drove by us while we had our morning run. A more pertinent example of this is the many accounts I have read of widow/ers keeping clothing articles of their dead spouse, just to smell them and be back with their partner, if only for a moment. There's no doubt about it — our sense of smell is very powerful.

So here's where essential oils come in. Pleasing scents can instantly alter our mood to a more pleasant state, at least momentarily. Any time that I'm feeling just the slightest bit "off," I know I can reach for a tiny bottle of eucalyptus oil or lavender or this wonderful oil blend I picked up in Ecuador, and immediately my mood is lifted. Burning incense can achieve similar effects; I particularly like burning tree resins, seeing as I don't have a real fireplace in the house.

I realize that there are all sorts of supposed health benefits from essential oils, and there's a lot of spiritualism / mysticism tied up in them as well. You'll quickly discover, as I did, that those purported health benefits differ tremendously depending on your reference. You can easily find three different "healing effects" for eucalyptus oil in three different books, and I'm sure there are dozens more. So, some healthy skepticism seems to be in order. Still, I'm a big fan of results, and I'll take whatever healthy mood elevators I can.

My advice: next time you're feeling especially down, try smelling a pleasant odour and see if you feel a lift. My own version of aromatherapy is an important tool in my grief recovery toolbox.

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