Thursday, December 20, 2007

Grief Stinks Part II

To become different from what we are, we must have some awareness of what we are.

— Eric Hoffer

I read something in the last day or two that has stuck with me, and I thought I'd share it as it relates well to my previous post about essential oils, as well as my post about endorphins.

So much of grief in that first critical year or so is about our perceived lack of control. We talk about how grief comes in waves, washing powerfully over us as we struggle to remain upright. I've also read of people who describe those moments as a "grief ambush." Notice that the language here is all in the passive tense. Grief is something that happens to us, it is not something that we do. Grief attacks us or strikes us, hitting us when we least expect it. Both these metaphors portray us the griever as the victim of powerful forces beyond our control. We can certainly feel helpless when gripped by such potent emotions as hopelessness, fear, or despair.

I'm continually amazed at the role biology plays in our lives. I've mentioned previously that some of the biggest aspects of grieving are strictly biological. So, it is really helpful to know that in some ways we can turn the tables on grief, and that understanding a few biology basics can dramatically impact our sense of well-being. When we smile, forced or otherwise, we have no choice — endorphins are released, and the pain is dulled a bit. This is not something we have to think about. We don't say, "gee, I want the pain to go away," and invest a lot of time thinking ourselves better. Instead, we smile, and the pain is dulled. It is a hard-wired circuit, and all we have to do is flip the switch.

Likewise, when we smell an essential oil, our olfactory nerve instantly signals our limbic system (one of the oldest parts of our brain), and our mood is changed. Instantly. We have no choice in the matter. We smell the oil, the circuit is completed, and we feel differently, immediately.

But is it really that simple? Do these "tricks" really work? To answer that, I'll point you to a remarkable website that demonstrates how women in childbirth can use laughter to relieve their pain [discretion advised: explicit birth video]. I plan on using this if I ever pass another kidney stone ;-)

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