Grief in our culture
If you’re like a lot of people in 21st-Century Western culture, you were not taught how to deal with death or grief over loss. Most likely you were told to “bootstrap it”, “buck up” or to “get over it and move on”. Little thought was given to to any trauma you might have experienced or feelings of grief you were having about your loved one being gone.
Our culture was not always this way. Until the turn of the 20th century, most of the people in this country died under the age of 50. Death was as natural as birth. In most cases people went out the way they came in – at home in their beds surrounded by family and friends. Children didn’t see death as threatening or unusual; it was simply a part of life.
Today we are living much longer and most dying is done in medical facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes. Because children aren’t being exposed to the dying process they have a difficult time coping with death as adults. In children, elevated stress levels are correlated with being overweight. Perhaps it’s because they are stress eating, and then there is peer pressure and bullying. By the time we reach adulthood we’ve added a ton of heavy performance stress. Starting with financing higher education, then finding a good paying job and staying afloat financially. With time pressure, most people do not take the time or have the motivation for self-care to remedy their ever increasing stress levels. This is when stress becomes biologically driven and coping habits are created.
Your body stores traumatic memories
According to Doreen Virtue in her book, Don’t Let Anything Dull Your Sparkle, your brain chemical and hormone patterns are likely affecting your health, energy levels and personality. This is especially true if you experienced intense fear, helplessness, or horror during the trauma. The post-traumatic changes in your brain and adrenals may have addicted you to drama and negativity. Your body and brain go beyond homeostasis to a new state called allostasis, which means a physical reorganization of your chemistry and wiring, leading to specific behaviors following a trauma.
And, according to Doreen’s research, behind every highly dramatic person lurks an unresolved trauma. Drama is his or her way of asking for love and begging for help and understanding. If drama happens continually in your life your past traumas are probably the reason why.
The choices we make
One common way we handle the stress of grief is that we get busy. Being busy helps us to avoid thinking too much about the things in our lives that would profoundly trouble us if we faced them. Essentially, we overbook our lives as a way to avoid experiencing them fully. Staying busy is a way to numb ourselves to the grief or anger or deep dissatisfaction we’re feeling – and the underlying fear we have of taking the risk to change.
I find that many people believe that stress is something outside themselves that happens to them. Yet, once you become an adult, you get to make your own lifestyle choices. No matter what trauma happened to you in the past, you CAN reduce stress in your life, begin the healing process in your brain and adrenals and return to homeostasis over time. Here are some healing ideas you can choose:
- Pay attention to the people you surround yourself with: Hanging out with people in drama triggers your own amygdala and stress response. Choose friends and romantic partners who are stable and drama free.
- Lessen Financial Stress: Create a budget so that you don’t overspend.
- Plan ahead: Racing against the clock on a deadline creates a lot of unnecessary stress.
- Reduce or stop ingesting substances that magnify your anxiety: Stimulants, including caffeine, nicotine and sugar and depressants, including alcohol are counterproductive to healing body and mind.
- Take time to heal old trauma and seek professional help: There are many activities and professional services that reduce physical, mental and emotional stress and create healthy chemical responses in the body:
- Get involved in a sport and join a team,
- Receive regular bodywork such as massage, Alexander, acupuncture and chiropractic
- Learn relaxation techniques that calm your mind, such as yoga and meditation,
- Start a personal development program that works with the mind and emotions before using pharmaceutical intervention.
- Skills not pills
Death and dying is a natural process that every human will go through. We can learn to cope with our losses when our bodies and minds are in a healthy state. If you are still suffering from a past trauma due to loss, take action today to begin your healing process.