by Stacey Lemire Martin
Most of us today were not taught how to deal with death or grief over loss and were instead told to “bootstrap it”, “buck up” or to “get over it and move on” with little thought to any trauma one might have experienced, or feelings about loved ones being gone.
It 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 and 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 occurs in medical facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes. Because of that, most children aren’t being exposed to the dying process and they have a difficult time coping with death as adults. In children, elevated stress levels are correlated with being overweight, perhaps because they are stress eating, and then there is peer pressure and bullying. By the time they reach adulthood, the added pressure of higher education, finding a good job and staying afloat financially are added into the mix. Under this 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.
The Body Stores Traumatic Memories
According to Doreen Virtue’s book Don’t Let Anything Dull Your Sparkle: How to Break Free of Negativity and Drama, the brain’s chemical and hormone patterns are likely affecting health, energy levels and personality. This is especially true if one experiences intense fear, helplessness or horror during the trauma. The post-traumatic changes in the brain and adrenals can possibly addict the body to drama and negativity. The body and brain go beyond homeostasis to a new state called allostasis—a physical reorganization of the body’s chemistry and wiring, leading to specific behaviors following a trauma.
According to Virtue’s research, behind every highly dramatic person lurks an unresolved trauma. Drama is that person’s way of asking for love and begging for help and understanding. If drama happens continually in one’s life, 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. Keeping busy helps avoid thinking too much about the things in life 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, anger or deep dissatisfaction we’re feeling—and the underlying fear we have of taking the risk to change.
Some people believe that stress is something outside themselves that happens to them. Yet once people reach adulthood, they get to make their own lifestyle choices. No matter what trauma happened in the past, it is possible to reduce stress in life, begin the healing process in the brain and adrenals and return to homeostasis over time. Here are some healing ideas:
Pay attention to the people in one’s circle. Hanging out with people in drama triggers one’s own amygdala and stress response. Choose friends and romantic partners who are stable and drama-free.
Lessen financial stress. Create a budget to curb overspending.
Plan ahead. Racing against the clock on a deadline creates unnecessary stress. Reduce or stop ingesting substances that magnify anxiety: Stimulants, including caffeine, nicotine and sugar, and depressants—including alcohol—are counterproductive to healing the 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, acupuncture and chiropractic.
- Learn mind-calming relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation.
- Start a personal development program that works with the mind and emotions without pharmaceutical intervention.
Death and dying is a natural process that affects every human. We can learn to cope with losses when our bodies and minds are in a healthy state. For those still suffering from a past trauma due to loss, take action today to begin the healing process.
Stacey Lemire Martin is a Life after Loss Facilitator, Empowerment Coach and Mastery Higher Brain Living Facilitator with Awaken Austin. For more information, visit AwakenAustin.com.