What does contentment have to do with grief?
Let’s start by looking at the definition of contentment.
The dictionary definition of contentment is a state of happiness and satisfaction.
We can all agree that when it comes to grieving, we may experience states of happiness. However, how often do we feel satisfaction when we’re grieving?
The Grief Recovery Institute defines grief as the normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind. Furthermore, it is the loss of hopes, dreams, and expectations. It’s also anything that we wish would have been different, better, or more.
If we look at these two definitions and reflect on our lives and our experiences, the question then is: how much satisfaction do we have with our life?
If we don’t have satisfaction with our lives, what is often present?
What is often the byproduct of grief?
You guessed it……
I was talking with a dear friend recently. I asked her (after sharing the epiphany I had this week about my energy and the dots I connected to when I was a kid – future blog post coming on this!) what replenishes her energy when she’s feeling drained. Her reply? Helping others – whether it is showing kindness, finding a resource, connecting people, etc…
Her response got me thinking. She and I both got our start in the medical field, doing healthcare work with the elderly. She’s furthered her healthcare career and is now in a position where she’s given the opportunity daily to replenish her energy. She loves what she does and feels fulfillment and satisfaction because it fulfills who she is – a Helper.
So, this conversation with my friend got me thinking more about contentment and how we find it in our lives. When we have days where we feel like all hope is lost. We don’t feel like we have a choice in our lives because of the card(s) we’ve been dealt. That how things are – always will always be; we’ll always feel the way we feel because the circumstance itself will never change. It is what it is. What is there to do about it? We can’t change what happened to us.
So, I went to the internet to find podcasts about contentment and if anything is ever mentioned about grief. I didn’t find much about contentment and grief. Still, I did find a podcast called “Finding Contentment” from, interestingly, The American Institute of Stress, and every single episode is about, you guessed it – stress!
In this episode with endocrinologist and research scientist Dr. David Fryburg. The following are excerpts and CliffsNotes from this conversation that talks about the toll of stress (including Covid-19) on our bodies and mental health.
Stress…as being a primary cause, in my view, of a large number of disorders: heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, also wrapped in obesity, drug abuse, etc..and some would even say the data support cancer. It has this relationship probably because stress response affects the autonomic nervous system…in terms of sympathetic over-activation, which also affects immune function.
In a nutshell, stress generates inflammation in and of itself, according to Dr. Fryburg. When we live in a state of stress, we resort to stress-reducing behaviors that try to “quench the pain,” as Fryburg goes on to add. He adds examples of these behaviors, such as alcohol, drug use, cigarettes, over-eating, decreased interest in exercise, and it all feeds together.
Stress creates a vicious cycle that starts with an event or circumstance (i.e., grief-causing event or circumstance), which creates a biological response in our bodies. What follows is the mental and physical disorders and behavioral changes. With illness come new stressors, and that’s how stress (i.e., grief) becomes a vicious cycle that feels impossible to escape – as if we don’t have a choice.
What happens as a result of this imbalance in our lives?
Discontentment. Which is unhappiness caused by the failure of one’s hopes, desires, or expectations.
And, what does this definition of discontentment tie back to?
GRIEF! By definition, grief is the loss of hopes, dreams, and expectations.
As I was listening to the doctor and shared in the excerpt, it’s grief at the root of what he’s sharing. Stress and grief are intertwined. You do not have one without the other. And both are compounded the longer we allow the symptoms and the behaviors to persist.
The doctor shared these expressions, which I loved…”The worse it gets, the worse it gets.” But, the flipside of this is…”The better it gets, the better it gets!”
The only word this doctor does not mention in this entire episode is the word “grief.” And this is what drives me nuts. When well-known, influential, or highly educated people fail to call so many of these things for what they are, which is GRIEF! IT’s GRIEF! I wish I could scream it at them. Because, as long as we approach whole health from a “let’s cure the stress,” we’re not getting to the root. Work on losing weight, anxiety, or hypertension all you want – you’re likely to remain under a doctor’s care for these things, and then some as symptoms progress, for years and years. But, get to the root cause of these things, and you pull the weed from the root.
Rather than adding roundup to a weed year after year, why not just pull it at the root?
Don’t you think a better approach to grief (and stress) is the same?
But, I digress. The whole point of this blog post was how do we get to contentment as grievers. And, I’ve found myself on a tangent. I’m just so passionate about this because it is my opinion that this refrain from using the word “grief” in society has gotten us to this place of chronic illness, disease, and an overwhelmed healthcare system (even before Covid-19). We don’t want to talk about it. It’s not “sexy,” it’s not a “buzz word,” when it’s the one thing every single one of us experiences.
One tool the doctor mentions to build resiliency to stress is meditation. Meditation calms the “monkey mind.” It quiets the stream of thoughts we are often not even fully conscious of, too. He also mentions dance and exercise. When it comes to exercise, it’s mentioned in the episode to take out the motivation piece and be motivated. Rather, make it be something you do, like brushing your teeth, making breakfast, or doing the dishes. I don’t know – tell that to someone who’s deep in grief or overwhelmed by stress and, they’ll scoff at the simplicity of that statement—I kind of do, to be honest. I’ve gotten on and fallen off that horse more times than I can count. I’ve just let that be okay with me. I get bored easily, and when I have weeks where I have to use a lot of mental bandwidth, I often have less in the physical arena. Those are the times where I may go for a walk or do some gentle yoga. And, it may just be that I sleep in and restore myself in that way. We’re all wired differently, so I do scoff at the simplicity of that idea. But, research also shows that it also takes time to build a habit. And, isn’t that what brushing our teeth and all of those other daily, mundane tasks are – habits, in a way?
Anyway, the actual title of the podcast episode is How Kindness Helps Us with Stress. When it comes to kindness, Dr. Fryburg shares that, in nature, beings that sacrifice for one another within a species are more than likely to flourish. He adds that the giver gets more than the receiver. Allan Luks coined this as the Helper’s High.
The process of going beyond ourselves, which also involves compassion, empathy, and caring, is what psychologists call self-transcendence. In his work of putting together his organization and program called Envision Kindness, he found that the people who volunteered (i.e., connect with others in positive ways) regularly have death rates that are 20-40% lower than those who don’t. He adds that going from contaminated water to clean water has about the same effect. In a nutshell, giving of ourselves has a substantial impact on our lives.
How does this relate to grief (because I can tie nearly everything back to grief)? Those who are isolated (or feel isolated), who don’t feel a sense of connection to others have a mortality rate (20-40%) that is about the same as if they were self-sacrificed with kindness toward others. Dr. Fryburg shares that when we engage in disconnecting activities, such as watching the news and allowing anger, fear, and ego to dominate. So, when you live in poverty or have fewer resources, this is where connection creates a bridge.
But, how do we go about creating a connection (or feeling it) with others when we’ve lost the connection we feel within ourselves?
Here’s where the episode got me excited!
It turns out; you don’t have to move mountains, make some grand gesture of self-sacrifice, quite the contrary. Just by actually seeing images/videos/content or witnessing people being kind to others (or seeing giving connection) has the same effect – just by seeing it. People feel more compassionate, generous, calmer, more grateful, and optimistic as a result.
You not only are what you eat. You are what you see. – Dr. David Fryburg
Through his work, Dr. Fryburg is working on getting more and more healthcare systems to stream kindness-focused content (in the form of video and still photos) into waiting rooms. These places are high-stress environments and, from an energetic stand-point, emotionally heavy as well. Referring back to the study that found what we see, in terms of kindness, has the same effect by doing – instantly, this changes the entire feel of the environment and the emotional state of the person seeing it. I LOVE this idea!
We can be agents of change, by our own agency, with the energy of disconnection or stress or with the energy of kindness. We have a choice. And, we have a choice when it comes to grief, too. This episode mentions how stress is contagious. There’s also a tip if you’re a dog owner. Our pups often reflect us the state of the environment in which they’re in. So, when thinking about stress being contagious – our pooches pick up on the stress as well.
What To Do When You Feel Overwhelmed
What is Dr. Fryburg’s advice for those who are overwhelmed and don’t know what to do? When you’re trying all of the things – exercise, meditation, kindness, etc.. on your own, and nothing seems to be helping?
Seek professional or guided help. There’s no shame in asking for help.
The gentlemen interviewing Dr. Fryburg even says that when we break an arm, we go to the doctor, but we’re resistant to asking and receiving that help when it comes to our emotions and mental health.
Everyone suffers from stress. However, how we respond (in the moment) may require some additional help and support.
To close, I want to share a win for a current grief recovery client of mine. I have seen, over the course of the last few weeks of going through Grief Recover One-on-One with me, communication in his relationship has improved. He’s shown up for our sessions more vibrant, lighter, and happier. The energy he brings to his sessions lately has been a reflection of the inner-work he has been doing. He continues to have opportunities open up for him in his business, and I have seen his confidence grow. He’s not quite finished, but the transformation has been my greatest joy to witness. The most significant point in bringing this to your attention? He recognized he needed support and has been open to receiving it every step of the way.
What’s important to know is that you have a choice. No matter what you do, don’t take your circumstances lying down. Take life day-by-day, set small goals for yourself that set you up for success, and seek out resources, programs, or people who can help lift you out of stress, grief, and overwhelm.
Grief Recovery isn’t the only thing out there, but it is the only program specific to grief based on evidence. Meaning, rather than being evidence (or research)-based, where parts or components of the program/method are based on practices demonstrated to be effective through research, this method/program, in its entirety, has been demonstrated through research to be effective.
I could probably write another 2200 words on this topic. More to come on this, I am sure of that! In the meantime, what do you think? Which has come first for you – stress or grief? Here to support you and sending love and light your way! Thank you for reading!
P.S. Want to experience a breakthrough as my client has? Click the Contact tab, check out the Grief Recovery info on my site, or the Grief Recovery Institute website for more information. Stress, overwhelm – and, at the end of the day, the grief that’s at the root of it doesn’t have to dictate your tomorrow. You have every power within you to direct your energy in a whole new, positive way. And, if you want to feel reprieve right now from your stress, consider a Reiki session with me (distant or in-person – in-person sessions are subject to Covid-19 precautions during this time).
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