All I can say about last year is good grief! With the emphasise not so much on “good.” We all had to deal with grief on many different levels and in many ways. And will probably continue to have to do so.
It reminds me of a quote I read in a book by Nina George, The Little Paris Bookshop: “Grief taught me what is important. Love is important. Good food. Standing tall. And not saying yes when you should be saying no.”
Love is important. Research indicates that one of the only things to make us happier than being filthy rich is happy, healthy relationships. Investing in love right now is an intelligent thing to do. On a sensory level, we need a daily dose of touch and deep-pressure input for oxytocin (the bonding hormone) and dopamine to flood the bloodstream and push the nervous system into a calm alert. Research also highlights the connection between good mental health and owning a pet. So no, you cannot invest in a fish! You need the cuddles and deep pressure derived from your furry friends to reap the mental health benefits. Whether we are sceptics or hopeless romantics, right now, more than ever before, love is essential.
Good food. During times of stress, we reach for sugary, over-processed and nutrient-poor foods. It makes us happy. Cake certainly makes me happy! But the short-lived sugar spike, which mimics an elevated mood for a deceivingly short time, very quickly changes into a depressive state once blood sugar levels drop, which is not something we want to toy with right now. Sensory integration specialists know that sweet tastes are (unfortunately) calming to the nervous system, while sour/tangly tastes are energising. We also know that chewing provides calming proprioceptive feedback through the jaw joint. If we reach for raw, crunchy fruits and vegetables rich in natural sugars, we will be satisfying oral-motor cravings much more effectively. Right now, a smart move.
I believe we can only truly stand tall in the shoes we fill if we take care of our bodies. Research states before lockdown, the preferred mode of training was strength training, whereas during and following lockdown, most of us resorted to walking. I love walking as this provides a multisensory repetitive motor action which is incredibly calming. Walking is accessible, cheap, healthy, outdoors, and mindless. It facilitates an active meditative state. Right now, taking care of the body, you are in is a smart move.
“Not saying yes when we should be saying no” touches on boundaries. From a sensory perspective, this indeed emphasises sensory limitations. What we watch, listen to, eat, engage in. Are your social media feeds uplifting and encouraging? Spiritual, emotional, relationship and mental boundaries are just as important. We love to talk about the “sixth sense”, but sensory integration specialists know that it is the eighth sense referred to—the one connected to interoception. Interoception watches out for us and wants to know: Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Stressed? Are your internal body organs doing okay? But also, interoception refers to your gut feel. Are you at peace, or is your current choice of activity bringing about disease? Right now, listening and not saying yes when we should be saying no is smart.
What a powerful quote! “Grief taught me what is important. Love is important. Good food. Standing tall. And not saying yes when you should be saying no”. Perhaps the narrative around grief can be positive if we choose to learn the valuable lessons imparted by a patient yet a powerful teacher.