Natural Remedies for Emotional Health

How easily available remedies can support us in emotional crises

Strength in Grieving, Naturally

Natural medicines can help strengthen people through the grieving process.

“Have you lost a loved one? Have you been suffering more than six months?” The latest ads for research studies reveal the next drugs to come through the pipeline.

But does someone grieving for a year after losing a life partner need to have her feelings numbed with medication, or would she benefit more from a natural medicine to strengthen her in her grieving process?

These natural substances can help grieving clients fully experience their emotions while still being able to function. As one bereaved mother put it, “I can grieve without screaming and cry without getting hysterical.”

This client found great calm and comfort from Ignatia, one of the natural medicines described below. They work best when matched to the way the person expresses her emotions.

Ignatia is usually used for people in acute grief who are sobbing hysterically and sighing as if they have a great weight on their chest. They may feel as if on a storm-tossed sea of emotions. “Why me? why did this have to happen to me?” is a common refrain. The emotions are felt intensely and they include not only grief but also abandonment, injustice, betrayal, humiliation, anger and guilt. Someone might especially need Ignatia if she felt partly to blame for another’s death, or if she felt angry at an unjust loss. The physical symptoms, in addition to the heaviness of the chest, include all kinds of cramps and spasms such as the contraction of the throat muscles causing the “lump in the throat.” 

Although most commonly used for a recent grief, Ignatia can certainly help someone long after the loss, if she is still experiencing intense stormy symptoms, like the bereaved mother in my example whose loss happened several years before. Ignatia helped her take a deep breath and accept the loss of her son (who had not actually died! he had gone to college in another country, and this hyper-emotional mother felt as if he had died!) 

Natrum muriaticum or “Nat. mur.” for short is the most common natural medicine for long ago grief, especially when the person has shut down their feelings. “I never shed a tear” would be a common expression. Whether they lost a parent, a romantic partner, or other special person in their life, people needing Nat. mur. were so deeply hurt by the loss that they create a wall around their heart. It’s as though they made a vow never to be so vulnerable again. They have many ways to protect themselves: they may fall in love only with unattainable people like someone who is married; they may fend off potential suitors with sarcasm; they may deliberately make themselves unattractive. Their whole emotional life may be driven by the need to protect against a similar wound in the future, but they are likely to be totally oblivious to it, so deeply buried is the original loss. Their grief is most likely to surface when they are not on guard: in dreams, or when they have had too much alcohol, or on the anniversary of the loss, when they may not even know why they suddenly feel so blue.

When someone like this takes Nat. mur. (one of the most frequently given medicines in my practice), the first thing that’s likely to happen is a cathartic flood of tears. Then the person begins the process of bringing the grief to conscious mind and moving on, becoming open to another relationship. 

Aurum is used when the loss is so enormous – like the loss of a spouse after a 50-year marriage – that the surviving partner feels there is nothing worth living for. He is likely to sink into a deep depression, even to the point of suicidal thoughts. The depression may feel very heavy; one of my clients who benefited from Aurum said, “It’s as though I’ve been walking around with a lead vest on and it’s just been lifted off.” People who need Aurum are susceptible to alcohol and other addictive substances, and they are likely to fantasize suicide by jumping off a building. I have seen Aurum give people like this the strength to go on living and to find fulfillment in new friendships and activities. 

Phosphoric acid is most likely to support someone who otherwise would benefit from the natural medicine Phosphorus: someone who is ordinarily sociable, outgoing, the life of the party, someone who loves to stay in touch with her many friends. Put this person into a grief state, however, and she swings to the opposite extreme. She turns off her phone, stops checking Facebook, and rejects invitations to go out. Instead she may lie in bed with her face to the wall, refusing to talk to anyone. Phosphoric acid (the medicine, of course, not the fizzy water!) can return the sparkle to the Phosphorus type. It can help her gradually overcome her grief and return to her normal activities.

Causticum is used in a special situation called “multiple griefs”. It is not unusual for one elderly spouse to pass away within a year of losing the other spouse. This can be overwhelming for the adult children who lose both parents within a year. If one of them also goes through a divorce, a miscarriage, or even the loss of a job or a home within the same year, it can be too much for the system to handle. Someone who needs Causticum typically tries to hold things together with OCD-like behavior such as checking and re-checking. They are also likely to feel tremendous anxiety about the health and safety of their surviving family members, and they can also express their inner tension through tics, twitches and stammering. (These behaviors do not all have to be present in order for this medicine to be helpful, however.) 

Finally, Pulsatilla is likely to be helpful for a small child who loses a parent and reacts by clinging fiercely to the remaining parent, as if attached by velcro. The child may regress to younger behaviors like thumbsucking, bedwetting, or burying her head in the lap of a comforting adult. Although usually sweet and mild in her temperament, she may show petulant anger at her loss. Pulsatilla is a wonderful medicine for helping kids to grow up appropriately, including accepting the suffering that can be an inexplicable part of human life.

These natural medicines are best administered by a professional; it can be as difficult to determine your own match, as it would be to do psychotherapy on yourself. However, they are also safe to try in a low 6c potency if you feel sure that one matches you, and they are easily found in the homeopathy section of any health food store. Start small, with just a couple of pellets a day dissolved in the mouth, until you see how you react. If you don’t feel any relief, you can gradually increase until you are taking several doses a day. (The FDA has determined that they are all safe to use as over-the-counter medicines.) If you finish the tube and don’t feel anything, it’s best to consult a professional. 

Burke Lennihan, the author of Your Natural Medicine Cabinet, is a former health food storeowner and a holistic practitioner at the Lydian Center for Innovative Medicine in Cambridge.

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