Lessons Learned from Eating Ice Cream

Do you ever suffer from sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia? If you do, you have no one to blame but yourself. That may sound harsh, but I know first hand about this because I, through my own doing, suffered from it again last week. That’s right, just a few days ago I made the mistake of eating my two scoop, mint chocolate chip ice cream cone way too fast.  Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia is the scientific name for what we normally refer to as a brain freeze, or a dreaded ice cream headache. A brain freeze, I learned after doing a little research, is caused when the nerve fibers on the roof of one’s mouth get overwhelmed with too much of a cold sensation. When this happens the nerve fibers begin to constrict and the brain interprets the signals it is getting as pain. A brain freeze will pass relatively quickly (although it doesn’t feel quick when you in the midst of it) and it is helpful to know that holding your tongue on the roof of your mouth will help relieve the symptoms. This is because your tongue will help warm up, and thus expand, the cold nerve fibers.

The wellness lesson in all of this is simple--too much of a good thing is a often a bad thing. We know this in theory of course, but it is easy to forget in the moment. For example, I have a tendency to work too much and when I do my work/life balance gets off kilter. This can easily create its own kind of brain freeze, where stress causes my thinking to be less clear and my emotions to be more reactive. Others may routinely stay up late enjoying the quiet of the night yet leaving them exhausted and crabby in the morning. Others may overspend in the excitement of the moment only to feel the pain when the credit card bill arrives later in the month. Still others may jump head way too quickly into a relationship only to find out later that the other person is not a good match for them.

We live in a culture that seems to thrive on excess and intensity, and where moderation can even be viewed as boring or dull. This way of thinking is captured in a saying I have heard folks proudly exclaim several times recently, “If anything is worth doing, it is worth overdoing.” It is usually said in a joking manner, yet many folks seem to take it seriously or even as good advice. And yet, interestingly enough, whenever I ask people to list some words that they associate with wellness, the word balance is almost always at the top of the list.

The famous Trappist monk and writer, Thomas Merton once wrote, “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” And the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, said, “Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance.” My response to these two great thinkers is to pose a few important questions for us all: Is there anything right now in our lives that we are doing either too intensely, quickly, or in excess? Is there some area of our lives that if we slowed down or did in a more moderate way we might enjoy it more, both now and in the long run?

With this in mind, the next time any of us find ourselves enjoying an ice cream treat, let’s remember that balance and moderation are not only the keys to enjoying our ice cream, but are also the keys to helping us, “taste the joys of life in abundance.”